Have you considered running for office? We all agree we need honest, intelligent, dedicated people in government, so what’s it like to take the challenge? Ross Barkin decided to run for State Senate in New York. He was unprepared for the work, the time, and the dedication it takes to campaign. He ran in the primaries and lost by about 2000 votes. He is forthright in sharing his experience.
Barkan is a 28-year-old journalist whose articles appear mostly in the Village Voice. He’s used to writing about politicians, but he’s not used to being one. He surprised most everyone when he launched a campaign to run for State Senate in Southern Brooklyn, saying,
“You can only try to hold the system accountable for so long from the outside. Sometimes, you have to break in and do it from the inside.”
Once he declared his candidacy, he was officially in the public eye. He learned to worry about everything he said. All of it becomes public record. He discovered that if one person posts a negative impression on social media, it begins to define you, and it freezes an impression in time.
He learned how seductive power and attention are. He says,
“People project their wishes and dreams on you and if you’re not careful, you can grow drunk on your own hype. Whether you intend it or not, you are performing — dressing better, shaving more, strengthening your handshake, brightening your smile, being nice to people who, in your other life, you wouldn’t necessarily associate with.”
We all know there are only two outcomes of an election — you win or you lose. For a time, Barkin believed he would win. He recruited hundreds of volunteers, raised over $100,000, and hired a great team. He opened his campaign headquarters in Bay Ridge and it quickly became a community hub.
“You need skin that is not only thick, but impenetrable. You have to reckon with the anti-intellectualism that is rampant in some Democratic circles as well as Republican ones, and accept that your history, finances, relationships, service to the community, ethics, and values will be scrutinized.”
When the primary votes were tallied in September, winner and loser had to acknowledge the outcome publicly. On the night of his defeat Barkin was dazed. Still, he managed to give a rousing speech acknowledging the pride he felt for his team. He commented that running for office was a thrilling and exhausting endeavor. When asked would if he do it again, he said, “Yeah!”
Barkin noticed he is different in a good way after his year on the campaign trail.
“Politics destroyed my sense of shame. I learned to raise funds, to comprehend the deleterious enormity of money in politics. I spent hours on my phone begging for cash, writing emails for cash, eradicating whatever shame I have left and just doing it. I can ask, I can beg, I can stand on a street corner and pitch myself — this body, this face — for four hours at a time.
Campaigning educated me. I learned neighborhoods on an intimate level, block-by-block, door by door. I talked to literally thousands of people. I came to understand the disparity of incomes, and the diversity of life in far more consequential terms than I ever would any other way.
There’s more beauty than hate. I met the most generous people who offered me a bottle of water in the middle of a heat wave and invited me to sit down with them. But I wasn’t prepared for people to rip up my posters in front of me, for racists to tell me the “minorities” get too much in this city, for a man to scream at me for expressing my opinion, for a woman to blow cigarette smoke in my face and tell me I’d never win.”
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I applaud Ross Barkin for sharing his experience. I didn’t delve into his politics to know if I would vote for him, but I admire him for running for office. Imagine giving one year of your life — 15 hours of every day — to campaigning. Think of the time it takes to refine your goals and arrive at solutions to problems of transportation, education, health, safety, taxation, infrastructure, housing, campaign finance reform, cyber security, and jobs. I know I’ve missed some important issues including the biggest one — balancing a budget for it all.
Imagine channeling your hopes and ambitions into a single endeavor that can have a positive impact.
Tempted to run for office? We need you.
Sources: The Village Voice, Gothamist Today