Takeaways from my first political campaign

WRITTEN BY: April Engelberg

I ran for Toronto City Council in the 2018 municipal election. I was 30 years-old and a first-time candidate. As cheesy as it sounds, I had been dreaming of running for City Council for years. I was thrilled that I had the courage to jump into the political world and join the race. I had no politician family or friends, nor had I ever worked in politics. My work experience is as a lawyer and entrepreneur. As intimidating as it was to start out as a complete unknown, I found myself more and more confident in my campaign each day of the election. In a race against an incumbent with 14 candidates, I came in second place. I look back on this time with pure pride. 

I’m sharing some takeaways from my experience in the hopes that it will inspire you to follow through with your own life goals.

1. Trust your vision

I knew exactly how I wanted to run this campaign. My platform had been on my mind for years. I didn’t hire any political advisor or consultant to create a platform or brand. Instead, I spent time talking with residents about the issues while I drafted the platform. I went with my gut, which is scary to do as a first time candidate. And it was the right call.

2. Build a team you trust

I had a very small core team working on my campaign: a campaign coordinator, videographer/photographer, graphic designer and web designer. Almost everyone was female and under 30. Nobody had ever worked on a campaign before. This was on purpose; I wanted to run a modern campaign and not waste time and money on outdated strategies like phone-banks and printed advertising. 

I also have amazing friends who volunteered by canvassing and organizing my election night party. I trust and respect everyone on the team and because of that we didn’t get drawn into any of the typical negative energy that comes with the competitive nature of political campaigns. We ran a positive, platform-focused campaign. 

3. Spend your money wisely

With campaign fundraising, I raised less than a quarter of the amount as the incumbent. I had to be very careful on exactly what to spend campaign funds on. I called around for quotes on all suppliers before deciding which was most practical and affordable. For example, instead of renting an office, I got a WeWork membership. It didn’t matter since I spent every day campaigning outside.

4. Work as hard as you can

I believe that I met more voters than any other candidate in my ward. I canvassed on the street every day and approached anyone who would speak to me. I started at 8:00am and ended at 9:00pm. I literally got the best biceps of my life from shaking hands and handing out my campaign cards all day every day. When it came to election day, so many voters told me just how many times they had met me campaigning and how they respected how hard I worked on the election. I think my presence with voters brought my second place finish.

Since the election, I stay as involved as I can in city politics. I advocate for the ward residents by attending public consultations and speaking at City Hall.

If any of you reading this also have the urge to enter politics, please email me, april.engelberg@gmail.com. I would be happy to speak with you and encourage you.

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