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Is Running for Office Right for You?

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Shantel Destra: Is it crazy for you to consider running for office? It might not be. We'll talk about what it takes to run on this episode of "NY&." Welcome to "NY& Running For Office." I'm your host, Shantel Destra. In previous episodes, we've gone over ways to participate in the civic process, like voting and organizing. But what about actually being a candidate yourself? Running for office doesn't necessarily mean running for a high-ranking position like governor or state senator. It could be something hyper local like a spot on your school board or town council. These are roles that may seem small in scale, but can have a big impact on the place you live. 

In this episode, we'll talk about the basic process of running for office and the importance of competitive elections in our system of governance. We'll also speak with folks in elected positions about their experiences in the election process. 

Before we get into the process of running for office, we'll talk about the importance of competitive elections. Competitive elections can make for a healthier democratic process. It is not uncommon for local elections to feature candidates running unopposed, which can result in less ideas being brought to the table and lower voter turnout. This is not to say that running unopposed makes a candidate uninspired or not tuned into their community by any means, but candidates in tight competitive elections will be vying for a greater share of votes, which can lead them to pay closer attention to what their potential constituents want. This process can make the election more representative of the needs and wants of the community. And this gets to the core reason of why we wanted to make this episode. 

State politics obviously have a big impact on New Yorkers' lives, but local politics can also have a greater impact on lives and communities than one might think. And that is why New Yorkers across the state deserve healthy competitive elections in their towns, cities, and counties. This is all to say if you have a deep understanding and a finger on the pulse of the wants and needs of your community, you could be part of improving the quality of elections in your area by throwing your hat in the ring. But how do you know you're ready to make the jump? 

We spoke with State Senator Jake Ashby about what drove him to initially get involved in politics and how he knew he was ready to run.

Jake Ashby: I felt a calling towards it, to be honest with you. I was first elected to the Rensselaer County Legislature in 2017, but prior to that I had dipped my toes in it a little bit, just helping out with campaigns and local issues at the village level, and that's what kind of piqued my interest. I really look at it as an extension of public service related to serving in the army. When I got out of the army, I missed that element. You know, I was really fortunate to have a great career to fall back on and education to pursue, but I missed that element of public service and that's what got me into politics.

SD: So the process of running for office can vary depending on the position you're looking to fill, where you are running and whether you're running as part of a political party or as an independent.

Oftentimes, to get your name on the ballot, you will need to collect signatures from registered voters on forms such as nominating or designating petitions. The type of forms you need to fill out can get a little complicated based on where you're running and for what, but we've included helpful state resources in the description, and you can always reach out to the Board of Elections, be it state or county with any questions. 

So we went over getting your name on the ballot, but there's still everything else related to running a campaign. Fundraising, for example, can affect the scale of your campaign and your ability to promote yourself as a candidate. Some candidates like to run grassroots campaigns, which connect with local like-minded issue groups, and then further develop a volunteer base by connecting with passionate community members. 

Grassroots campaigns also tend to fundraise through facilitating a large number of small donations from potential constituents or individuals who want to support the campaign. Donations have to be reported to the state or to the Federal Election Commission depending on the type of election and the size of the contributions, as there are varying campaign finance laws and contribution limits in play. As we've said, the way you run a campaign can vary based on the scope and scale of the election you're in, as well as the needs of the communities you want to represent. 

We spoke with Tabetha Wilson about her philosophy on running for office and the approach she took when running for the Board of Education for Albany City School District

Tabetha Wilson: Running for office is probably taking organizing to its next logical end. And I think a lot of times really at its fundamental level, running for public office is about helping people about sort of naming, identifying the things that is not working for everyone, and then working at a policy level or legislative level, changing things to improve it for the collective.

 I think 40% of our students are Black, so thus I felt like what is this opportunity to sort of like represent the needs, the notions, the ideas, the values, to be an underrepresented group, but to pursue public office I think is sort of like writing some historical things in some ways and also like overcoming that missing voice that often people are speaking about. 

We have groups and sectors that are not super engaged in voting and it's because they have apathy or deep disappointment. Deep mistrust, right, of the political process. I did a lot to show up in a way that I don't know has had happened historically. I don't know if school board members had gone to all of these sort of other groups meetings such as NAACP, or for example, the Urban League. But I went to all of the meetings, all the conferences, not in a sense of, oh, I'm your candidate, I'm running for office, in a sense that I wanna learn about, yes, our school system is one thing. How does the entire community work together?

SD: State Senator Jake Ashby also spoke with us about the importance of connecting with people and gave some advice to folks thinking about running for office in the future.

JA: I enjoy going out into the district and meeting people. We did mobile office hours in all of the towns and that was really interesting. Sometimes you only had a couple people show up. Sometimes we had a whole room full. It gave me a good idea of what the issues were in that particular area on what people were gonna be vocal about. We'll go to different rallies or different events that are going on, whether it's fairs or different community events that are going on in the different towns and cities. I think that's important during the campaign, but it's important to do year round because you represent that area and it's important to stay connected. 

You have to be able to, I think balance opposing ideas in a way that is palatable and you have to be able to communicate that to people who may be very opposed and trying to find common ground with them. Start local, whether it's at the village level, city level, and I would just start volunteering. If there's an issue that you're passionate about, get out there and try to advance it and then build on that, continue to build on that. It can be frustrating at times, but you have to have thick skin. You know, that's part of the job is to being able to handle criticism and take criticism and keep going.

SD: The quality of our local county and state governments can only be as good as the people we elect to run them. One of the ways we can improve governance and the quality of elections is to make sure that fresh ideas are exchanged among quality candidates. Maybe you could be one of them, but that's all we'll get to today. Be well and see you next time.

Watch the Video

Is Running for Office Right for You? | NY& Running for Office

Join our host, Shantel Destra, as she goes over the basics of running for an elected position in local or state government. 


Interview Subjects:
Tabetha Wilson- Board of Education, City School District of Albany
Senator Jacob Ashby, (R) 43rd Senate District 

Board of Election Forms and Guides(1)(2)
Contribution Limits in NY

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