Welcome to the second part of my 5 Part Series: The Infection Was Initially Mild: My Small Town City Council Run, the Toxic American Pandemic Response, and What Both Mean For the Future Of the Country.
You can also read the entire series now, download it in entirety in PDF format, catch the disclaimers in the Introduction, listen to it on Text to Speech (I have to warn you it’s a little awkward), or watch the Text to Speech on YouTube.
Also, more resources, videos, updates, and Pay What It’s Worth links can be found there too!
To say that I didn’t have an agenda of any kind going into the city council run would be a lie. But then, everyone that runs for public office has – or, at least should have – one. What are you being voted in for if not to do things? This was the first completely nonsensical turn the campaign took: when people accused me of having an agenda, as if this was a bad thing.
“She has an agenda” became the local QAnon turn of phrase that was code for “bad lady, we shouldn’t vote for her.” I’m not sure to what extent all of the pizza-sex-dungeon-Democrats-are-spawn-of-Satan stuff has permeated the local QAnon folks, but with roughly 30% of the community involved (in some fashion and consistent with the national participation rate), I imagine at least a few of them legitimately believed my agenda was to inject the community with the blood of aborted babies. Or something like that.
My agenda was simple: I saw a city council that was doing absolutely nothing to support our community in an unprecedented time. Most notably, the pandemic had shuttered businesses, and infected and killed community members. And, front line workers like nurses and lower wage workers were approaching me and begging for help with their working conditions in our city. Our city council was largely silent on the matters – all of them. Except, of course, throwing pittance small business grants at local businesses which – in the end – took so long to get out, many businesses that originally applied had closed by the time the couple thousand bucks were distributed. This endeavor also cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in general funds just to put together (not counting the money for the grants, themselves). To say the pandemic response from the city council, and entire city, was a failure would be a gross understatement.
And the problem is that – as of writing this – we just keep failing more.
The average job in our city pays $15-$18 per hour, while the cost of living is $38 per hour for a two bedroom apartment. My agenda in reality, was in everyone’s best interest: it was rooted in fiscal responsibility coupled with a focus on public health. I wanted our community to become a Blue Zone – one where every design and planning decision was made with health in mind. Blue Zone planning is rooted in public health and policy facts, and results in an overall increased quality of life and longevity – for everyone. This meant more biking, less sprawl, more housing options, reduced cost of living, and raising the standard of living and employment in the community. On the surface, our city looks somewhat affluent: median housing price is around $750K, but more than 90% of residents have to commute 15 minutes or more out of the city to be able to afford it. What we don’t talk about is that just over 7% of people in the city live below the poverty line – some within a mile of my district and its houses that start at $3M. My support base was largely in, and just above, that 7%, not necessarily in the people I was asking for for votes.
Moreover, I wanted the city to stop bleeding money. My opponent and his colleagues’ incompetence over the years have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits, mistakes, excessive administrative fees for their friends, and bungled CYA PR campaigns.
Managing the pandemic and its recovery from a more holistic and proactive approach was what my campaign focused on; and creating a safety net for our healthcare and front line workers, even the ones that only worked here. Fundamentally, I had zero plans to stay in office for the long term. I wanted to win the election, do my part to manage COVID on the most local level, make some other health, safety, organizational, and quality of life changes along the way, and – likely – stick to one term, and done.
Because the city’s elections are in districts, I was stuck in the most affluent district, while coming from – generally speaking – just your average middle class. To win my district, I would have only need 4,800 votes plus 1 – a feat I only was able to obtain 39% of (earning only 22% of all ballots cast). In the end I failed to turn out votes that would have brought me closer to a win in the election.
When you look at the votes I did end up gathering, they were largely centered not even in my own neighborhood, but in the single, lower-income neighborhood in the district; the only one with rentals accepting Section 8 housing vouchers, where the vast majority of people I spoke to were so busy risking their lives working multiple, low-wage, public-facing jobs, that many would not have even voted had it not been for the ability to vote by mail. A renter myself, though in the single family homes more aligned with the median housing in the city at large, I still understood the struggles many in the community faced. These were the community members that needed someone who would actually take action.
Being on the city council is a part time job, for everyone that’s on it. To me, I saw mismanagement and a lack of responding to the needs of the constituents by my opponent. My own experience in politics, political science, public policy, community organizing, and in public facing jobs, especially healthcare (pharmacy) management, was (in my mind) exactly what the city needed to do better than we had since the pandemic hit.
And to my credit, it was my ideas and experience – my agenda – that earned me more endorsements than any of our city’s council candidates in recent years. Accordingly to my agenda, I sought endorsements from every organization that I believed shared my mission in improved health and quality of life. I didn’t waste my time with anyone whose mission did not align with mine; not out for just every endorsement I could grab, I went for the ones that had value to me.
The local chapter of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund were the first to announce their endorsement of my campaign, with the nurse’s union representing our city hospital coming closely after. While Planned Parenthood endorses many, if not most, women (in addition to many pro-choice men), I was the only candidate in a down ballot election in my entire county to receive the endorsement of the nurses. At our only in person debate, for a neighborhood of roughly 4,000 seniors, I asked my opponent why after 4 years of him being on the city council, and even longer on the board of the local healthcare district, the nurses – in the middle of a pandemic – chose to endorse me. He had no answer.
As it turned out, nurses and healthcare workers in general made up the bulk of my support – endorsed, financed, and otherwise. Of the 280 individuals that endorsed the campaign by its completion, 67% were nurses, doctors, pharmacists, or other healthcare workers. Another 23% came from public safety, specifically the Neighborhood Watch Group I founded in 2015.
Likely a result of my background in public health and safety, and my strong position on COVID and worker safety, the nurse’s union’s endorsement then led to the endorsement from the local Carpenter’s Council, the union that advocated for workplace safety. Shortly after them, the local chapter of Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) housing advocacy group gave me the thumbs up. The final big group that aligned my mission closely was the women’s council in my community, which resulted in a sizable influx in funds for the campaign.
Of course my last endorsement was the best: our Congresswoman endorsed my campaign in the final weeks before the election. And while people were noticeably stunned that I was able to garner the support, in my district it ended up alienating many voters who saw her as a liberal carpetbagger from Los Angeles (they weren’t, at least entirely, wrong).
In life and politics, endorsements of you as a person don’t always turn into results at the end of the game. Some of my endorsements (especially the ones closely aligned with the Democratic Party) were controversial to otherwise centrist voters. And, in the end, my own priorities were not consistent with the voters in my district, and also unable to overcome the slander and smear that my opponent waged so effectively against me.
A sleepy, suburban, affluent bedroom community, with the majority of voters working and living their social lives largely out of town, didn’t particularly want change. They wanted another candidate that would sit on the council and simply pass through what was already passed through before. Keep quiet, don’t do too much. My opponent had already exhibited for 4 years that he would do little enough to not cause a ruckus, and just enough to keep people happy.
Though what came after my loss was the eventual worsening of the pandemic and health and safety of our community, many of them continue to appear largely unaffected (to the detriment of the rest of the city).
As it turned out, since my loss, the mismanagement of health, housing, COVID, and everything in between, has been a complete disaster. Less than two years later, we have more than double the community members dead of the virus, and a paltry vaccination rate by zip code compared to other areas of California. We also have a moratorium now meant to stifle any building of newer, affordable, housing, which has resulted in both crime and homelessness rising exponentially since the election. The real kicker is that the moratorium is meant to stop the very type of housing my opponent spoke in favor of – both times he ran.
When the CDC changed their masking guidance in May 2021, and the state of California aligned alongside it in June, our city took it a step further and made masks optional for everyone. Aghast, and in horror, I contacted everyone on the city council – one of whom claims to be a nurse – asking why? How? What justification could there be when the rules clearly stated *only the vaccinated* could remove their masks? Our city claims to be family friendly, and this would only increase disease spread and hurt our lower wage and front line healthcare workers. How could a nurse, and her colleagues, sign on to this?
No one ever responded.
As the Delta variant, and later Omicron, ripped through the community, they continued to ignore my calls, emails, and requests. I drove by city-sponsored events to see that no mobile vaccine clinic had been called to come from the county. I watched in horror as city after city shut down when Omicron hit, only for our city to insist on staying open, and to outright lie when they had outbreaks. (How many times does the senior center need to change the carpeting in a year’s time?)
It’s this type of do-nothing, ignore-everyone, attitude that is pervasive to the city council, and why I say that in spite of voter registration data or general presence of support, our community is – by and large – conservative. Conservative values are more than a party or an ideology, they are a way of life. You could have voted for Joe Biden or Hilary Clinton, but still clicked the ticker on every ideologically Republican-valued candidate down the line. And we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t admit the aforementioned aren’t pretty right of center politicians anyway.
This is what voters in this district believe in, and are like. I realize that now. A progressive appearance slathered over a regressive and conservative reality; this is the community I was running for city council in, and exactly why my radical ideas of taking care of each other, and lifting the entire community into a higher quality of life, was a losing strategy. Many homes have those catchy signs on their yards that say In This House We Believe, while the people within them respond to an incident of outright racism at the high school with the old line “kids will be kids.” They vote for leaders that do anything but lead, deferring to council members that effectively show they’ll take a seat and button their mouths. That’ll do nothing and point the finger at the county or state or “personal responsibility” when it’s time to hold someone accountable for a major problem in the community, of which there are many. Those that came out to vote in my district in particular seems by and large perfectly content to bury their heads in the ground of their finely manicured lawns, ignoring the struggles of the other tens of thousands of residents that live in this city. So long as it doesn’t affect them, and they don’t have to hear about it. At the same time, you almost have to understand – at least in some sense – because with such a high cost of living, and the need to commute to afford living in the city, they’re fundamentally too busy to care. Maybe that’s the point.
As it turns out, even the most progressive public health advocates at the beginning of the pandemic were more than excited to take off their masks in stores when little kids were around. When the Delta variant began to rip through our unvaccinated populations, and everyone realized that even the vaccinated could still transmit COVID to others – well after the election was over – middle aged suburban women, and men in Oakleys with big trucks and a clear compensatory tendency, proudly talked online about being the “only ones” in the stores that had taken off their masks just yet. That number of unmasked grew, as did COVID cases, and these people whose profile pictures were still of them getting their vaccine, wearing a shirt that said something like “I believe in science,” with the Biden-Harris logo still over-laid on the photo, coined the phrase “I did my part, if you’re unvaccinated that’s on you.”
My city is like the apex where Blue MAGA and Red MAGA meet. Where every street is a mix of hard to the right voters that still have their Trump and “Let’s Go Brandon” flags up in their lawns, and soft to the right Democrats that voted for Biden but still watch Fox News and worship at the alter of First Responder culture. And yet caught in the middle of it all, holding the entire community up and making it run, are the working class, swelling our low paying jobs and privileged attitudes with a smile, while working so many jobs just to put food on the table and pay rent they don’t have the time to vote, let alone do anything else.
And this is how my opponent, a hard right Republican, masterfully manipulated the public into thinking I was some cop-hating liberal that would take their guns and bastardize the community. While I was talking about the pandemic and masks over Zoom, this guy was going door to door telling people I wanted to defund the police and soon thereafter turn our city into one where people were shackled by socialism, forced to wear burlap sacks and live in a communal shanty while paying allegiance daily to a dark Stalin-esque overlord. While I did take the endorsement from the local Democrats, this plus a check for a couple hundred bucks and my name on a list of candidates they had endorsed, was the length of support I received from them. And I always made clear that their ‘defund the police’ jargon was a losing policy – in both politics, and practice.
In truth, my own political philosophy can be best described as nuanced. I don’t believe in defunding the police, but I do believe that Black lives matter. I’m not a fan of groups or clubs. And as I said, I stand by the working class and the struggles of others more with empathy and understanding and a commitment to public health and quality of life, above anything else. In many ways, I agree with the Democratic Party’s positions, but in many ways I also do not. Certainly, what I disagree with them on is the idea that an individual within the Party cannot have varied views on things; that everyone must fall in line, as if they cannot win elections without total and utter allegiance to the official talking points.
Years ago, when I first graduated college, I worked for the Democratic Party, as well as on several campaigns (as local as water board and as national as Presidential primary). Stupidly, I forgot just how much like their nemesis they truly are. Backbiting and embroiled in identity politics, the Democrats on the largest and equally smallest scales tend to shun anyone that is not completely in line with their philosophies.
To be clear: this is just as authoritarian as the MAGA GOP. Where Blue MAGA meets Red MAGA.
They aren’t even philosophies espoused in a political party, though, so much as they are a body of non-thinking ideologues. It’s no wonder they get into office and are unable to ever actually accomplish anything; to remain in with the in crowd they have to tow the party line, or face the consequences. Festering in the back of my mind for the entire campaign was the memory of the last job I did for the local Democrats, before going back to college and then graduate school, then moving on to be a private citizen – as a stay at home mom and writer. It was a pre-candidacy hit piece on a local Democrat, pulling up personal anecdotes of sketchy behavior, old cable bills, and basically anything I could get my hands on to convince this guy not to run for office in a primary against a more well-known, well-liked, candidate. All because he was not 100% in line withe the Party’s views. After spending weeks putting this piece together, I never called the committee back when they tried to contract me for another job. I couldn’t live with the idea that I was going to be a part of this type of underhanded, backbiting operation.
So upon taking their support in my own campaign, I knew I would have to keep it at an arm’s length. More than anything, when old faces and familiar names began to crop up, I knew it was in my own best interest to remain somewhat neutral. At least with the locals. I wanted to impact change in my community, and do a service to the people. This was my agenda. Not get sucked into petty Party politics and infighting.
COVID allowed me to largely get away with doing that, at least for a time. I was able to stay above the fray until just after the election.Of course this didn’t prevent me from losing.
And once the election had passed, all the toxic, nuclear waste bubbled to the surface anyway. What came only after I lost, I never could have foreseen.