Happy Halloween, all. This is going to be a bit of a different post, somewhat self-indulgent. So bear with me. Or pass, if that’s not your thing.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a couple of people comment to me about contributions I’ve made in this election, both to candidates and to issues. And they tend to run along the lines of (not quite seriously) “what, are you rich or something?”. A few public comments have been much less charitable, and they’ve even come from people that I believed thought better of me. It’s been a difficult time.
Seven years ago, when I started getting seriously into civic responsibilities, it had never occurred to me to make a political contribution, and I’d never done so. And when I started getting involved, one of the first things I learned about was the existence in Sunnyvale of certain “community elders” – people with a long history in Sunnyvale, who have served, gained a level of respect and influence, and who do what they can to make a difference. You probably know who most of them are – people like Dianne McKenna, Larry Stone, Pat Castillo, Pat Vorreiter, and so on. Whether it’s a school bond or building a new library or getting the Heritage Museum up and running, these folks find ways to get involved and to use their names and their own resources to make good things happen. I gained a whole lot of respect for just how much good a handful of people can accomplish when they decide to get involved. And part of me wants to be that kind of person when I “grow up”. Well, my name doesn’t mean much to people, I don’t have their experience or their connections, and I doubt I’ll ever reach the level of political success that they reached. Success in politics just isn’t my thing, and I’m not very good at exerting influence either, for that matter.
But I do have some money.
No, I’m not rich. But I’m very good at my career, I’m paid accordingly, and I have no family to support (not so far, at least). Additionally, I have not one but two jobs that take up all of my time, leaving me little in the way of leisure. I haven’t had a vacation of more than a couple of days in several years now. Let’s just say that for relaxation, Zynga and I have a close personal relationship… Anyway, this gives me the financial freedom to make a difference, and I’ve done so where I can. I’m a big supporter of Sunnyvale Community Services and Leadership Sunnyvale, and I support the Heritage Museum, the Western Philatelic Library, and other groups and organizations to a lesser extent. I’ve apparently turned into the “soft touch” in Sunnyvale, along the way… I also support good political candidates, and I get involved in issues.
When I ran the Library Bond campaign in 2007, I learned the hard way just how difficult and expensive it is to mount an effective political campaign and fundraise without attached strings. It gave me real appreciation for the difficult life of a candidate, and how big a difference a few people can really make by deciding to help out. A significant contribution from someone that has no agenda and attaches no strings means a great deal to a candidate, and it’s pretty uncommon. And that’s something I can do.
So I’ve supported a number of Sunnyvale candidates. I’m supporting two candidates this time out. One of them has become a friend over the past few years, I value her perspective and judgment, and I think she’ll be terrific on Council. Another is simply the best of the two candidates in his race, hands-down. A third candidate frankly doesn’t need my help. And in the fourth race, I haven’t made up my mind as to which of two candidates I’m supporting, so I’ve stayed out of that race. But for the two I’ve supported, I’ve given what I was comfortable giving. I’ve also helped out candidates in other cities – people who I know personally, or people in races that particularly got my gander up. There was one in San Jose who I felt was being unfairly abused, and another who was running against a noxious opponent, so I helped them out recently.
And I’ve also gotten involved in issues. Anyone who reads this blog knows about my dislike for the directly-elected mayor initiative, and the real damage I believe it will do to the city, in terms of contentiousness, nasty politicking, and simple disruptions to the collaborative nature of Council. So I didn’t hesitate to jump into the “No” campaign, and I did so openly and with no attempt to conceal my involvement or my rather large financial contribution, or to hide behind the actions of others. Simply put, you put your name behind something, or you don’t bother to get involved. I’ve also walked about 40 precincts by now. A number of other residents did the same on both sides of the issue, including a couple of the “community elders” I mentioned earlier, and I have great respect for all of them, even when I believe they’re on the wrong side (hi Larry!).
I also got involved to a much greater extent in the Library Bond in 2007, because that was such a worthwhile cause – and a couple of my techie friends helped out too, big-time. It’s very strange being classified as a legal “major political donor”, but that’s what happened back then (but not for Measure A). And I spent even more when I ran for election myself, simply because I fear what happens when money has strings attached. Mostly, I just wanted to be able to spend as much time walking precincts as possible, and as little time as possible begging friends for money, which I hate. So far, it’s worked out pretty well – not one of the few groups that supported me has ever come back to me and said “now you owe me”, which is a great freedom to have as an elected official. It’s also why I chose to accept their support in particular.
Anyway, that’s the straight scoop, for better or for worse. I’m not the most expressive guy, but I’d hope that people who have concerns about my actions or motives would actually take the step of asking me about them. But that’s not always the case, as I’ve learned the hard way.
As for the folks who are attributing more Machiavellian motives to my support for candidates and issues, well, they don’t know me very well. And that disappoints me.
There’s one point that’s worth making about the “community elders” who do so much to make sure good things happen in Sunnyvale. Most of them have been a Sunnyvale mayor at one time or another. And not one of them was a directly-elected mayor. Effectiveness as a leader doesn’t come from titles or from a mandate of the people. It comes from the character of an individual. And if you don’t have that character, not even a majority of Sunnyvale voters can give it to you. A friend made a particularly meaningful comment to me recently – if nothing else, Measure A is an insult to the accomplishments of some really wonderful Sunnyvale leaders. That disappoints me too.