Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fact from Fiction in the 2nd Suffolk Primary

Congratulations go out today to Sonia Chang-Diaz, the one time schoolteacher from Jamaica Plain who defeated sitting Senator Dianne Wilkerson in the Mass. 2nd Suffolk Senate Democratic primary. When the vote is certified late Monday, Ms. Chang-Diaz will be the Democratic nominee on the ballot in November.

I have had the privilege of volunteering for Sonia and her team since late July, when I decided to vote for her. Given what I have seen, I have thoughts about recent developments in her race as well as strong opinions on why Sonia won.

The Race About Race

Unfortunately, the Mass. 2nd Suffolk District is racially divided. The base of Senator Wilkerson's support is in Roxbury and parts of Dorchester, areas with a high African-American population. The base of Sonia Chang-Diaz's support is in Jamaica Plain, where she lives, and areas between Jamaica Plain and Roxbury Crossing.

Sonia Chang-Diaz also saw significant support downtown, which is mainly white ("mainly" probably being an understatement). As one of my jobs as a volunteer was to help her downtown, I know that she won Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Bay Village and the South End by a margin of 62-35 percent. Chang-Diaz won more than 80-percent of the vote in the three 2nd Suffolk precincts in the Back Bay. [Chang-Diaz won my precinct, Ward 5, Precinct 4, by a margin of 67 percent to 24 percent.] It's also worth noting that most of the precincts downtown (Wards 4 and 5) were not a part of the recount that took place yesterday.

This past Tuesday, Senator Wilkerson said she would run in the November election as a write-in candidate. She said on primary night that her defeat "proves you can become a representative of this district without representing its core, and that makes me feel sick."

More directly, this past Tuesday, activist Bob Marshall said: "This is much bigger than Dianne. This is about the community’s ability to choose who its leaders are. The district is split along race and class lines. Dianne won the majority of blacks, Latinos and Asians. Sonia won the wine-and-brie crowd."

Sonia Chang-Diaz's dad is from Costa Rica (he was America's first Latino astronaut). She speaks fluent Spanish. She drives a beat-up old Toyota. She took the T to the recount yesterday. She eats microwaved burritos in her campaign office for dinner.

Senator Wilkerson and her supporters are right: This election is about race. It's about electing someone who can represent the ENTIRE district, given the unique racial dynamics of its precincts.

Ironically enough, because Senator Wilkerson is pressing on, dividing the district by race and claiming the seat belongs to one part of the district, I am prevented from my next volunteer assignment: working for Senator Barack Obama.

Show Me The Money

On a few occasions, Senator Wilkerson has implied that Sonia Chang-Diaz bought this election.

As a volunteer for Chang-Diaz, this claim is laughable. Campaign finance reports show that Senator Wilkerson actually spent MORE during the campaign than Chang-Diaz.

I can also give you some first-hand examples. Sonia Chang-Diaz's campaign bought zero bumper stickers during the race, claiming they were "too expensive." Volunteers made their own buttons at the campaign office. The only new signs I saw were the fifty or so that arrived on election eve to display at polling stations. Even the Chang-Diaz website is based on a free application called Drupal. Her campaign did everything with efficiency and cost-effectiveness top-of-mind.

The Missing Discussion: Why She Won

Among all of the false claims, discussions of recounts, and "what-if" questions about who certain pols will endorse or work for next, what's missing is reason why Sonia Chang-Diaz won the primary.

To me, the answer is simple: The candidate herself. This campaign was all about the personal touch. Sonia Chang-Diaz first called me in my office at work back in late May (I was literally in the middle of a team meeting and had to call her back). Every time I saw her in the campaign office, she was writing thank-you notes to supporters, many of whom she had just met door-to-door in the district.

When I spoke to voters, many commented on how they "had met Sonia," or they would say that "Sonia has asked for my vote."

In the weekend leading into the election, Senator Wilkerson had several prominent politicians record phone calls for her. The Chang-Diaz campaign countered with calls from volunteers. My conversation that weekend would generally go like this [I have taken out spots where the call recipient would respond or gasp]:

"Hi, I'm Ross and I am volunteering for the Sonia Chang-Diaz campaign. You have no doubt gotten a lot of recorded calls from politicians, and I know these calls are annoying. Well... This is not a recorded call... and I am not a politician. I am just an average Joe like you. But I am voting for Sonia Chang-Diaz."

During the entire lead-up to the election, Sonia's campaign made personal connections. Each volunteer supported Sonia for different reasons, and those personal reasons were our most effective persuasion to the voters of the district.

Sonia's gotten this far based on that personal touch. And she will no-doubt win in November because of it as well.

1 comment:

mandy sunflowers said...

I am way overdue in leaving this comment, Ross - but I thought this was a really interesting post.

When I worked for TMM, we often were reminded by the pollster (Tubby - I wonder if he's still around?) that the mayor's approval rating was so high because of his personal touch - the fact that something like 70% of Bostonians shook his hand at some point, and the fact that anyone could invite the guy to their "event" -- be it a ground breaking for a community center or a birthday party for a five year old. And crazy as it was, he actually sometimes attended that birthday party. It does make a difference. Good for you for making those calls!