A Campaign Worth Running

I apologize for the lateness of this post, which I planned to release it in late July when the official results were released. But recovering from the campaign grind – and taking care of the obligations that the longest ever primary campaign forced me to neglect – has been a herculean task of its own. I wanted to do justice to the campaign we ran, and to the progressive movement going forward. The story of this election is a winding one. Let’s start at the beginning.

On the evening of Thursday January 30, 2020, Emily Morgan and I held a City Council campaign kickoff at Freppe’s Tex Mex on South Avenue. I announced my candidacy for Plainfield City Council At-Large, and Mrs. Morgan for Third Ward. The room was packed – and represented a broad base of supporters in Plainfield. A former mayor, School Board members, activists, city employees, and long-time veterans of political struggle were in attendance.

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Emily Morgan and I at our January 30th campaign kickoff. It all happened so fast, as 4 weeks before the kickoff I hadn’t even contemplated running for anything.

Mrs Morgan and I were launching our campaign with the New Jersey Progressive Democrats of Union County, who were running a full-county slate. We’d be on the same line as Bernie Sanders, who had the potential to win the first three presidential primary contests for the first time in history. In the coming weeks he’d do just that.

I felt good about our chances. If Sanders cemented his frontrunner status, it would be our election to lose. And frankly, even if Sanders did not hold on, I thought we had a chance to take both seats – especially the Third Ward. With a broad base of supporters and volunteers, we’d fight the way successful insurgents of years past have done in Plainfield. Knock on every door, hold fundraisers, and have a robust and energized presence at the polls.

Dr Cornel West even offered to come to Plainfield on our behalf for a big fundraiser that would give us the ability to reach even more voters. We had reason to feel so good about our potential to bring change to Plainfield.

The next day, on January 31, the World Health Organization officially issued a global health emergency regarding the novel coronavirus. There was undoubtable human-to-human transmission, and 200 deaths worldwide. Unbeknownst to us, by Election Day, there would be over 200 deaths in Plainfield alone.

COVID-19 changed everything, including, of course, this campaign. Interacting with most voters at the polls was now impossible, as were fundraisers and door to door canvassing. Knocking on doors wouldn’t become socially and legally acceptable until late June, after most voters had mailed in their ballots. So much for those three keys to insurgent victory.

Then there were the political developments. Bernie Sanders, after winning the first three states, finally fell prey to the Party apparatus by Super Tuesday. An ascendant Sanders could no longer help lift our down-ballot boats to victory.

But perhaps most damaging was the way Sanders’ national campaign sold out down-ballot progressives of color all over the country. The Sanders campaign forced us to run under the slogan “Not me. Us.” in order to be aligned with him – which is political death here in Plainfield. There is a broad base in Black and Latino communities whose vote you cannot get without the word Democrat by your name – even in the Democratic Primary. With folks voting at home, not being called Democrats on the ballot would be even more impactful. Ironically, the Not Me, Us candidate forced down-ballot progressives to use a slogan on the ballot that only benefited him. I, for one, was furious – as I knew this would be worth hundreds of votes, at least, in Plainfield – let alone the rest of the county. I went up as high as possible in the national campaign to reverse this decision to no avail.

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My mother and I with Bernie Sanders in the summer of 2019.

At that point, I couldn’t see a way forward in the campaign. The Not me. Us. setback, on top of the others, nearly broke me. But it was supporters in Plainfield who compelled me to push forward with a campaign that would become such a rewarding experience. This was an issues-based effort that was able to help shift the dialogue in Plainfield, and engage so many more people in this important, ongoing conversation.

A local conversation about gentrification, the role of police, affordable housing, property taxes, absentee landlords, a community center in Plainfield, and so much more.

Our supporters compelled us to fight the good fight. To not worry about the obstacles, and to find new – even if experimental – ways to reach voters. You encouraged us to rise to the occasion and learn to produce great campaign material – even if we could not afford to mail it into every voter household.

You didn’t lose energy and enthusiasm, so neither did we.

Some of this support came from the same people in that crowded room in January, through phone calls, texts, donations, social media posts, and knocking on doors with us during the two weeks it was acceptable to do so.

But we met a lot of new faces, too – including a number of energetic folks who want to be actively involved moving forward. Plainfield has always been a place where one person can make their presence felt, and I look forward to advocating with these residents in the near future.

Electorally, our campaign did not win. I received 1,784 votes (27%), and my opponent Steve Hockaday totaled 4,622 (69%). Robert Graham got the remaining 253 (4%). My running mate, Emily Morgan, lost by an almost identical margin in the third ward. In these circumstances, we truly had to earn every vote we got.

Congratulations to Councilmen Steve Hockaday and Charles McRae. I truly hope that after such passionate discussion of the issues, you will carry some of these ideas forward in the way you govern over these next four years.

And despite defeat, I will carry forward the knowledge I gained to help candidates and causes alike.

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Our campaign billboard on East Second Street.

In late July, I joined the Board of the New Jersey Progressive Democrats of Union County, the organization with which I ran for City Council. The NJPDUC is totally committed to resisting the corrupting stranglehold of the Democratic Party machine – not only by running candidates, but through tirelessly advocating and taking stands on nearly all of the issues that I hold dear. I am excited about our future, especially as the mounting crisis that we face push voters towards left, populist, progressive ideas.

Whether we won or lost – there would be so much work to do to bring about a better Plainfield, and a better Union County. In defeat, as in victory, that fight continues.

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