I mentioned to a friend recently that I ran for US Congress in the summer of 2001. Despite being a good friend, this person had not been aware of this. A cursory web search revealed that most references to my campaign have since been allowed to fall out of web cache. In the interest of leaving a record of a tumultuous time (which lifted many illusions from my eyes) I dedicate this post to that experience.
It was the summer of 2001. A long time US Congressman named Joe Moakley, who had represented the 9th district for some 27 years was dying. It seemed likely he would not live to see the next general election. This implied a strong possibility of a special election being held during the normal congressional term. There was speculation of who would run for the coveted office when he passed away. I happened to be living in the 9th district at the time. I read a news report that Max Kennedy, the son of the late Robert Kennedy, had just moved to the district. Upon reading this news, I realized that he moved there to run for Joe Moakley’s congressional seat.
Sure enough, Joe Moakley passed away and Max Kennedy announced his candidacy. No one else signaled an intention to run. I discovered that no democrat was willing to run against him for fear of incurring the wrath of Ted Kennedy – a lion of Massachusetts politics at the time. No republican was willing to run against him, as they all believed it was impossible to win against a Kennedy.
It struck me as deathly absurd that Max should be handed a seat in the US Congress without even token opposition. It just wasn’t right. I laid in bed one night wishing SOMEONE would run against him. I heard a small voice in my head asking me: “How about you?”
On it’s face, the idea was ridiculous, absurd, a clear waste of time and money. I had no support, little money, no name recognition – in short I had little hope of a win. As it was a special election, the time frame for the campaign was greatly shortened – only 40 days to gather the requisite 2,000 certified signatures to be on the ballot. For those who have never done it, 40 days is a very short time to gather so many signatures, if you have no base of support ready and eager to assist.
I recognized that my candidacy would be written off as inconsequential by most, as I had almost no chance of actually winning. But I had seen the impossible happen in the past. As a missionary during the late 70’s to the mid 80’s I had seen things that can only be described as miracles. Also, I ran for president of the San Jose State University student body. I also ran for President of the University of Southern California’s student body. I thought that maybe those campaigns were just training for this day. So I decided to take a leap. Maybe a miracle would happen.
The first thing I did was let friends and family know of my plans. Of course I needed their support first and foremost. To my disappointment only a few actually offered to actively support me. Perhaps they didn’t believe in miracles. In any case, some stood up when called and helped out. I remember them all clearly and am grateful to them to this day. A few days later I filed the papers to run for US Congress, 9th district of Massachusetts.
I ran as a Libertarian. This, in hindsight, was a mistake. Being a Libertarian is not a mistake, but I should have run as an independent. The burden in getting on the ballot would have been far lighter. I had anticipated a more aggressive amount of support from the Libertarian party than I actually received, unfortunately. As a result, running as a Libertarian was an albatross in more ways than one. Lesson learned….
Initially it was mostly just me working the parking lots and train stations gathering signatures. I put out my own press releases at night after gathering signatures. Of course this was all after finishing work at my day job. Those were long days.
Yet less than 2 weeks later, amazingly, people started to know who I was. People began stopping me on the street and asking if I was Jim Fredrickson. One afternoon I was gathering signatures when a rather tough-looking dude scowled at me: “Are you Fredrickson?” I thought he was going to hit me. I wanted to back up, but there were people watching and I couldn’t let them see a candidate for congress wimp out. So I answered as bravely as I could: “Yes, I’m him.” He then reached into his pocket, pulled out a check and gave me my first campaign contribution saying: “You are doing a brave thing. Good luck in your campaign.”
At this point I need to explain the significance of gathering signatures. They serve a valid purpose. By requiring a modest number of signatures the state avoids having 40-50 candidates for each office, most of whom who do no campaigning whatsoever. On the other hand, the state uses the signature requirement as a vehicle to keep people off the ballot if they “are not part of the team”. Take Max Kennedy for example. One call from his uncle Ted and no doubt he had the requisite 2,000 signatures in less than an hour. When he submitted the signatures the election board likely rubber stamped all his signatures without checking them.
Meanwhile it was made very clear to me that the election board would eliminate as many of my signatures as they could, to keep a libertarian off the ballot. For example, if the signatures I presented were not an exact match to the signatures on their voter registration card, they would be discarded. So, instead of needing 2,000 signatures I was advised to get at least 4,000.
My daily routine of hitting the parking lots every day after work continued on for about 3 weeks. By that time there were about 3 – 4 people working with me gathering signatures every day. Then after about 4 weeks the miracle I was hoping for actually occurred. On or about June 10, a cousin of Max Kennedy’s, a man by the name of Michael Skakel was charged with murder. I don’t know what, if anything at all, this had to do with Max, but the very next day Max dropped out of the race. He told the press that he wanted to spend more time with his family… At that point I was the only person in the race for the US Congressional seat, and there was only about 2-3 weeks left to get on the ballot.
Across the state you could hear the sound of jaws dropping. They were saying: “WHAT?? JIM FREDRICKSON COULD ACTUALLY WIN??” Overnight many state politicians entered the race. Most of them already had political bases of support and name recognition. My sole advantage was that I had been meeting people all over the district for weeks. Hundreds of people had seen me, met me, shaken my hand.
I was no longer running against a Kennedy. I was running against much smaller names, and I had a head start. But I still had to contend with the fact that the state’s political apparatus and the media did not know me. They certainly did not want an unknown Libertarian in the race.
With less than a week before the deadline to submit my signatures there were about 3 dozen people working the streets with me trying to gather signatures. I went into work one morning at Storagenetworks and was told I was being laid off. I don’t believe this was a political decision. The company was failing – 50% of the staff was let go that morning. However, it put me in a very uncomfortable position, as I suddenly needed to give some serious thought to my cash flow.
Finally, on the last day of the 40 day campaign I turned in 4,300 signatures to the election board. I was utterly exhausted. I was reasonably confident I had turned in more than enough signatures, and went home to rest and plan what to do next. By now there were about 5 other people in the race. They were all well-known in state politics and were undoubtedly more rested than I was!
A day or two later the election board told me they had disqualified 2700 of my 4300 signatures. That left me with 1600 signatures – 400 short of the 2000 I needed. My eldest son, Jonathan, was almost 11 at the time. Though young, he could see the writing on the wall. He said to me: “Dad, they are cheating you.” I knew that of course. A few days later the ACLU heard about the travesty and offered to sue on my behalf, as it was clear that a miscarriage of justice was taking place.
At that point though I looked at the situation. Though I was no longer competing against the son of Robert Kennedy, I was competing against half a dozen well-known politicians. I was out of a job and my campaign staff, though much bigger than it had been 40 days earlier, was not as organized as it could have been, had I successfully garnered more support from friends and family 40 days earlier.
When running against Max Kennedy, I could easily have gotten 30% of the vote – 30% would likely vote for “anybody but a Kennedy”. 30% could be counted as a win, in one sense. But now I was looking at a totally different race. I wasn’t likely to get even 10% of the vote against the current lineup, and the state of my campaign staff. So, I made a decision to decline the ACLU’s offer of help in suing the election board. Steven Lynch eventually won that congressional seat, and holds it to this day.
So my experience was a mixed bag. The miracle I was hoping for occurred on schedule. My inability to field a strong enough base of support early on, left me unable to fully capitalize on the miracle when it happened.
In retrospect I think I should have accepted the ACLU’s help and sued the election board. We will never know what other miracles might have occurred had I done so. Nevertheless it was a good experience that taught me many things about myself, friends and family, and mostly about the way politics works in Boston. Let me tell you – it ain’t pretty…