The ‘Real’ Disappointments

I started this blogging adventure with an invitation to all mayoral candidates to hang out and let me get know the person behind the politician. I received an overwhelming response – McKenzie, Nenshi, Burrows, and Higgins. So thanks – to those of you that followed me along my adventure.

I thought it was only fair to let you know my dialogues … or non-dialogues … with the candidates I didn’t have a chance to hang out with. It’s only transparent and fair of me to give some credit where credit is due.

The most credit goes to candidate Jon Lord. We attempted to make schedules jive several times. We spoke back and forth through Facebook messages. I liked that – very personal – very friendly and obviously evidence he monitors his own account. He sent me an official invitation to watch him speak at his church on Thanksgiving Sunday. His topic was “enthusiasm” – something he told me he was excited about. I do think he has shown great enthusiasm throughout this race. My own Thanksgiving family commitments did not allow me to go that morning – although any other Sunday I would have gone happily and I would have dragged @ppilarski along too. Lord followed up with an invitation for coffee down in his neck of the woods in SW Calgary – or Chinese for dinner one night. Apparently, he enjoys it “once and while”. I told him my schedule and did not hear back. I chalk that up to it being the last week before the election. He certainly tried and I appreciate that.

Jon Lord also commented on my original blog posted on CalgaryPolitics.com. This to me shows that from day one he had an interest in sharing with Calgarians the ‘real’ man behind the campaign.

Ric McIver doesn’t get credit but his team of volunteers does. After my blog went up I was contacted by one of his youth volunteers, a University of Calgary student that was heading up his “McIver for Mayor” efforts on campus. He perceived this blog, and invitation, as a great opportunity for Ric. He told me he had forwarded it on to a “higher level” in the campaign and I would hopefully hear from someone soon. Time passed and I didn’t hear from anyone. At the beginning of October I sent a follow up email to this volunteer and copied an email address I found on the website. The volunteer replied again saying that they were attempting to get me on the schedule. I followed up one last time and was basically told he was busy with other media requests. Understandable. I very much appreciate his team attempting to get me some time with Ric – I feel like I can almost be certain he had never heard of the blog. But who knows. I think this blog could have been quite interesting if given the opportunity to write it. McIver comes across as a politician to the core. What does he do on a Saturday night? I can’t even imagine! I hear he is big into our arts community … perhaps a play? Or time listening to the CPO?

I did attempt to talk to Hawkesworth. He didn’t get in touch with me – but his online army certainly did when my blogs began to come out. I thought it would be worth reaching out myself. An email received no response. Numerous tweets to Bob directly were not replied to – this to me was the most surprising because throughout #yycvote I had been involved in a few back and forths with Bob on Twitter. Most having to do with authenticity and using social media appropriately. I remain perplexed as to why Bob wouldn’t reach out to my invitation via Twitter. I asked his online army to pass along my invitation as well – it met the response that they wouldn’t because I was biased and would write negatively about their candidate. Too bad – I also think it would have been fun hanging out with Bob, especially after the latest Herald article about his thoughts on spending the day at the spa after realizing his 30 year political reign in the city had come to an end. I would never turn down a chance to get a pedicure.

I never heard a peep from Connelly – although I did mention I’d be interested in sitting down with him to a family member of a volunteer on his campaign.

Wayne Stewart approached me at a forum I attended and said with a big smile, “It is so nice to see the young people getting involved in politics.” That was the last I heard of him. And I know I’m young but the whole encounter turned me off. I’m not just a “young person” curious about politics – I’m passionate about them and about this city, and striving to choose the best mayor for the job. I never heard from his campaign – I did mention the blog to someone volunteering for him and he said he would mention it during a campaign meeting.

Bonnie Devine, Barry Erskine, Sandra Hunter, Gary Johnston, Dan Knight, Amanda Liu … well I don’t blame them for not getting in touch with me because I don’t think they’ve gotten in touch with anyone.

I talked to Fech in person – he was flabbergasted I had been tweeting about him … that anyone had been tweeting about him. And I really get the sense that we have all been exposed to the ‘real’ Oscar Fech over the course of this election, and every election that he has been involved with. What you see is what you get with that guy and I certainly hope he isn’t going away – the next council will need his outspoken accountability just as much as the last. Citizens like that are what keep politicians on their toes.

Actually I’m hoping we can all be “citizens like that” via social media long after #yycvote is over. I want this passion to transfer over to #yyccc … so I’ll see you there Calgary!

CR xo

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(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on October 16, 2010)

‘Real’ Encouragement from a ‘Real’ Passionate Calgarian: Drinks with Barb Higgins

I had been attempting to sit down with Barb since the week after my original blog had been published. A member of her team contacted me and let me know that this “interview” was important to them. Throughout the course of the last month I received emails and the occasional phone call asking my availability for the week ahead. On Friday night I was asked if I could be flexible over the long weekend. As a citizen blogger my answer was, of course, YES – except for the thanksgiving dinner factor on Sunday night. That was unlucky for me because I was invited to experience the Flames home opener with Barb that night. I really chalked it up to bad luck and bad timing. The next morning, to my surprise, one of Barb’s volunteers called and asked if I could meet for drinks at 8pm.

My day continued like any other – and when 7pm rolled around @ppilarski and I got ready and headed out to meet the mayoral candidate. We were meeting at Earls on 4th Street; as a resident of Mission Barb says that 4th Street is one of her favourite hangout spots, especially the Joyce.

We were greeted by a Barb volunteer and sat down in the restaurant. We chatted for a bit, and found out Barb was on route. At this moment her partner, Brad, walked in. He sat down with us and was surprised I was the blogger. I started to explain the concept to him and Barb barrelled into the restaurant. I say barrelled because she has so much energy that you literally feel it when she enters the room – big smile, moving quickly, bright appearance. She is with her campaign manager. Brad and the manager excuse themselves to the lounge; they have a football game to watch. Barb sits down right beside me and says she wants to be close so that she can get to know me.

She is wearing jeans, a blazer and a scarf. I noted this because I’ve never seen her in jeans during the course of this race. I appreciated that she came casually – she came as her weekend self. The first thing she explains is about keeping her purse around her ankle on the floor. A stolen purse in South America taught her that lesson. This leads to a conversation about travelling. The conversation about travelling leads to a conversation about Calgary. This was a turning point in our conversation. At first it was clear that Barb really did not know what to expect – but she warmed up to @ppilarski and me, and started being ‘real’ within a few minutes.

After her warm up it became very clear that her strength was being one on one with people. She looked you right in the eye when you spoke and when she responded. She never hesitated and she never held back. She was enthusiastic, down to earth, and exuded confidence.

“There is nowhere else on earth like Calgary. The energy here is different. You can propose an idea and people get excited about it. They want to do it and they find a way to get it done. It’s refreshing. I love it here.”

We agree that Calgary is a special place; it breeds and attracts individuals that are bold go getters. It’s clear she understands the people of this city. I’ve grown up here my entire life – I know that vibe, I live that vibe, and it is important to me that a mayoral candidate would recognize it and be willing to nurture it.

We talk about her campaign. “I feel like we have finally figured it out – we are finally gelling.” She explains that she felt as if she couldn’t be herself early on in the campaign. She couldn’t handle that anymore, switched up her campaign team (as we all know), and finally felt free to speak her mind and run the campaign the way she envisioned it. I feel like getting to spend some time with her was a direct result of a more organized team – a guest blogger for CalgaryPolitics was no longer on a list, but on the “things to do” list.

I ask her about social media – I had to it’s my passion. “I tried the Twitter thing. At the beginning it was all me and I’d respond to tweets before bed. I was willing to get behind it and use it every day but people just got really nasty. I stopped surrounding myself with nasty people in my real life a long time ago. You shouldn’t surround yourself with those people. If I was sitting here with someone treating me badly I’d pay the bill, wish them well and leave. That’s what I did with Twitter.” She explained what an avid Facebook user she was before the election. She loved sharing pictures and catching up with friends online. She suspended her personal Facebook account for the election and is focusing on her political one. She likes it and feels she is using it effectively. She likes responding to comments online. “It’s like we are sitting here at Earl’s, we are having a good time, but the people at the Joyce across the street are mad because we are here and they are over there. Come on! I picked a restaurant and you are free to come here too. That’s kind of how I feel about Facebook and Twitter. I ended up picking one and anyone is welcome to join me there.”

I’m impressed by her understanding of social media and how it is being used. True, she had no idea about my blog but she did understand its potential and knew about CalgaryPolitics. She told me she was tired of going to bed angry after reading the day’s tweets. I can live with that response. We are all aware there are some angry voices on Twitter this election (something I need to blog about too). Do I wish she would have tried Twitter longer, yes; do I think she understands it will be important to engage on social media in some way if she wins the mayor’s chair, yes.

A conversation about Facebook undoubtedly leads us to a discussion about friends. Those are the people that convinced her running was what she needed to do. Similar to Nenshi, she was looking for a strong candidate to support and bring change to city council. When she didn’t find that, she started to realize that perhaps she needed to step up. “I was physically surrounded by friends at a Wednesday night Stampede party. They were from all different areas of my life, old and new.” They all wanted her to run for mayor, so she invited them over for breakfast on Friday. Dressed in Stampede gear, they all committed to Barb to help; she made them look her right in the eye and promise.

“Then I realized I had to quit my job!” She took time off from work and came in to give notice over her holidays. “I usually go out of town when I’m on vacation from work so when I walked into the newsroom everyone knew something was going on.” Darryl Janz, of course, took the news the hardest. “He cried. I love him. He is a special man.” Barb hasn’t regretted a single moment since. “I know in my heart this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life right now.”

During the course of our conversation Barb says hello and gives big thanks to a table of her volunteers beside us. She tells me that she spent Sunday phoning volunteers and thanking them, “that’s what I was thankful for this Thanksgiving. I just can’t explain how thankful I am to all these people. I never expected it. I knew I’d have name recognition and people would trust me after my experience as their evening news anchor, but this has been incredible.”

We talk about the fact that the mayor will have to deal with becoming a local celebrity. “I dealt with that in my twenties,” Barb explains. “I have learned how to use my influence to highlight issues that matter. This isn’t about me. I’m doing this because I can facilitate change and point out the issues in this city.” She alludes to the fact that some candidates running will have to adjust to all the popularity they will receive; walking down the street won’t just be walking down the street anymore. She won’t need this adjustment time.

Barb pays the bill as soon as it gets to the table. The waitress recognizes her and we all chat about the election. Barb explains how to vote – unfortunately this young lady has only been a Calgary resident for 2 months.

Barb turns to me directly and shifts her focus. She wants to know about me; something I had asked in my original blog “what would candidates ask me?” @ppilaski and her volunteer begin to banter – it’s just Barb and I. I feel like she has known me for a while, like a mentor. She encourages me on my path of communications and reminds me to go with my gut. We both understand what it is to be passionate and she says she is excited to see where I will end up. Wow. This conversation continues for at least 10 minutes.

I receive a big hug from Barb and @ppilarski gets a firm handshake. “I’m so glad I got to sit down and do this,” Barb gushes, and you can tell she isn’t blowing smoke up my behind … she genuinely enjoyed giving me an hour and a half of her time. She comments that at this time next week she will be in front of a television biting her nails. One week away from election day and she is still willing to give me so much time. “I wish I could sit down like this with everyone in this city. I want to know their stories. Calgary is made up of people with incredible stories. To understand them is how you understand the needs of the city.”

I walk out with @ppilarski and say “Wow, that’s not what I was expecting.” I’m impressed. She literally opened up her heart for an hour and a half, no pauses, no awkward moments, straight constant attention and conversation, no politicking just people. Her passion and grace overflows – and she is eager to pour it out over Calgary.

CR xo

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(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on October 13, 2010)

It’s Saturday Night… Do you know where your Mayoral Candidates Are?

I sit up on a Saturday evening … and like the nerdy, politically astute female I am I wonder what my mayoral candidates are up to. Saturday night is the stereotypical date night; the night away, the night off, the night checked out from the world of politics.

Looking through my TweetDeck I find that the hashtag #nomnomnom brings me to find individuals enjoying funnel cake, chocolate chip cookie dough, and @eliz_rocks enjoying “deep fried cheese curds”. Obviously the single people of the world are connecting via terrible food this evening. I flip over to #yycvote and find that people are all a buzz talking about Burrows’ hired plane circling GlobalFest with a “Vote Burrows” banner behind it (via @djkelly), Kent Hehr at his fundraiser being interviewed by one of our own, @oberhoffner, and Hawkesworth reminding us to sign up for his fundraiser supporting a sustainable Calgary … whatever that means.

But aren’t our candidates real people? How do they enjoy their Saturday night … honestly …

I ponder the idea of the rich, successful, suave politician – entering an exclusive Calgary bar (do we even have one?), talking to the “common folk” with a martini, a smirk, and all the right answers. I feel myself instantly being swayed as I hear their vision for a better Calgary and realize that they like going out and socializing just like I do on a Saturday night. They are honest and not bashful about the fact that they are just as typical as I am in this city.

Now the nail is hit on the head – why haven’t I picked a candidate to support yet? Why haven’t I been wooed by a potential front runner? Why haven’t I gotten excited about the potential of a future leader in Calgary? It all comes down to the fact that I just can’t see these candidates as real people.

Ok – a bit harsh, I know. So I open up the video file of the last mayoral forum online. I witness Craig Burrows talking about growing up as a boy in neighbourhood of minorities, Joe Connelly being excited about wearing Pilipino garb, Nenshi giving the same speech I saw on his YouTube video, McIver saying no, and Barb Higgins reminding me I was but a little person that she was willing to listen to. I imagine sitting down for coffee with each of the 14 candidates … what would they think of me? A born and raised 23 year old graduate student at the University of Calgary, passionate about social media and excited about the future of this city. I know what I would ask them, but I wonder what they would end up asking me. A key idea that we often overlook; we always have questions for them – but really they should have questions for us too. We are the people they want to represent.

And as I strive to make a decision about which candidate to support, I realize I am looking for an actual person. I’m curious if they are sitting on TweetDeck on Saturday night, or out with a loved one, or sharing their evening with a room of passionate volunteers. I realize that I’m looking for a real person to represent me; someone who understands that it is important to be honest and authentic when answering questions on Twitter and key to be assuming that the average Calgarian has never heard their name before.

I keep looking to Twitter for glimpses of this real person. Hoping for responses to questions that don’t sound negotiated or developed by staff; replies to direct messages for coffee invitations; twit pics featuring their Saturday night enjoying this marvelous city. Where are these indications of real people? Am I missing something? Or are my fellow Calgarians waiting for the same thing?

Why do I want a real person representing this city? Because I’m a real person – my parents are real people – my colleagues are – and my friends are. I want someone who gets what it is like to be in Calgary on a Saturday night and truly feel privileged to be here.

Candidates – I’m waiting to hear why you love this city. Of course it is because of the great people – but why? Why are you the real person that should represent Calgary? And why are you the real person that should win over my support and admiration? Why are you the mayor that is willing to support me, the passionate citizen?

Inspire me mayoral candidates … I’m begging for it.

CR xo

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(this has been cross-posted from CalgaryPolitics.com on September 1, 2010)