As the title implies, I’m considering a run for Scranton School Board. After my runs in 2011 and 2013, I never thought I’d be in this place again. Why? Namely, my wife and now budding family. Running takes a toll on a family, politics takes a toll. That’s not something I’d care to put my wife through. Or myself, really.
So how did I get here?
After my apocalyptic about the impending doom of the district, my wife and I spoke about the coming storm. She suggested I consider a run. This is a game-changer for me.
So I thought I’d be pretty open with the world about what’s running through my head here:
Our child is due right in the middle of what would be the campaign. That’s certainly a deterrent. I don’t want to sacrifice that time.
But on the flip side, a child is a reason to run. The Scranton School District is headed toward insolvency and receivership. My wife and I plan to send our kid(s) to the Scranton School District. I’m a proud graduate of West Side and so is she. The district shaped me. I wouldn’t be an English teacher without it (two of my former English teachers went to my wedding, in fact). I wouldn’t be me without it.
And so I want to make sure the district survives so that my child has a wonderful experience, too.
I’m having a particularly hard time making a decision. I know I can affect positive change. I’m not afraid to open my mouth. I’ll be honest even if it hurts me. I’m willing to do what needs to be done and to work with everybody to gather the consensus necessary to do it.
But is that enough?
Running takes a lot out of a person, and every local elected official deserves credit for going through that process. It’s harrowing. When I ran, I got out of work at 3PM, knocked doors until sundown, went to fundraisers and community events until 10PM, stopped at a pub on the way home to talk to the neighbors, got home at 11PM and stayed on the phone until 1AM. Somewhere in there I squeezed in grading and planning. Then I woke up at 6AM, went to work, and continued the grueling cycle. Notice how there wasn’t time for my family in that equation.
That wasn’t the half of it. It’s constant thinking, strategizing, planning, learning. I don’t mind those things, but it’s taxing living like that from January until May. Why every local politico isn’t gray-haired is beyond me. Then there’s the backstabbing, the false promises, the betrayals.
I couldn’t tell you how many people said, “Yeah, I’m behind you” only to disappear when it mattered. Or the times somebody said, “Yeah, I’ve got 10 sign locations for you” only for me to knock doors in the neighborhood 2 weeks later and see them all under a bush. There are far more wonderful people out there, but the roller coaster seems to have more dips than peaks.
Then there’s fundraising. Running for School Board requires an immense amount of money. Raising $8,000 wasn’t enough to put a dent in the race. And all of the phone calls asking for money… It’s not an easy thing to do. I did it. I learned how to do it in a way where I didn’t hate myself at the end. But after losing came guilt. People donated to my campaign because they believed in me and I couldn’t clinch it.
While I don’t mind door-to-door, it’s a massive drain on time and energy. It’s great for weight loss, of course (I lost 20 pounds in 2013, so maybe I should run just for health reasons). I suppose I got immune to having a door slammed in my face here and there. I’ve certainly seen my fair share of people answer their doors without pants on. For all the negatives, I had tons of positive experiences in that regard. And going to community events was wonderful– a chance to see a side of Scranton I’d never thought to make time for outside of West Side.
If I ran, I’d have to deal with people lying about me. It’s gone on in regard to my Doom post. I blatantly did not call for the privatization of Scranton maintenance workers. But they still posted on their official page that I did. (I’ve asked that they rectify this falsehood, but they have not as of publication.) In fact, my point was quite the opposite: I’d like to see them deal with their issues internally so that they don’t get privatized. But being direct and clear doesn’t matter. People will lie about you to suit their own agenda.
It happened when I ran last time.
Human beings are tribal. I said something negative about some maintenance people. I am not their tribe and the whole maintenance tribe is ready to pounce, even though I’m on their side. Lots of politicians deal with this and I empathize. It isn’t pleasant for anybody.
That’s another thing that’s tough about running. Politicians become inhuman and unrecognizable pretty quickly. Do one thing a group doesn’t like, and you are immediately the enemy. The next Satan. Sometimes there are hard choices that need to be made, but some groups brook no dissent. Or even constructive criticism.
That said, if I did run, I’d avoid what I’ll call Scranton Political Correctness. It’s when you don’t criticize another politician or group because you don’t want to risk alienating them or their supporters, even when criticism is warranted. You also bank on the idea that you may need something from that politician or group one day and want to make sure to stay on their good side. I see it all the time and it doesn’t help.
I recently realized that this is simply betting that you’ll lose if you do the right thing. Speaking out and being honest and offering constructive criticism is the right thing to do. Who cares about the potential consequences? I shouldn’t sit here with a calculator deciding what the risk is for being honest. I talked, quite publicly, about the problem of patronage. We all know it goes on. But now it’s crippling the district to the point of insolvency. It needs to stop. And people need to be willing speak out about this, or attention won’t be paid. I judged it worth the risk to be open, and here I am.
So what do I do?
I could be quiet and hope things work out of the best. Enjoy my family. Read a lot. Write a lot. Sit on the sidelines, not making enemies or angering people who don’t like to hear uncomfortable truths.
Will I — years down the road — be sending my kid to a district that is falling apart, eviscerated by the state? And will I say to myself, “I had a chance to do something and chose not to”? Will I regret not doing something?
Is there a middle ground? Is it worth the thanklessness? The spite? The ire?
Running is a lot to ask of anybody. It’s why nobody does. And this district is in really, really bad shape. The current Board hasn’t gone nearly far enough. I think I can help. Should I take the leap or not, knowing all that it will mean for me and my family?
The question is rhetorical, really. My wife and I will figure it out. I just needed you to listen.