Ben Walsh has been cultivating relationships with diverse groups and individuals for more than a campaign season. People have walked up unsolicited, telling this writer Ben Walsh stories. One has Ben Walsh joining those working under the bridge, feeding the hungry and homeless distributing bag lunches. Another with the Muslim community after Ramadan, they were looking for him, when they found him he was assisting with the cleanup. At St. Lucy’s Movie Night, he stopped by with popcorn for the children. And these are just a few of many clandestine good deeds Ben Walsh bestowed on others, quietly. And the people he assisted in these situations came forward, unsolicited and told their stories of the Ben Walsh, they observed.
Walsh Weaponized the Resistance
The predominantly African American, Community Activist group known as The Alliance Network, gave their endorsement when the latest poll by Syracuse.com- Spectrum News- Siena College, indicated 2 percent support for Ben Walsh among Black voters. The power of that endorsement, produced a team led by Walt Dixie and volunteers from the Alliance Network, they sprang into action. There were meetings, some which included unrestricted access to Ben Walsh.
The campaign held meetings with African American leaders, activists, and young people of all ages. The number of volunteers grew in size daily, during the final weeks of the campaign.
Walsh campaign’s Matt Read, Mike Roy, Karen Cordano and Vanessa Rogers started working with volunteers, Ruthie Angrand, and others who participated in some Ad spots. That led to Angrand and Joseph Bryant coordinating the Southside Meet and Greet with Ben Walsh. They assembled a small army of canvassers; Joshua King, Indaria Jones, Juhanna Rogers, George Lynch, Victoria Coit, Ocesa Keaton, Liam Kirst, Amir Gether, Michelle Henderson and Charles Jackson. These individuals were pounding the pavement and participating in an effective effort to reach younger voters. It could be said that the Walsh Campaign “weaponized the resistance,” tapping into the energy of young people who had never before been asked to participate.
Gospel Radio’s Cora Thomas, assembled a group of 15 ministers who met with Walsh supporters and then directly with Ben Walsh. It was an opportunity to ask questions and offer input. Gauging by the warm and personal exchanges between Ben and some of the ministers, he already knew many of them.
During the campaign season, you can always count on a politician to do a drive-by visit to an African-American church. Not, Ben Walsh. As an example, he took his wife and family of small children to peoples AME Zion church; they stayed and worshiped with the congregation. In the past it was traditional for the candidate to be introduced by the minister; the candidate would give a “Miss America” wave and be out the door, on to the next church. Ben Walsh respected the institution of the African-American church and its importance to the community by staying.
The campaign appeared to be on a roll, with individuals from various sectors of the Syracuse area, if you walked into the Walsh campaign headquarters you see Rob Simpson of Centerstate CEO. There’s Tim Carroll, a Democratic master strategist whose worked with various administrations most notably Tom Young’s. Individuals including, Carolyn Evans Dean, Walt Dixie, Sharon Owens and Karen Cordano, were now coordinating the young people. After days of work at a frenzied pace, it was time for another Spectrum News Poll. Most notable of all, the 2 percent polling number jumped to 11 percent African American support for Walsh, a dramatic leap in a matter of weeks.
The Alliance Network Strategizes
At the Walsh Campaign Headquarters, the Alliance Network’s Walt Dixie addressed a team of 20 people, rattling off an impressive number of statistics. Lists on the wall indicate where they were to be deployed, and what to do once they arrived. The Walsh campaign was building a broad coalition, with the African American community as a key component.
“We’re not going to win every vote”, shouts Dixie.” We have more people coming onboard with this campaign every day and we have to make sure we’re doing what needs to be done.”
Dixie went on to describe the percentage that would put Ben Walsh in City Hall. “We know the obstacles, we aren’t going to get all of the votes, but if we can get that number up from 11 percent to 30 percent, we can win this.” After the infusion of the Alliance network and a group of young African American women, people appeared to flock to Walsh’s Erie Boulevard West Campaign Headquarters. The Alliance Network and the Walsh Campaign produced the Our Community Leaders for Ben Walsh Campaign piece, thousands were distributed.
On the same day as the Alliance Network’s endorsement of Walsh, urbancny.com issued its own, Urban CNY Endorsement , there was momentum as more members of the African American community, soon appeared and volunteered to become part of this campaign.
If you review the Election Night numbers, even in areas that went for Juanita Perez Williams, Walsh was able to receive 30 percent in some Election Districts.
Community Activist, Mary Nelson went live on Facebook from Skiddy Park to endorse the Independent candidate for Mayor. And when Election Day came, it was Ms. Nelson and a group of volunteers standing in the chilly November air, holding Ben Walsh Signs.
Thousands of fliers were distributed to African-American churches and neighborhoods, with a message to the community from those endorsing Ben Walsh, and why. The team dissected the Election Districts into smaller Wards and micro-managed the message.
The Walsh campaign owned Social Media with this campaign. Their embrace of technology allowed them to target specific groups and individuals. Ruthie Angrand and others on her team of millennials were tasked with gaining support of young African American voters; she cultivated the relationship between Ben and young people who were disillusioned by both parties. As one young supporter gushed, “He asked us what we wanted, what our causes were. The key is that Ben listened. The Democrats, they ask us what we want and then do the same old thing.” These campaign activities flew below the radar. Ben’s campaign selectively and inclusively embraced social media platforms, such as Facebook, with great impact.
Young People for Ben Walsh was created with Liam Kirst and Ruthie Angrand as coordinators. This pair managed a small team of volunteers tasked with digital outreach efforts, which included a Facebook, according to Angrand, “We set up an online group for young people, just like the adults. We stayed in communication, ongoing. Liam and I managed the Young People for Walsh Facebook page. Indaria and I did a Facebook live, explaining the platforms, and Ben Walsh. The younger people were so excited. The campaign let us do that. They encouraged us to contribute ideas, as well as participate. It was well received. ”
On Facebook, there’s an image of Ben speaking with an elderly African American woman with a cane, another image depicts Ben Walsh walking down a city sidewalk, holding the hand of a small child. Not to be left out, Walsh’s digital campaign sent signals to the LGBT community by his Facebook ad that prominently displayed the Rainbow flag in the background. It was clear from their marketing efforts; they were leaving no one out of this coalition.
The Final Debate
On the Sunday preceding the Mayoral Election during a WSYR9 televised debate, there were 7 minutes that the campaign wanted to review. Apparently, both Democratic and Republican candidates attacked Ben Walsh, and it was affecting efforts on the ground; the entire group of campaign volunteers performed an autopsy on that prickly section of the debate. Roughly 40 campaign volunteers including canvassers watched the video, the 7 minutes that saw Ben Walsh being attacked from both sides.
Some supporters wanted to counter punch, Laura Lavine and Juanita Perez Williams’ last minute accusations of “sexism”, but the campaign was clear: We Rise Above.
The video was played, as the debate attack was in full force. Walsh remained “Obama cool”. Once viewed, the campaign and volunteers discussed, “What to say when you’re challenged by voters, as you go door to door?” The staff and volunteers left with a unified message from the campaign: Tell them about Ben’s support for strong women like, Helen Hudson, Monica Williams, Sharon Owens and others.
The Walsh campaign team with the help of multiple suppliers shaped his message, according to a member of the campaigns Creative Team. The political commercials were inspired by videos by artists such as Kanye West. Rise Above became Walsh’s mantra, a message that he carried throughout the campaign.
The campaign commercials embodied hope and optimism, something sorely missing in Syracuse as we make national lists for our staggering poverty rates among African Americans and Hispanics. But the commercials were bold, asking Syracusans to “Rise Above” partisan politics, with the backdrop of a man running through the city, envisioning how things could be in Syracuse, as a portion of text rose on the screen, imposed over an image of the newly refurbished Marriott Downtown, “Imagine Syracuse Rising”.
Hope and optimism appeared to be the product Ben Walsh was selling to Syracuse, and it struck a chord with people. The city of Syracuse has gone through an extended period of time where Governor Cuomo and Mayor Miner were not on friendly terms. When he comes to Syracuse to make an announcement , everyone is on the dais, except Syracuse Mayor, Stephanie A. Miner. In fact, since their relationship fractured, word out of Albany is, (expletive deleted) Syracuse, until Mayor Miner is gone.
Democrats Helen Hudson, Monica Williams, Walt Dixie, Sharon Owens, Commissioner of Education Member Katie Sojewicz, and many Syracuse African American ministers were supportive of Walsh’s Campaign. It was clear with these high profile, “defections” from the Democratic Party, that something was terribly wrong.