It’s been a few weeks since the primary election. Obviously, for me, it was a disappointment. But the many great wishes since election night from friends and supporters has been wonderful. I wanted to write a post and say thank you. And also reflect a bit on the past 13 months campaigning for US Congress.
Before doing that, I again congratulate Donna Shalala on her victory. This is a moment in our politics that is bigger than any individual and it’s critical that the Democratic party take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. We must unite behind her. In addition, we have to elect Andrew Gillum as our next Governor! His campaign has energized us all, and it’s time to bring it home.
Looking back on the primary, my overriding feeling is gratitude. I’m extremely thankful to my wife Danet, who supported me in this effort, and thankful to all of the people who propelled our campaign — the volunteers, fellows, staff, donors and, ultimately, voters. I had never run for any elected office, yet so many went all-in supporting our campaign. Thank you very, very much.
Our fellows were, in particular, an inspiration to me. We recruited more than 50. Most were in college, some still in high school. Working on the campaign after class or full-time during summer break. Weekends, nights. Calling voters, knocking on doors. They were passionate and dedicated. Now, they are back on campus. At schools from Miami Dade College and Michigan to Boston University and Palmetto Senior High School. At a time when our political system badly needs a reset, they showed what it means to take hold of our democracy. With them, our future is so blazingly bright.
Along with our fellows, what I loved about being a candidate was talking with voters and being out in the community. I loved it. Going door to door on sweltering summer afternoons in Kendall, or Little Havana, or Richmond Heights. Evenings canvassing in Westchester or Palmetto Bay. Unfiltered and alone, it was just us; talking about our community and country. On those days and nights there was no place I would rather be.
Life revealed itself in its many forms on these unannounced visits. The couple celebrating their daughter who was headed to college. The single mom working three jobs to keep current on her mortgage. The middle-aged woman who tried to chat amiably but, after a time, couldn’t hold it back any longer, sharing that she’d just been diagnosed with cancer. “I need a hug,” she said, a tear running down her cheek, which she quickly and defiantly wiped away.
The conversations were always so real — standing at front doors, sitting in living rooms, meeting people where they are, learning about their hopes and concerns, aspirations and struggles. At a time when Washington has so fundamentally and collectively lost its way, at the grassroots people are making sense. We need to spend more time listening to them.
Indeed, throughout the campaign I often said the best ideas come from the community, not candidates. I really meant it. Change happens from the ground up, and that’s never been more true than today. From start to finish, our campaign sought to stay true to that ethos. Namely, we focused on voters, rather than cutting down competitors as a means to win.
We visited every precinct, we knocked on some 45,000 doors. Again and again, I found a sincerity, thoughtfulness and a belief that things will get better. I always thought we lived in a special community, but over the last year I’ve vividly seen it with my own eyes in one neighborhood after another. Those thousands of conversations leave me today more hopeful and optimistic than ever.
If only our politics can be as good as them. I think it can, but we are going to have to change in big ways.
To me, election night 2016 was a shattering moment — and it’s what ultimately prompted me to run. I had believed that America would never elect a person who said and did the things that Donald Trump said and did. I believed that America today would never elect a bully, a liar, someone who preyed upon our worst fears and sought to divide us to win support. We might come close to electing such a demagogue, but at this stage in our country’s history we would never actually do it. I was obviously wrong.
The better angels of our nature had given way to our most base sensibilities. A presidency built on hope was followed by one grounded in our worst fears.
In early January, as President Obama prepared to leave office, he gave his farewell address, warning that we can’t take democracy for granted. That it “falls on each of us to be anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy.” What the speech said to me is that, yes, America is a special place. But it’s only special because generation after generation has continually engaged in making it so — even as there are setbacks, sometimes dramatic setbacks, along the way.
Then, at Danet’s urging, on January 21st we attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. My sister Meghan and our friend Lissette went too. It was an extraordinary day as millions around the world rose up. It was there that I thought to myself that this remarkable moment of protest must also be a moment of real and lasting change — and wondered how to try and live that. It was there that I decided to run.
The reason I decided to drop everything, leave my job at Knight Foundation and do something I’d never done before was because I believed we were — and are — at a pivotal moment. This is not a normal election year.
I firmly believe that years from now people will ask about this time, what did we do?
What did we do when a President — along with a compliant Republican-controlled Congress — called for border walls, Muslim bans, tore thousands of immigrant children from their parents, bowed to a foreign power that meddled in our election, sympathized with neo-Nazis, sought to use law enforcement as a means to settle political scores, and declared the press an enemy of the state.
This election is our moment to reaffirm and declare who we are — and who we are not — as a country.
But, in doing so, we have to realize that this election is about what’s next. It can’t just be about what we’re against, but it has to be about what we’re for. Indeed, while Donald Trump has contributed much to our dysfunctional politics, the truth is that he’s the result of a dysfunctional system that has been spiraling for some time.
We are only going to achieve the change we need if we dispense with the incrementalism that has defined our politics for so long and think — and do — in dramatic new ways. And allow new leaders to emerge in a political system that’s long become stuck.
Put another way, it’s a two-part challenge: ensure that today does not become the new normal, and provide a vision for what tomorrow will look like. With that in mind, we sought to run a campaign that actually represented the change we seek.
At a time when money is undermining our democracy, we didn’t accept any funding from political action committees, federal lobbyists or special interests like big sugar.
At a time when so many have given up on politics, our campaign was powered by extraordinary campaign fellows who were the heart and soul of our effort.
At a time when so many are disconnected from our government, we built a field program that sought to personally engage voters in every neighborhood in every part of the district.
At a time when the leadership in Congress hasn’t changed in years, we called for an entirely new slate of people in leadership roles in the House. The new faces in the next Congress must not be just newly elected members, but the leaders at the top too.
Of course, our efforts did not result in a victory. But I have no regrets. After all, this is a moment to take chances. And throughout my life I’ve always sought to take chances by diving into entirely new things; and going all-in when I do.
Whether it was going to New Orleans to write a biography on Professor Longhair (still unfinished). Or moving to Miami — where I didn’t know a soul (but met my soulmate) — to become a journalist (where I had a great run that lasted nearly a decade). Or leaving The Miami Herald to join Knight Foundation (where I had an even better run), in which I launched an entirely new program that planted the seeds and propelled Miami’s rapidly emerging startup and entrepreneurial community.
I want to stretch myself, test boundaries and be willing to do entirely new things. Incumbent to that approach will be wins and losses. It’s the in-between that I want to avoid.
Make no mistake, I dearly wish I was part of the Blue Wave at this critical point in our country’s history. But I’m not. This moment belongs to candidates with names like Gillum, O’Rourke, Pressley, Lamb, Ocasio-Cortez, and so many others. I will be cheering every one of them on, and support in any way I can. We need them to win and be good leaders when a new Congress is sworn in in January.
And, each in our own way, we all need to lean in and help. The moment is too important. The challenges are too great. The stakes too high. No one can sit this out.
So what’s next? The short answer is, I don’t know.
I do know that I have many people to thank. I remember when I decided to run, a friend advised that people look at you differently when you’re a political candidate. He cautioned that you’ll be disappointed by friends you thought would be there. But he also said you’ll be surprised by the support from those you didn’t know before or never expected. Focus and delight in the latter, he said. And I will.
(One quick note: Danet and I took some time away after the election. If you haven’t heard from me yet, you’ll be hearing from me soon.)
After such an all-consuming period I also have many friendships to renew, which I am looking forward to doing.
Life is about chapters and seasons. The thing about political campaigns is the chapter ends so suddenly. After such an intense period, it’s quickly and suddenly over. It’s a crash landing. But a new chapter begins. There is power in blank canvases. I’ve experienced it before. It’s at moments like these when you can edit your life and think completely anew. It’s often at these moments when the unimagined happens, when you follow completely new paths and find unexpected success.
I have no idea what this next chapter will bring, but I’m excited to find out.
After the race, I spoke with Reggie, who is a great friend and the father of Joshua, my little through Big Brother Big Sister for more than a decade. Reggie said to me: “You gotta keep pressing on my man. It’s all good.”
That pretty much says it all. Keep pressing on.
So, until the next time, thank you. And, of course, let’s win it in November!