What does it take to run for office? Network Delaware sought to answer that with its first Newark-based public office workshop last week.
“One of the reasons we’re doing this training tonight is to kind of bridge that gap, because the people who tend to be the ones to run are those who are maybe most connected to those already in power or who have connections,” said Drew Serres, executive director for Network Delaware.
Network Delaware grew out of Eugene Young’s unsuccessful campaign for Wilmington mayor in 2016. Serres said the group has done similar training sessions in Wilmington and received requests to expand the effort to Newark. Last year, the group trained successful progressive candidates Tizzy Lockman, Laura Sturgeon and Dave Carter.
The two-hour workshop Jan. 9 drew people from all over Delaware who are interested in running in their own local or state elections, with Newark City Council members Jen Wallace and Chris Hamilton present to offer advice and answer questions.
The group’s members are mostly liberal, but Serres said anyone was welcome to attend the event.
In a series of exercises, which had the attendees talk in groups or one-on-one with each other, Serres and Fundraising Coordinator Megan Hart had attendees evaluate their own interest in running and their family’s support, the time commitment running for office requires and the public narrative they want to craft.
In one of the first activities, Serres and Hart asked attendees to introduce themselves to another person like they would introduce themselves to a constituent. When the group came back together, Serres asked what they remembered about the person they spoke to.
“One of the most important things, not just as a candidate but being a good elected official, is the ability to listen. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with what the person said, but at least hear their concerns,” he said.
Wallace discussed the importance of having diversity in local elections.
“Don’t think about elected officials being someone else, that looks a certain way, that has a certain background, that has done certain things. Elected officials should look like everybody in this room and come from your background,” she said.
Wallace, who has been on council since 2016, said Newark’s council has been mostly white, older men.
“Not to put them down, but that’s not everyone in our community and they have a certain perspective, and it’s not wrong but it’s not the perspective of everybody,” she continued. “And I think it’s important that we have more diversity in these local races because that’s how we can make sure that the community’s voices are really being heard.”
She advised attendees to do their research so they know the regulations on running for office, the full responsibilities of the position and the issues in their district.
Hamilton told attendees they have to expect to win, even when the campaign trail gets difficult.
“Be genuine. If you don’t believe in the office and you don’t believe in yourself, they’re not going to believe in you,” he said. “And it’s tough. You will have doors slammed in your face; you have people say bad things about you. You have to have a thick skin, but you have to be professional and you have to be polite.”
Connie Kowalko, whose husband, State Rep. John Kowalko, was recently re-elected in the 25th district, told those in attendance to be prepared to run twice.
“A lot of people don’t get in the first time,” she noted, adding that her husband wasn’t elected the first time he ran, but he got involved in the issues he cared about and ended up flipping the numbers when he ran the following cycle. “It’s discouraging to lose; it hurts to lose. But when you run the second time, you’re going to bring your numbers up and you’re going to show people that you’re serious.”
Serres wrapped things up by having attendees think of their public narrative, which he defined as the story of why someone running for office feels called to leadership, the values of the community they would serve and the challenges that demand action.
John Sullivan, a Newark resident, said that he came out to hear the suggestions from Network Delaware.
He noted that running for office is “something I was thinking about,” and while he’s not fully committed to a campaign yet, the workshop gave him more to consider.
“It provided a lot of information, stuff to consider,” he said.
Allen Henry, of Newark, came out to get an idea of what running a campaign might look like. He said he’s interested in the city council race.
“I’ve been thinking about jumping in to one of the races, so I’m just trying to kind of get an idea of what it all entails, if it’s something that I really want to do, or should I go a different route to try to help people,” he said.
Newarker Madinah Wilson-Anton said she has thought about running in the past.
“I worked in the government before, so I knew what they do once they were in the role, but this gives me more insight into what it takes to get there,” she said.
Nick Wasileski, president of Delaware Coalition for Open Government, reminded attendees that they don’t have to run for public office to get involved, mentioning groups like the League of Women Voters, a coalition to restore the Rodney Square Bus Hub in Wilmington and the Civic League for New Castle County.
“There’s all kinds of ways to get involved and actually make a difference as a volunteer in these groups,” he said.
Newark will have four seats up for grabs in the April 9 municipal election, including mayor and the Districts 1, 2 and 4 council seats, which are currently held by Mark Morehead, Jerry Clifton and Chris Hamilton.
University of Delaware undergraduate Kasai Guthrie, who announced his mayoral bid last month, is the only candidate to file so far, though Mayor Polly Sierer confirmed she plans to seek a third term. The filing deadline is Feb. 4.
Meanwhile, the filing deadline for Christina School Board is March 1. John Young is running for re-election but does not yet have an opponent.