Expressway: Tales from the local campaign trail during the political 'silly season'

"Be kind to candidates of all parties when "Be kind to candidates of all parties when you see them at supermarkets and train stations and your front door over the next several weeks. Most are inspired to serve the public," writes Mary McCaffery. Photo Credit: Newsday, 2011 / Karen Wiles Stabile

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A decade ago, Martha Offerman, then the Oyster Bay town clerk, asked me to join her on the campaign trail and run for town council. She was running for re-election. A Democrat in a strongly Republican town, I had already lost five runs for offices ranging from council to State Senate.

"How much can one person take in the name of civic duty or following a dream?" I wondered.

"This will be your year," Martha argued. "With Tom Suozzi at the top of the ticket, it's a sure thing."

I was not that naive. There are no "sure things" in politics. Still, I was tempted to take up the challenge again. The year was 2001, and Suozzi, the mayor of Glen Cove, stood a good chance of becoming Nassau County executive and might attract more Democratic voters to the polls.

For my part, I wanted to make town government more responsive to taxpayers and businesses and help improve community downtowns. With the support of my husband, Jack (a Republican!), I sought and won the Democratic committee's nomination at the summer convention.

Labor Day is the traditional start of the local campaign season -- many politicians call it "silly season" -- and on a Sunday morning after the holiday, Martha and I pulled into the Stop & Shop in Jericho to meet and greet voters. We stood on both sides of the supermarket's front doors. Our plan was to say hello as people entered and to hand them a palm card as they left.

Sleepy-looking men passed by with Sunday newspapers and cups of coffee. Most of them rushed by with their heads down or waved us off. At the very least, they got a cheery, "Good morning."

We hoped they would at least remember our names, which were printed in large, bold letters on campaign pins, posters and bumper stickers.

Soon we saw a shopper pushing a cart full of groceries.

"Good morning," we said from both sides of the foyer.

"You politicians are all crooks!" the woman hollered, as she picked up her pace and sprinted to her car. We didn't even have a chance to drop a palm card into her grocery bags.

Then Martha told me to look at the woman's clothing. "What can you expect from a grown woman who walks around with Tweety Bird embroidered on the back of her jacket?" Martha said, laughing hard.

After an hour, we packed up and left, leaving behind some posters taped to the store's entry area.

In the weeks before the election, I campaigned at weekend festivals, visited the Hicksville train station three times a week at 6 a.m., and knocked on hundreds of doors. Campaigning door-to-door is the hardest, because Long Islanders are reluctant to open their doors to strangers.

 

In November, Martha won re-election, and I finally won. For the first half of my four-year term, I was one of two Democrats on the town board. I was the only one in the final two years.

The experience taught me a lot about people and public service. The moral of the story: Be kind to candidates of all parties when you see them at supermarkets and train stations and your front door over the next several weeks. Most are inspired to serve the public. And campaigning is not easy.

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