midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “campaigning by bike”

Author Interview: ‘Too Many Politicians…Are Chickens and Weasels’

In advance of author Adam Gordon Sachs’ author-signing appearance Aug. 23 at Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, DE, Sirenian Publishing sat down with Sachs to discuss his new narrative nonfiction book, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics. The book recounts Sachs’ amusing,FrontCover_FINAL_6283732 exhilarating and disillusioning travails during his campaign for a Maryland House of Delegates seat and takes an inside look at the sometimes noble, but often corrupt and incestuous world of politics from an Everyman perspective.

Sirenian Publishing (SP): Why did you run for the Maryland legislature?

Adam Gordon Sachs (AGS): I wanted to advocate for a few specific things I believed in that would make a difference: universal access to affordable, essential health care, eliminating the profit-mongering health insurance companies; campaign finance reform to reduce the undue influence of corporate and PAC money; redistricting reform to take the corrupt process out of the hands of self-interested politicians; a reduced tax burden for the middle class; and sensible gun control laws. And I wanted to be somebody important, something common to politicians yet none will acknowledge.

SP: Why did you write a book about your campaign experience?

AGS: There are many books about politics, but nearly all are written by journalists who are observers, academics who are researchers, or politicians, who are career political professionals and millionaires detached from the masses, with help from biographers. I couldn’t find any books written by an “Everyman candidate” – a political amateur with no political machine or huge bankroll who tries to crash through the iron gates erected to keep out such outsiders. How many people can relate to a Hillary Clinton or a Donald Trump or a Bush — pick any? Only the Elite of the Elite. I believed average people who ever considered running for public office could relate to my experience and could get a glimpse of what it would be like to step across that terrifying threshold to candidacy.

SP: What did you find encouraging about your campaign experience?

AGS: There are honest, well-intentioned, civic-minded people who want to contribute their talents, ideas and efforts by getting involved in politics for the public good. I viewed the majority of the 10 candidates in my Democratic primary that way. I also felt involved in something exciting and meaningful during my campaign. There’s nothing like a political campaign to make you feel engaged, stimulated, challenged and alive.

SP: What was discouraging?

The insiders – the entrenched political class and their loyal henchmen – rule the business. Through the power they have obtained through their positions, name recognition through years in public office, large campaign bank accounts, political relationships, allegiances, and loyal corporate, PAC and union donors, they have a path to stay in office in perpetuity and to a large degree determine who will join them when a seat opens. It was discouraging to realize how much the ability to raise money – or spend a lot of your own – impacts electoral success, or even to have any chance to win at all.

It was frustrating to discover the organizations that make endorsements dismiss candidates with little regard for what they may stand for in office, but because they have too little money to be considered “viable.” It becomes a vicious cycle: If you don’t have enough money, you don’t get endorsements. If you don’t get endorsements, you have more difficulty proving you are “viable” and raising money.

It was also discouraging to observe how detached most citizens are from public life, and how disillusioned they are about politics and elected representatives as a whole.

SP: What’s the biggest problem you see in politics at the state level?

Too many politicians, especially those in the Democratic majority party, are chickens and weasels. They’re more concerned about staying in line with legislative leadership – protecting their own hides — so they can stay in office, continue reaping huge contributions from corporations and special interests, and get promoted through the ranks, than in taking a stand for positions that leadership may frown upon but many citizens would support. For example, the legislature failed to vote on a bill in 2016 that would ensure a modest amount of sick leave days per year for working people, the fourth year in a row the bill has failed. Leadership, which is in bed with big business, doesn’t want it. It’s the same with reforms for which I advocated – health care for all, campaign finance, and redistricting.

SP: What did you learn about yourself during your campaign?

AGS: I learned that I am not aggressive, ambitious and driven enough to do everything it takes – and you have to do a hell of a lot – to win a highly competitive election. Really,, the race reconfirmed some things that I already knew about myself that are shortcomings for a politician: I am a substandard salesperson and self-promoter; too reluctant to ask people for money, help and favors; and lean toward introversion, or being a lone wolf in a game that demands extroversion and a massive team effort. Those traits are not a winning formula for success in elections. I equated my campaign style to a general going into battle without an army, or even a tank, an excellent plan for getting slaughtered.

SP: What does it take to be successful as a candidate?

AGS: Extroversion. It’s difficult to be successful as a candidate if you are a private person and you don’t gain energy from constantly being around people, meeting new people, talking about yourself and being curious about others and their thoughts and concerns. If you lean toward introversion, you have to get in touch with your extroverted side and bring it out. You need confidence and the sincere belief that you will do a good job because you are smart, engaged and care about improving society and the effects of laws and government policies. However, I learned that you don’t necessarily have to stand for anything. You can just talk a good game, spout platitudes and feel good lines, and if you are properly connected and your bank account is fat, you have a great shot at success.

SP: Do you plan to run for office again?

AGS: No, never. I’m done. I always wondered if I could do it and relished the challenge, but now I’ve done it twice, the first time in 2006 for Howard County Council, with the same result. There will be no “third time’s a charm” for me. I can walk away with no regrets, because I know I gave it my best shot, and I understand the Herculean effort it may take to win, especially against incumbents, and I know I don’t have enough to give.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics is available on Amazon in book or Kindle format: http://amzn.to/2az9j4O

Solidarity Amid Tragedy: A Ride for Tom

I spent New Year’s Day 2015 attending a funeral of sorts for someone I had never met. It was a moving event, literally and figuratively. Maybe 1,000 or more avid cyclists and casual riders alike gathered in Baltimore at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation – a starting point with sad significance — and took over the streets in a sea of bikes on a 35 degree day as the sun faded, riding in solidarity to the spot where a cyclist was killed by a drunk and distracted driver.

Tom Palermo, a cyclist, bike frame maker, professional, married father of two young children died Dec. 27 when hit from behind while riding in a bike lane on one of Baltimore’s more bike-friendly streets. The crime has attracted national and even international attention because of its egregious nature and the status of its perpetrator. Tom was run down by the second highest ranking bishop in Maryland’s Episcopal Church hierarchy, who had a flagrant previous arrest for driving under the influence. This time, the bishop drove away from the accident scene with a shattered windshield with a big hole in it from where Tom crashed through it. She returned to the scene later only after cruising by and being noticed by another cyclist who stopped to render aid, and who chased her down. She has been charged with manslaughter, driving with a .22 blood alcohol level (legal limit .08), texting while driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

When I heard news of the accident and the impromptu plan for a New Year’s Day memorial ride for Tom, I felt compelled to be there. If there was ever a case where the saying, “There but for the grace of God go I” applied, it was this one. I imagine all the cyclists felt the same kinship. I had spent half of 2014 campaigning for Maryland state delegate, and used my bike as a campaign tool to go door to door and to advertise. The bike was equipped with a trailer with campaign signs on each side and in back. It did not earn enough votes to win, but it made campaigning more enjoyable and kept me in shape.

However, I was often keenly aware how vulnerable I was – much more so than the one- to three-week long bike trips I’ve taken in my younger days. Most of the roads I traveled had no bike lanes or even shoulders, and traffic that could hit 40-50 mph or more. Drivers often seemed in a rush and distracted, oblivious to me. I was always one driver mistake away from meeting the same fate as Tom.

The Baltimore cyclists rode three or four miles on Jan. 1 to a makeshift memorial with flowers and candles and messages where the accident happened, and solemnly observed a memorial session with Tom’s family and bicycle advocates as a community.  A white “ghost bike” was locked to a pole in Tom’s memory. Many were angry – a homemade memorial featuring a bike wheel and bike seat stood in the road’s median, with the seat inscribed with “I Am Angry.” But this was a time to remember Tom and support his family. Justice would have to be sought later.

The vast majority of the people at the ride had never met Tom, just like me. But there was an unmistakable feeling of connection, of familiarity. Tom was us, Tom was me. He was 10 years younger than me, but in ways similar. He had a boy and a girl, just like me, two years apart, just like me. He loved to ride, just like me. At his memorial, his family talked about how hard it was for Tom to find time to ride in recent times, with a young family, a full time job as a software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a side business. I could relate to that; when my kids were 6 and 4, free time was at a premium.

On a sunny and relatively mild December Saturday afternoon, Tom had been able to carve out some time for himself and had gone out for a ride, and never came back. It was unbelievably, crushingly, maddeningly sad.

The light amid the darkness was the spontaneous reaction of people to be there, that people cared about what happened and showed it through their actions in what can often be a cold and uncaring world. That it mattered to be there. That all the texting and Twittering and Facebooking could not substitute for being present, for joining a brotherhood and sisterhood with a common avocation to acknowledge one of their own. I had debated whether or not to go – it was cold, I wanted to relax at home on a day off. But when the time came, I knew I would regret inaction, so I went and I’m glad I did. It was among the most moving events I have ever experienced, largely because of its spontaneity. A thousand cyclists claiming their piece of ownership of the streets – if only for an hour – is quite a spectacular sight.

As I have reached well into midlife, I have become more and more aware of mortality. This is nothing unusual. But incidents like Tom’s just serve to remind me – I don’t know when my number is up. Life does feel more precious; it becomes more urgent to strive for fulfillment, meaning and self-actualization. Perhaps there does come a point in everyone’s life when there is no more time to wait for tomorrow or someday. A week or so after Tom’s accident, we heard about ESPN’s Stuart Scott – BOOYAH! – passing away after a long fight with cancer. He was two years younger than me.

I imagine I will often think of Tom when I ride. I have thought about him every day since the memorial ride. And like every other cyclist there that day – I would bet my life on this – I am not going to stop riding the roads. It comes with some risk, but so does life.

I never knew Tom, but I wish I did. I have a feeling I would have liked him. I wish the best for his family.

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