David versus Goliath – the plight of the aldermanic candidate

The last few weeks as @ppilarski and I have been driving through yyc our conversation often ends up reflecting upon the aldermanic races – perhaps it’s because of all the signs we have seen, especially throughout Ward 1 (a side of the city we spend a lot of time in). The topic was natural for our first collective blog. As we banter back and forth we hope that you will engage too – and perhaps point out the points we’ve missed. Peter has written the meat of this blog – and is passionate about the topic. You’ll find my commentary in italics throughout. CR xo



Given the controversy and problems with the last city council, it amazes this political animal that more of the new aldermanic candidates aren’t gaining traction against incumbents – especially since several incumbents have opted for sleeper campaigns.  While many of the polls released thus far have the undecided vote at as high as 50 or 60 percent, several pollsters have already concluded that most of the current council will return to office.  While I don’t quite believe those polls and conclusions just yet, I can appreciate just how difficult it is for Aldermanic wannabes to get the electorate’s attention.

In a municipal campaign like the one we are experiencing in Calgary, these soldiers of democracy really are up against the world.  Sadly, many of them would make great Aldermen but will instead end up a fading memory.  In some cases, these brave people will be victims of circumstance and in others, their fate a product of their own naivety and lack of experience, team, strategy and execution.

Sleeper campaigns doesn’t even begin to describe the poor turnout from our current aldermen during this campaign. I am constantly disappointed by the lack of awareness they are sharing with their constituents. In my own ward I received a poorly put together 1 pager from my incumbent – grammatical errors and all. And I’ve heard of no one who has pounded the pavement and dedicated time to doorknocking. It’s upsetting. In my opinion, incumbent or not, it is detrimental to show you care about the people as a politician. I have more hope we will see a few upsets in these races to council.

One problem is a lack of volunteers.  With such a crowded and high profile Mayoral campaign, politically active bodies are spread thinner than the reasoning behind the need to build the over-priced Peace Bridge.  All three leading Mayoral campaigns have told me they each have about 900 volunteers.  While I don’t believe numbers are that high, there are a lot of people actively helping mayoral candidates, leaving the aldermanic races with leftovers, family members and the occasional experienced campaigner who chose to help in their own community and stay away from the big show (@crontynen and I).

I’ve really enjoyed focusing attention on an aldermanic race this time around – it really has reminded me, personally, about how important the community is. Calgary is a place made up of great communities. Our ties to them are what make our ties to this city so strong. It’s sad that more volunteers, and voters, have no idea how key an alderman is in making things happen close to home.

Money, like volunteers is very hard for these community leaders to come by.  Between mayoral campaigns, provincial political fundraisers, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and so many other organizations and causes fighting for our dolla bills, these little known candidates can’t raise the kind of capital it takes to build the brand and political machine it takes to win.

Getting recognized in such a crowded race is also extremely difficult.  There are SO many candidates in this race.  The average Calgarian’s head has got to be spinning when trying to decide who to support.  At the end of the day, the citizen do-gooder who votes in every election is most likely to check the name they remember.   Not to mention the vote splitting that will occur amongst the 6 – 12 candidates in each riding that believe they are the change the City needs.

This conversation was one we had with family over Thanksgiving. We asked one living in Ward 6 who she was voting for … the only name she could remember was her current alderman Connelly – and as we know he is attempting to fry bigger fish this time around.

Another barrier to success for many of these Candidates is the candidates themselves.  Getting elected to political office is not something you just pick up and do.  It takes planning and a lot of effort.  It takes a personality type.  It takes money and people.  Most importantly, it takes a hell of a lot of work.  I lived in the Edmonton-McClung provincial constituency before I moved to Calgary.  Rookie PC campaigner, David Xiao, managed to beat popular Liberal incumbent Mo Elsalhy.  David knocked on every door in his riding to win the PC nomination and knocked on every door again between the nomination and election.  He worked very hard, but that’s what it took to win.  David also had the benefit of the PC franchise and very strong provincial campaign.  In most cases, these aldermanic candidates are just some guy or gal that has lived in the community for a long time and knows a lot of people.

It’s becoming clear that aldermanic campaigns take 4 3 years. Strong runners up (and I’m assuming there will be a lot of them) need to keep pressing hard, keep meeting the people, keep volunteering, pounding on doors, and remaining visible. Hard work pays off – that’s karma – and I’m confident that dedication will lead to Xiao like success the next go around.

The good news is that if Calgarians pick the right person for Mayor, we should have a less noisy race next time around.  If these Aldermanic candidates are serious about getting elected, they have time to build their brand, assemble their team, and develop their strategies and policies.   They can attend events and knock on doors – take the time to listen and learn about people’s experiences and concerns.  While I strongly believe we need wholesale change at City Hall, my confidence it will happen this time diminishes daily.  Here’s to hoping I am wrong!


3 thoughts on “David versus Goliath – the plight of the aldermanic candidate

  1. Aldermanic campaigns take 4 years?… instresting statistic, anything to back it up?
    basically you are saying unless someone started campainging in October 2009, they wont even be ready to run in the next election which is 3 years and a week away…
    might as well just say they need to doorknock for a decade

    1. Not a scientific analysis – the point is that if you want to run for office many aspects of your life should be focused on it, even years before an election. The greater point is that it is particularly difficult in THIS election to beat an incumbent because of the high profile mayoral race. PP

      4 years was my typo – fixed to 3. I believe as an aldermanic candidate you do need to be out and about in the community for years! Incumbents are in the community everyday … you have to prove you are just as valuable. Of course there are exceptions to the rule – we will see come election day. CR

  2. You hit the nail on the head about time, money and volunteers. As a new guy on the block in Ward 1, I knew it was going to be an uphill battle to win this thing.
    How are we going to win? A tonne of hard work , a little beginner’s luck, a great pool of friends and family for support, and last but not least, networking. So far all of these things are falling into place and our forward momentum is growing every day. I believe the greatest factors to winning over a long-time incumbent are deep roots, a great reputation, and effective use of social networking. The incumbent has chosen not to use social media much, and I think that’s a big advantage to those of us who do use it.
    The learning curve has been huge, and no matter the outcome, I would not change a thing. The process has made me a better person, more connected to my city, and more determined to be an instrument of change for the future.

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