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New Candidates Face Challenges Breaking In - Democrat and Chronicle March 23, 2017

Fellow newcomer Mary Lupien was sparked by her work on Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. For Mitch Gruber, another first-timer, the decision to run for City Council was a natural progression after working in neighborhoods the past decade with Foodlink

 

On Wednesday night — seeking the support of the city's three eastside Democratic committees gathered at the Workers United Union Hall — a fresh crop of newcomers spoke about connected communities, creative capital, ride-sharing, job training, urban farming and healthy neighborhoods.

Fellow newcomer Mary Lupien was sparked by her work on Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. For Mitch Gruber, another first-timer, the decision to run for City Council was a natural progression after working in neighborhoods the past decade with Foodlink.

 

They made their pitch for one of five at-large seats up for election. And each were among the top vote-getters  in at least one committee, with Gruber placing in the Top 5 in two of the three.

The hardest work is yet to come, in raising money, collecting petition signatures, canvassing neighborhoods and finding people willing to plunk yard signs in their lawns. The party endorsement brings with it a ground game to help with all those matters. And established candidates, or those aligned with one of the major party factions, have expertise and support at the ready.

Standing in the back of the room on Wednesday night was Chris Christopher, a member of the eastside's 24th Legislative District and a veteran campaign manager. She likens building a campaign to setting up a small business for a one-day going-out-of-business sale. That day, she said, is Election Day.

"Everything," she said, "leads up to just that one thing."

The big winners on Wednesday were incumbent Council member Jackie Ortiz and city school board member Malik Evans. Council President Loretta Scott and Vice President Dana Miller, along with challenger Tom Hasman, who previously ran for Monroe County clerk, rounded out the favored field.

These are just three of the city's 10 legislative districts, with the designation process continuing into next month.

Others in the race, both new and established, include Dorian Hall, Matt Juda, Ronald Hall, Scotty Ginett, and former Monroe County Legislator Willie Lightfoot. Incumbents Matthew Haag and Carolee Conklin are not seeking re-election.

"We really need fresh ideas and new voices in government," Gruber said in a recent interview. "People are running to make a difference, or people are running to get involved. That doesn't lead you to having a platform or ideas."

City Council and school board elections typically draw an influx of first-time candidates. This year's ensemble did not come up through the party ranks and is notably independent. To succeed, they will need a clear, concise and unique message, Christopher said, one that voters are interested in, the means and mechanics to deliver it — meaning money and strategy — and a cadre of volunteers.

On one of those measures, Lupien has a head start. She created her campaign committee last summer. And her latest financial disclosure filing from January showed $8,100 raised and $2,000 spent — outpacing all others in the field, including incumbents.

That early bump came, in part, thanks to her involvement with Women Elect. The group describes itself as a leadership development program. It began in Buffalo six years ago and established in Rochester last year, thanks to the efforts of Paul Hypolite, a political adviser with New York State United Teachers.

Though populated with Democrats, the group claims to be nonpartisan with the sole requirement being support for women's equality issues — reproductive rights being the biggest.

Lupien is the first candidate to emerge from the group, having completed the four-month program aimed at preparing women for campaigning as candidates or support staff. The focus isn't on the nuts and bolts but the personal: being in the spotlight, having to promote yourself, present a platform, answer media questions, ask people for money.

"We do not expect everyone taking the course to run for office some day," said Nicole Hushla Re, executive director for the local Women Elect chapter and a member of the Irondequoit town board. "We want to pack the pipeline, and let them grow into their own."

Women Elect also has a political action committee and endorses candidates, but won't get involved in the City Council primary or, most likely, any primary. And having completed the program is neither a prerequisite nor guarantee of support. Said Hushla Re: "We are not going to be the organization behind their campaigns."

When it comes to city politics, fractures in the Democratic Party mean there is no single point of entry. And Dunwoody has found that to mean doors are open.

It helps that, in his various activities, he has connected with many people already. And being a political newcomer and unattached: "It helps," he said, "people are willing to talk to you from anywhere. I haven’t had any resistance of people wanting to give their perspective on what they think is valuable."

Gruber, meanwhile, has assembled a diverse advisory council of about 30 people. What he doesn't have is someone who has run a campaign before.

"Everybody in the city who has that (political) pedigree is part of a system already," Gruber said. "I don't have political insiders who are willing to work with me, explicitly, on my campaign. There are things I am not going to know — until it's too late."

Lupien also has found the cupboard bare when it comes to tapping political expertise. Her campaign manager does public relations for a local college and has experience managing projects but not campaigns. The low-profile, generally low-budget council race also is a factor, she said.

Still, said Christopher, who is sitting out this election cycle, general dissatisfaction with the status quo makes this a good year to be an outsider.

"This is a historic moment," Dunwoody told committee members as he was given the signal to wrap-up his pitch. "Let's not make it dim. Let's bring light to our city."

 

Source - http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/03/22/new-candidates-face-challenges-breaking/98850826/