The past few months have been some of the most exciting and challenging times of my life, in a whole lot of ways. I gave birth to my second child just after the first of the year. Around the same time, a number of leaders in the community began encouraging me to run for a full term on City Council, where I had just served two months as interim councilwoman.
While I have spent a great deal of my career in public and community service, this is the first time I've campaigned for public office. I faced a steep learning curve, mastering the complexities of running an aggressive race.
There's a lot of jargon to learn, a multitude of tools to get the hang of, and mountains of paperwork to tackle. It's daunting, to be sure, but I was not to be discouraged.
Just like there are tricks and tools and gadgets available to me as a new mother that my own mother didn't have back in the day, so, too, has political campaigning evolved from the days when my union leader father went door-to-door with a clipboard in hand and a pencil behind his ear.
I own and operate a small business that helps clients embrace innovation and emerging technologies, and that was the mindset I brought to my service as interim councilwoman. As my campaign got underway, my team and I looked to leverage all available tools to engage in meaningful conversations with district residents.
Ours is truly a 2.0 campaign, employing four impressive tools.
In political campaigns, just as in life, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Knocking on doors is the most effective way to build relationships with voters, determine levels of support and gather localized feedback about people's needs. We rely on our incredible volunteers and the MiniVAN has become our go-to tool for making the entire process simple for everyone involved.
Developed by NGP VAN, this free mobile app allows any volunteer block walker to know whose door they're knocking on and have a more engaging and intelligent conversation with that voter. Valuable information is at each volunteer's fingertips, accessible with the swipe of a smart phone screen. Most importantly, each volunteer is able to create a custom script to maximize the effect of each conversation and maximize feedback, as well as note any follow-up that needs to happen.
At the end of each direct contact, information, including whether the resident intends to vote, has a preferred candidate and, my favorite, important issues, is entered by the volunteer and seamlessly synced to our database. Our team would be far less productive without this multi-faceted tool.
Aimed at educating San Antonio voters and getting them to the polls, this incredibly cool, free, non-partisan app launched just in time for the May election. By entering an address, voters can use ThinkVoting’s tools to determine what elections and issues are on their ballot. They also can find relevant information about when and where to vote. As a candidate, I get the opportunity to share information about me, upload a video, and direct voters to my website.
As a candidate, I've been amazed at the number of questionnaires and voter guide responses I am asked to complete. Remember what I said about mountains of paperwork? There are, of course, the public reporting and compliance requirements to track and file. But the stacks of questionnaires from neighborhood associations, community groups and political clubs are far more numerous.
ThinkVoting consolidates candidate bios and issue positions and, through a partnership with the League of Women Voters, provides users with access to the LWV Voters Guide. Users rate candidate responses as positive or negative and ThinkVoting suggests the candidates that align with their interests and positions.
It's an amazing tool that cuts through the partisan rhetoric and political doublespeak. That may be why ThinkVoting is my favorite new app. I hope every voter in San Antonio gives it a try before Election Day.
The most frustrating challenge I faced during my service as interim councilwoman last year was the lack of ways to collect meaningful feedback from the community. There are running logs of 311 calls that are helpful. But people only call 311 when there's a problem, and generally, only when they've exhausted other possibilities of getting that problem solved.
What about when someone has an innovative new idea? Or is pleased with a given city service they've received? Or what about an easier, more interactive way to have an issue addressed?
My prayers were answered this April when Paul DiGiovanni launched Ideas for COSA. It is essentially a digital, crowd-sourced suggestion box for San Antonio which provides an outlet for people with ideas, suggestions and random thoughts about our city.
Ideas for COSA allows users to post their ideas or feedback directly onto the website. Other users can then upvote and downvote it as well as provide their own thoughts and engage in discussion. It is a unique tool that I believe could be transformative if our leaders take advantage of it. I’ve already taken the first step by using Ideas for COSA to gather feedback about the transportation and infrastructure challenges that District 7 residents are facing.
Yep. We did it. We held an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on reddit. It was awesome. A goal of mine during this campaign was to leverage existing technologies in new ways in order to produce results. AMAs are nothing new on reddit, and are actually one of the most popular uses of the site. From what I have been able to find, I was the first person running for office in San Antonio to host an AMA. I am confident I will not be the last. Rumor is that other candidates are looking to host their own sessions.
I spent the afternoon engaging with citizens just as I do in my daily blockwalking, but with the opportunity to reach exponentially more people in considerably less time.
I was able to talk directly to citizens about their issues, concerns, and hopes for the future. And my neighbors and fellow citizens were as happy as I was to engage. Our conversation grew so large we became the top topic in the San Antonio subreddit for the next 24 hours.
Just like the face-to-face discussions I have with people at their doors every day, we talked about traffic and stray animals and Uber/Lyft and mass transit. I had so much fun learning from all the San Antonio redditors that it was hard for me to end the conversation. The enthusiasm we met at our AMA proves San Antonians are eager to engage about their neighborhoods and their city government. It is a tool I will employ frequently as a candidate and a councilwoman.
What all four of these tools do is allow me to efficiently run the kind of race I have been determined to run from the very beginning – a campaign that engages fellow citizens directly in a conversation about how to move our community forward. These tools, innovative and hi-tech as they are, make my campaign about people instead of numbers, ideas instead of tactics, engagement instead of alienation.
I am committed to making San Antonio a more connected city throughout my campaign and, should I be so fortunate, my time on City Council.
*Featured/top image: District 7 candidate Mari Aguirre-Rodriguez surrounded with technology. Courtesy photo.