Why We Run: Amanda Farias

Amanda Farias is a first-time candidate and Bronx native running for City Council in New York City’s District 18. In the past she’s worked for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2012, managed the City Council Women’s Caucus, and directed Participatory Budgeting for District 30. Below she talks about the transition to candidacy, giving a voice to her community, and energy drinks on the campaign trail.

You’ve worked more “behind the scenes”, so to speak, on past campaigns. Was there a particular event or issue that made you want to run yourself, or was that always an eventual goal?

I’ve kind of been working somewhat behind the scenes in the sense of organizing and working at City Council where I was writing legislation and running programs, but what prompted me, or even began the thought process of running, was my boss. She actually asked me a few times to see if I was interested or would consider and at the very beginning I was like, “absolutely not, no way.” I’m very happy in the background doing the good work that I’ve been aiming to do. My goal was being able to write policy and write legislation. I was doing that and I didn’t ever consider running. And then she asked a few times and did some trainings with Eleanor’s Legacy and New American Leaders Project. Just being in those rooms with supportive women and women of color all having the same issues in our communities, wanting to figure out the best way possible to make our communities better, really is what gave me the will to file my documents and run for office.

How has your experience as a candidate surprised you? How has it differed from your experience working on issue campaigns or campaigns for other candidates?

So far the most surprising part has been really people in my community. I knew folks wanted change and I know folks see the changes that are needed or what they’re experiencing in this community that needs to be improved, but I didn’t necessarily know if what I was speaking to them would resonate with them. And it really has, and that’s been the most rewarding part of the process of being a candidate. As well as seeing how refreshed and excited people are to see a young woman of color running in their neighborhood. I’ve been so well-received, it’s been really exciting.

How has your previous experience helped you in this role? What did you learn on those campaigns and in those public service roles that you’ve applied here?

My previous experience in past campaigns has really helped me identify what has worked and what hasn’t worked in campaigns that I’ve either worked on or worked for. So I knew going in at least I would be able to put together a basic infrastructure from my own efforts. The most difficult part of that has been realizing that I am the candidate and I have to let go of all of these responsibilities. But it’s easier now, to say the least. I think working at City Council for the last almost five years really has been my best asset and advantage for not only my race and myself as a candidate but for my community. I have experience managing for city budgets, directing a women’s caucus for two years, running participatory budgeting for two years throughout New York City, being on the steering committee for participatory budgeting for two years where I was able to help make sure we have ADA requirements, language access and translation for citywide ballots, really being able to make sure that we’re covering all the bases and being as inclusive and transparent as possible for that process. As well as the background and the experience of working with the city agencies, understanding capital and expense funding and how that works for communities — or doesn’t work for communities at times — and really building relationships with council members and community based organizations.

The biggest realization to me has been that that’s the biggest, most dramatic change that I can bring for my community: being able to see the functionality of all of those interconnected things in the local government and make those connections from my residents in the community and start building the change that’s needed, building a bridge to the resources and access for residents.

What was it that worked on past campaigns, or what was the best advice about campaigning you got?

I think when a lot of people think of campaigns they think of a structure: you need volunteers, you need to have certain information or a certain structure of a team. What I’ve learned is that the best case scenario and the best way to win a campaign is really with grassroots level organization. Having community support and having a great team of people that actually believe in you and your message and understand that it’s extremely needed in the district or the neighborhood that you’re running in is the part that connects all of the factors.

It’s great if you have people coming in to volunteer, but it’s even greater if they’re from the district or if they’re really impassioned by you as a candidate or the effort that you’ve made to get that seat. They believe in the mission. And that’s really the best thing I could have learned with previous campaigns and that I think is really coming into full fruition here in my own.

Is there anything that you wish that you’d known before you started running?

I guess I wish I would have really known how difficult it was going to be to raise more money. I think everyone knows raising money is hard. It’s a difficult, but one of the most crucial, parts of running a successful campaign and I knew it was going to be difficult going in, especially knowing that I’m coming from a low income background, as well as a low income neighborhood. But, yeah, maybe someone could have told me like five years ago to start saving all of my business cards from everybody that I’ve ever met and keeping those relationships at least a little bit alive. Considering those two factors — a low income neighborhood, and the background myself of being raised by a single mom — I don’t have the wealthy network. So I’m super proud of the money that I’ve raised and I’m really excited to be in a city that has a matching funds program like we do, and that’s going to really make me remain competitive in this race, but I guess the one thing 22-year-old Amanda would tell to 27-year-old Amanda is: ‘save every business card you ever get in your hand.’

You touched on this earlier, but can you elaborate on what’s been the most gratifying part of campaigning for you?

Like I said earlier, it’s been super rewarding to see my mission and me speaking with people is really resonating with them. It’s really these intimate moments where I have people that haven’t voted in years and that don’t trust the system and after a few minutes of speaking to me, or volunteers and members of my team, feel empowered and believe that I’m the one person they’ll give a chance to. It’s moments like that that have been really gratifying, really rewarding.

Part of this mission of mine, running for this seat, isn’t just about winning the seat and being my community’s representative. It’s about re-engaging the community and giving them access to somebody that’s going to reach out to them and voice their concerns and fight on their behalf. It’s not just about getting in office, it’s about fighting for the community and bringing access and resources and making sure that they’re heard. I think that that’s what people are actually feeling like I’m going to give them.

What is the thing you least expected going into this?

Oh wow, I’m in petitioning season so I haven’t really been thinking about things like this. I guess one of the things that I least expected that’s been happening throughout this timeframe has been the level — or the lack thereof — of coverage. I think that’s been one of the difficult points: making sure that my name is equally mentioned as my counterparts, or just the fact that this important race in the Bronx is even spoken about. Even though it’s happening in the Bronx it will affect all of New York City and it’s important to have someone in this seat that is qualified and progressive. I think just the mere fact of having the Bronx covered, having my race covered, having the only woman in the race covered, has been something that’s not happening and has surprised me.

What is keeping you going on the campaign trail? Any mantras/songs on repeat?

There’s a few things that keep me motivated every day. Obviously my team and volunteers that are lined up day in and day out to really push my mission and make sure that I get in office. I have people that have supported me and have come out from Brooklyn — anyone knows that if you’re from the Bronx you’re not going to Brooklyn and vice versa, it’s just the end of the world, it’s too far, but I have folks coming out from Brooklyn, coming out from Staten Island, coming from Manhattan, all the way up to the transportation desert of District 18 just to give me a few hours or multiple days of their time to make sure that I’m reaching every possible person I can reach. That’s something that really is keeping me motivated to make sure I wake up every day and put my feet as hard as they are on the ground.

And I definitely drink a Redbull every day, so that helps. It may not help my health longterm, but that definitely keeps me going every day. So if you know any way they can sponsor me, let me know. But yeah, it’s definitely the support system that I have. Knowing that there are residents out there every day that want to know someone like me running and they want new representation, a person that’s going to fight for them. That one factor — of me reaching one person that day — is enough to work hard and get out there.