Hat in the Ring, Not on Your Head!

Political candidates should not wear hats.

Apparently, this is a thing.  I’m amazed I made it this long without discovering this hard and fast campaigning rule.  But really, it’s probably rarely an issue in local campaigns.  How often do local elected officials or candidates get asked to wear hats, really?

At the higher echelons, however, this is a rule you’ll need to be aware of. To prove the point, politico.com has provided a brief history of this rule:

And–this is the best part–a little tidbit from the Nixon Campaign Plan Book:

“The 37th President of the United States of America NEVER WEARS HATS…no honorary hats…no protocol hats…no “great photo” hats…no “the law requires” hats…no “it’s the custom” hats…no cute hats…no beanies…no stovepipes…no firehats…no captains hats…no caps…no Indian headdress…no feather hats…no hard hats…no soft hats…no ladies hats…no mens hats…no fur hats…no paper hats…no grass hats…no thorn hats…no “Nixon’s The One” hats…no nothing.  HATS ARE TOXIC–AND CAN KILL YOU.”

Even if you’re the President of the United States, standing in the middle of Ground Zero among hundred of other people wearing protective hats…

no hat bush

NO.  HAT.

I can understand how a presidential candidate could easily be made to look foolish by wearing inappropriate headgear.  Now, the chances of a hat bringing an equally devastating effect upon a town or county campaign are probably slim, but…why risk it?  Besides, City Councilmen become Mayors, State Representatives become Congressional candidates…do you really want a picture of you in a dorky hat surfacing during an election for higher office down the road?

Leave the hats at home!

Try a lapel pin instead.  Those never go out of style, am I right???

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My Frank Assessment of the NYC Mayoral Race

Lhota, DeBlasio NYC Mayoral Candidates 2013

Caveat – this is by no means comprehensive.

Funny story: On Election Day for the primary this year, I voted very late – got in a few minutes before the polls closed at 9pm.  I recognized the poll worker from my Church :)  She gave me a card and directed me to the voting machine.  I pulled the lever back and tried to toggled my choices for the Republican mayoral candidates, and none of the Republican levers would move.  I stuck my head out from the curtain and asked for some help – I demonstrated that my choices wouldn’t move, and the poll worker said, “Oh, you’re a Republican.”  She and two others needed help figuring out how to switch the machine to allow a Republican primary ballot to be cast, because I was the first – and only – Republican to vote in my polling place!  After a few minutes of discussion they figured it out, and I was allowed to cast my ballot and go home.  On my way out, I chatted with Church-lady, and she confirmed I was the one and only.  Ha!  Life in Harlem…

Anywho.

An intelligent and no doubt attractive new reader that happens to be from my town asked me my thoughts on New York’s mayoral race in the comments of my last post.  And when I thought about it I figured other candidates – especially in big markets – might glean some helpful insights.  So voila, a post is born.

Here’s his question:

“I just found your interesting site by chance while researching materials for an NYC grassroots campaign. Are you still located in NYC? If so, what’s your critique of the Mayoral Race conducted by Republican candidate, Joe Lhota?”

This is for you, Thomas! (Also because I’m too lazy to write up a review of the whole race for non-New Yorkers, I’ve included links – like this one – in case you want to get an idea what current events I’m referencing).

Interesting question! You know, I’m surprised he hasn’t wrapped himself more around the issue of school choice. Last week charter schools took a half day off to march in the streets with parents and children – Lhota marched with them, and if it hadn’t been for the debate, I wouldn’t have known about it. De Blasio is staunchly anti-school choice – this should be a single issue campaign!

Now, I live in Harlem, so my on-the-ground perspective may be a little skewed; school choice
would be a super-hot topic here, and in a good way for Lhota.  Don’t forget – parents who care about their kids’ education are much more likely to be registered/reliable voters. But I would expect a Republican campaign in the city to start in SI and Brooklyn and work from there, so Harlem may be the last place on their mind (and rightly so, story above is exhibit A).

One other issue is that this biking/road-rage incident harkens back to the bad old days of ‘wilding’ in the late 80s/early 90s. Manhattanites who’ve been around long enough may fear the results of rolling back Giuliani/Bloomberg policing policies and that could be a winning issue for Lhota, too. Here in Harlem, those bikers are a real problem. I often see them tearing down Fifth Ave from the Bronx, popping wheelies and caring very little about pedestrians.

I realize this critique sounds pretty negative on Lhota, but it’s hard for me to get a frank assessment on the positives because I don’t see anything from the campaign, no doubt because of where I live.

I will say in regards to the debate (which was a little pointless since De Blasio chickened out – he can only hurt his campaign if he exposes just how liberal his platform is), Lhota didn’t seem as calm, confident, and prepared as Carrion – not as prepared, perhaps, or simply not properly prepped on how to respond to questions you’re not expecting.  Be decisive, not flustered!

Holy smokes, I just realized I haven’t seen any Lhota commercials…I don’t watch a ton of TV, but that should start soon, if it hasn’t already.  You can’t even hope to win city-wide in NYC if TV and radio aren’t a major part of your communications outreach.  Well, I guess there’s always hope.

And before I close out the topic, I can’t resist mentioning that Lhota’s nomination in the first place is classic establishment-Republicans-shooting-themselves-in-the-footism.  They chose to back the man they thought could win, instead of the best and most genuine Republican choice.  When will they ever learn that the voting public has an eerie knack for seeing through that play?

Thomas mentioned he was researching for a grassroots campaign in NYC.  So come along with me on a stream-of-consciousness ride through that subject, will you please?

I have no idea what your issue or candidate is, but I’m betting this post about fundraising will be helpful, along with  this one on GOTV organization, and this one on 72-hour campaigning.  There are more, but three self-promoting links is enough for now, I think.

Here’s the rub – “grassroots campaigning” doesn’t really exist in NYC.  There’s always some loon on the corner using traditional grassroots techniques (that work out in the real world of ‘Murica) to try and recruit Communists, or that guy who runs for whatever race is happening every single year on the Upper West Side – you know, the one with his name plastered on a van he leaves parked on the street – but he never wins, of course.

What “grassroots” would translate into here in the Big Apple (and most major metropolitan areas) is actually ‘influencer collection.’ I just made up that term, because as far as I know there isn’t a formal term for it yet, but the concept is not new.  The book Applebee’s America digs into the idea much deeper, but in summation, it’s the practice of locating significant members in a community – organization leaders, respected pastors, other politicians, union leaders, neighborhood/apartment complex/block association presidents, etc. – and convincing them to support you, thereby winning the votes of all the people they ‘influence.’  And because this city doesn’t have any real community, this system strangely works really well.  Influencers direct, and followers do what they do best.

Now, this phenomenon does work in more average towns and cities, too.  But not nearly in the extreme way it does here.  I believe it’s partly out of necessity.  With so many dwellings being locked-up apartment buildings and gated/guarded condos and townhomes, traditional door-to-door is impossible.

The point?  Aim for community leaders.  Get your candidate/representative in front of their organizations.  If that ends up being difficult – maybe your issue just isn’t in play right now and you can’t get the attention of any of the typical, busier influencers – aim for the tenant and block association leadership.  At the very least you can plan your grassroots effort around getting into those buildings so you can actually talk face-to-face with voters, leave campaign literature, and push your issue’s name ID.

They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.  While I disagree with most interpretations of that quote, I agree that NYC politics is about as harsh as it gets.  Anyone who simply survives it deserves a merit badge, and if you can win here, you can be successful in most of the rest of the political world.

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