Impact Feature Issue on Political Activism and Voter Participation by Persons with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities
Perseverance and Politics: My Experience Running for Office
I was like David and Goliath going up against three other candidates, one of them the incumbent of 10 years. As I threw my hat in the political arena of the Raleigh, North Carolina, city council race in the fall of 1999, I knew it was going to be a tough race for anyone, but especially for me as a candidate with cerebral palsy. I felt as if it was going to be a challenge and there wasn’t any guarantee that I was going to win. I just wanted to try and do my best! I believed it was time that someone with a disability should be on the city council. It was a great experience for me!
I began by going to candidates’ forums, filling out questionnaires, and meeting different kinds of people along the campaign trail. I didn’t have the kind of financial backing that the other candidates did for their campaigns. I had to pay out of my pocket for my campaign buttons, brochures, and homemade campaign signs, even though some people did contribute a little to the cause. I kept fighting my way up the candidates’ ladder, trying to let my voice be heard. Whenever the media began appearing at the forums, they began writing the phrase, “disability advocate” as they were referring to me in the newspaper. The phrase was alright to use at the beginning of the campaign, but I wanted to show the media and the people out in the community that although I had a disability, it didn’t mean I couldn’t do the job or contribute to the city council if I was elected.
When election day came that year, unfortunately I couldn’t show the community what I could do on the city council because I didn’t win the election. The incumbent won once again for the city council seat. However, by my running, the community began to notice me. I received around 25% of the votes and individuals liked and admired me for my courage and determination. Some people liked how I ran my campaign. I kept it clean and I didn’t play “dirty politics” by dragging my opponents through the mud. In fact, my opponents and myself became friends. I just did “my thing” as a candidate. I vowed I would keep running for city council until I won.
Since people can only run for city council every two years, I had a break from my campaign. When it was election year for city council again, I entered the politics arena once again in the fall of 2001. I was bound and determined that I was going to win and sit on the city council. I was running against the same three candidates as I did two years before. The incumbent was going to run for city council once more. Then he was going to try his hand for the mayor’s race in 2003. I continued to get support from family, friends, and people with disabilities from the community. They had faith in me as a candidate and they knew that I was just as serious about running for city council as anyone else was about running for office. Although, there were some individuals who thought my running was a joke. It was hurtful when I heard those negative comments about myself, but I had to remind myself that those kind of people really didn’t get to know me as a person from the inside out. They just saw my disability and they heard me speaking with my speech impediment. I believe they judged me in that way as a candidate! They needed to take the time to get to know me as a person and learn what my issues were and what my platform was. But they wouldn’t take that kind of time.
My campaign was run the same way as it was run in 1999, with little financial backing and the same buttons, brochures, and homemade signs. Once again, I was able to gain the respect of the media and I began making a name for myself throughout the community. In some respects, I felt honored to run with good people as my opponents.
I was once again defeated in the city council race in the fall of 2001. I had a great showing of 37%. Even in the schools’ polls for kids voting I was a hit! That made me feel really good. Although I was disappointed that I didn’t win, I knew that I would run again.
That is exactly what I did this past fall of 2003 as I ran for city council yet a third time. You know what they say: the third time is the charmer for anything. As I was running my campaign, I was very hopeful this time. As promised, the incumbent ran for mayor. It looked like I was going to be the only candidate that was going to run for my district, but I was wrong to think that way. There were two other candidates in the district besides myself. One of the candidates was my opponent who ran against me in the past two political races and the other one was a newcomer to politics. As my campaign got underway, it was business as usual. I began to do duties as a candidate. I attended forums and made my platform known this time and I stood by what it was saying to people. To my surprise, out of one of those forums I was given the backing of a group here in Raleigh, North Carolina. They believed in me and my issues. I couldn’t believe it! I was so honored! That was the first time that anything like that had ever happened to me as a candidate. Then election night came and I thought I was going to lose again, but something happened. I had beaten my opponent from two years before by 2% of the votes!! So I was in the runoff for the district seat with the newcomer. That was exciting! It also, meant four more weeks of campaigning and extra hard work to get votes. Although, I beat my other opponent by having 2% more of the votes, he asked for a recount. I watched as the process took place, and in the end, it was still the newcomer and myself in the runoff for the district seat. Friends and acquaintances were involved with my runoff campaign. I was able to afford great political yard signs and fliers because of good financial support. One of my friends was acting as my campaign manager. That was neat. I had a county commissioner back me during the runoff campaign. We even made a political commercial together for my campaign. I felt important during that time. On election day, my husband and I went to the polls, meeting people and trying to make last minute votes count while friends worked the polls by holding signs on my behalf. It was a long and stressful day but a good one. It didn’t take the voters long to make up their minds about who they wanted in office. It wasn’t me. I was so close this time! Always a bridesmaid, never a bride! Although I didn’t win, my race made Raleigh citizens pay attention to disability issues and learn that a individual with a disability can a viable political leader.