Guyanese-born Richard David is a candidate for the New York City Council (District #28 in Richmond Hill, Queens).
In a peculiar way, this is a Guyanese election. Of the 60,000 registered Democratic voters in the district, 16,000 are Indo-Caribbean. (This district has the largest concentration of Guyanese and Trinidadians abroad). A viable candidate must be able to win a threshold number of 4,000 votes. The voter turn-out rate is usually no more than 20%.
The election is September 12, that is 19 days from today. In the last few days of any election you will always hear the pundits say, “If the candidate can turn out his base, he will win”. If David’s campaign can turn-out a bare 25% of his base together with a few percentage points from other sections of the district, David can easily win this primary election.
What makes Richard David’s a viable candidacy? It is simply the Indo-Caribbean base. Tip O’ Neil (former Speaker of the US Congress) once said “All politics is local”, to which he might have easily added, “and all viable candidates must be able to mobilize their support-bases”.
The Indo-Caribbean population has been steadily growing in this district for the last 40 years. And several Guyanese-born candidates noting this trend in the past 20-years, have tried to mobilize this base to capture a seat in the 53-member NYC Council legislature. They have all failed. Can David make a difference in 2017?
Of all previous Guyanese-born candidates ‒ Trevor Rupnarain, Dr Taj Rajkumar, Dr Dhanpaul Narine, Atty, Albert Baldeo, Dr Robby Mahadeo ‒ Richard David, in my opinion, is the most qualified. He has done significant community service work – run free coaching programmes for students, founded the American-Caribbean Alliance which donated books on Caribbean literature to the Lefferts Blvd library, worked with the agencies of City Hall that oversaw the delivery of community services all across this city of 8-9 million people. He has depth of knowledge and experience of how city government works.
At the end of the day, a distinguished record of service and good credentials and character are not enough to win elections. It comes down to a campaign organization’s strategy to mobilize and turn out the vote.
In the past I have observed several candidates who rely only on wholesale canvassing – TV and radio advertising, billboards, leafletting at street corners. This method has been proven to be ineffective; it is like throwing water on a duck’s back. Over the last 15 years, I have knocked on the doors of Guyanese home-owners and many will say, “I don’t know the candidate”. Never having met the candidate, there is no motivation to vote. Elizabeth Singh, who can write the handbook on local elections, once observed, “about half of all registered Guyanese voters have never activated their registrations – never once voted in any election”.
How about retail canvassing – knocking on doors, talking one-on-one and engaging all the voters in the family on their issues like garbage collection, buses and trains running on time, property taxes too high, whether the parks’ department is cutting the undergrowth and is doing regular mosquito-spraying, whether the sanitation department unfairly targets Indo-Caribbean areas for sanitation tickets ‒ and, personally asking for their vote?
Council races are ideally designed for retail canvassing. Just a little over 4,000 votes are needed to win, and the candidate can reach voters at their homes and do face-time talking. This method also overcomes that peculiar Guyanese attitude of not having met the candidate personally, and therefore having no incentive to make the 10-minute-trip to the polling precinct.
In New York City, the system is different from Guyana’s. You buy the Voters’ List from the Board of Elections; it has their names, ages, and addresses. For a few extra dollars, you can also purchase another list containing their voting history. If your campaign has a limited budget, it would make sense to put 85% on retail canvassing (knocking on doors) and 15% on printing colour brochures and TV/billboard advertising.
The key to winning a City Council election is knocking on doors – 3,000 doors will yield an average of two votes per household and that will produce 6,000 votes, which is more than enough to win a primary election.
A week ago, I volunteered with the Richard David Campaign. I walked with Richard David doing house-to-house canvassing, passing out a short bio-flyer on the candidate, with the candidate personally introducing himself to the homeowner/voter. The response was overwhelming: pure enthusiasm from every voter. Several volunteered to canvass their friends and other relatives who live in the district. Several wanted to talk about two previous District # 28 Councilmen who were charged and convicted on embezzlement charges, as a consequence of which the district languished without effective representation for most of the last 8 years.
Two days ago, candidate Richard David won an important endorsement from District #32 Councilman Eric Ulrich. Standing at a major thoroughfare in the District (Lefferts and Liberty Ave), Councilman Ulrich lauded the community service of Richard David and made references to the shame of the District going without representation for most of the last 8 years.
The David campaign the day before yesterday sought to invigorate the campaign with a fresh dose of energy. They have put out a call for volunteers to help get-out-the-vote, specifically with a door-to-door campaign.
Richard David is a very viable candidate. He has two other contestants. In my opinion, this race is still winnable if his base turns out on September 12.