Politics & Policy

Put Me In, Coach!

A minivan mom runs for office (and thinks you should, too).

Here in New York, we are expecting a Cuomo coronation following the Paterson meltdown (which was preceded by the Spitzer meltdown). In Albany, you just can’t get good help these days.

This has spawned a wealth of discussion on the perennial New York topic: With all these Democrats falling over themselves to lose the governorship, why are there no Republicans waiting on the bench?

There are. You might have to squint a little to see them, but they’re there. There are commonsense Republicans stepping up all over the state. I know. I’m one of them.

Six years ago, I had coffee with an elected local official near my small Hudson River village in Westchester County. There was a waste company running roughshod over our community, and the entrenched (Democratic) politicians were letting it happen. I told her what I thought she should do about all this. In the nicest possible way she said, “Why don’t you run for office?”

At the time, I thought I was the last person who should run for office. I wasn’t a politician. I was a writer (not even a political writer — a humor writer), a mom with three young kids. What would make me a good candidate? Besides, who has that kind of time?

She explained that I’d been following the issues and listening to what my neighbors were saying, and that I could see the current administration was not representing the best interests of its constituents.

I gave it some thought. Then I got pregnant with my fourth child. Pass the ginger ale and crackers. I stopped giving it some thought.

Until the sewage hit the fan. Literally: The village sewer backed up into my house. Not once. Not twice. But three times. I went to see the village manager, who threw his hands up, shrugged, and told me I could sue the village.

That was it. I stopped thinking, “Someone has to step up and fix this.” I realized that “someone” could be me.

So I ran for the board of trustees with two other Republicans in a village that’s two-to-one Democrat. And we won. How? By having a strong, commonsense message of limiting spending and controlling taxes, and remembering that we were asking our neighbors to let us represent them. Democrats as well as Republicans voted us in.

I served two years, got tons done, and kicked out the waste industry and the people who were failing the village by looking the other way. We got spending under control, got runaway taxes under control, and made sure the snow was plowed and the leaves picked up.

Two years later, I narrowly lost reelection — so I figured I was done with my public service. We had plenty of good, involved people in our village to replace me, and public office shouldn’t be a final resting place.

Just as I was starting back to my normal life writing humorous books and columns on family, a county legislator who had been supportive of my local efforts asked me to run for county office. He felt that my district was held by a beatable (albeit entrenched) Democrat who had done little to help his heavily taxed base. Again, the voter breakdown was two-to-one Democrat.

I won the support of the county Republican party, along with the Independence and Conservative parties, and I started going door to door talking about controlling taxes and tightening budgets. Across the board, it was a message people — Democrats and Republicans – wanted to hear.

After a very exciting race, out of 9,000 votes, I lost by 12. The Democratic incumbent had won by 3,000 votes in his prior race.

A lot of good came out of the race. A lot of voters who felt like the entrenched Democratic machine was a permanent fixture in our area are now excited about the possibilities that a strong, revived, commonsense Republican movement can bring.

So if you think it doesn’t make a difference to run, or if you are sitting there in your Rotary Club or local Republican committee or Little League board thinking, “Who can we get?” — look in the mirror.

The Republicans in our area who recently have been moved to run for office include a chiropractor, a pipefitter, a substance-abuse counselor, an elementary-school aide, an exec with the railroad, and a humor and motherhood columnist. Not exactly your typical party politicians. We’re your neighbors.

There was one big lesson I learned from my three campaigns (one win, two narrow losses). I met thousands of my neighbors, people worn out by over-spending, over-taxing. All they want is for local government to focus on what it can and should do — which here in the New York City suburbs means plowing the snow and picking up the leaves — without taxing or spending us to death. That’s a message that crosses all parties. It’s a message that needs to be heard in our state — and there are plenty of good messengers out there.

– Susan Konig is the author of I Wear the Maternity Pants in This Family.

Susan Konig is a journalist who writes frequently for National Review. She is the author of Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (And Other Lies I Tell My ...

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