Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Importance of Political Operatives

In 2005 I volunteered for Mayor Tom Menino's re-election campaign (I am a big fan of the Mayor's). I was asked to hold a sign for him outside the State House polling location on Beacon Hill in Boston. In the morning, I met up with another volunteer. I won't mention his name here, but suffice it to say he had experience in previous campaigns, doing far more than just holding signs. I wondered out loud how many voters I could influence for the few hours I would be volunteering.

"Every little thing counts," he responded. "It all makes a difference."

I was reminded of that story while reading a fantastic article in last week's New Yorker Magazine (the issue with the controversial cover depicting Barack Obama as a terrorist). The story talked about Obama's roots in politics within the Chicago political independent movement. His first race was for State Senate, and he ran to replace Alice Palmer, who had decided to run for Congress.

Even as a young politician, Obama was an astute political observer. He knew his chances would be greatly advanced by earning the endorsement of Palmer and other Chicago politicians located near his home in Hyde Park. These endorsements were important for the volunteers they brought.

The story focused for a small part on two ardent supporters of Alice Palmer, Alan Dobry and his wife Lois Friedberg-Dobry. When Palmer endorsed Obama, the Dobry's instantly began the process of campaigning for Barack. Palmer's supporters and rallied around her self-appointed successor. And Palmer's operators-- the people who took care of the details of her campaigns-- worked for Obama.

Politics in many ways is about processes. Getting on the ballot by asking for signatures. Phone banking to identify strong supporters. Door knocking to further the voter ID process. Holding signs for visibility. There are these processes and then the processes for managing these processes. And all have their place in campaigns and politics.

Barack Obama would not be a candidate for the presidency today if it were not for the Dobry's and many others like them-- the operators who made sure Obama won his first election.

Further, to many others out there, like me, who hold signs and collect signatures for other candidates, we must never forget that the candidates we support have to start somewhere. Heck, one of them could become a presidential candidate.

NOTE: Story Reference: "Making It," The New Yorker Magazine, July 21, 2008, by Ryan Lizza.

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