Heading into the Home Stretch

Good luck in Berkeley Heights, Stephen Yellin! By the way, as ABC

News reports, Stephen is just 21 or 22 years old. – promoted by Rosi

Hi all,

With just 11 days left until November 2nd, I’ve been working hard to win in Berkeley Heights, where I’m running for Township Council. My website is http://www.bhdems.com , so take a look if you want to learn more about me after reading this.  

I wanted to give you all an update as to how my campaign is progressing. I’m pleased to say that I am not only making a good deal of headway, but I’m enjoying the process as well!

My campaigning schedule is usually like this: after going to class at the Bloustein School at Rutgers-New Brunswick, I commute back to Berkeley Heights. In the late afternoon and evening, I draft my candidate statements and make phone calls to both committed and potential supporters. While I admit to dreading those “sessions” on the phone (I feel like a telemarketer!), they have nonetheless been helpful in raising funds and awareness of my campaign.

On Saturday morning, I go to the Post Office in Town, which is on the same strip as our Dunkin’ Donuts. Together with my running mate, Linda Weber, I hand out our literature and talk to residents as they go about their business. Considering that the other candidates are also doing this – and there are 8 of us on the ballot! – this can be very hectic. I try to be polite as possible and keep my words to a minimum.

(It helps to have our website on the literature. Telling residents they can learn more about me without standing outside with mail or food in their hands is a major plus)

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, I go door-to-door. Our opponents are not doing so, with one of them actually declaring, “Going door-to-door doesn’t work at all.” He clearly doesn’t understand the importance of actually listening to his potential constituents! To date, I have personally “hit” about 1100 doors, and together with Linda and our supporters have reached roughly 75% of the residents we wish to speak to.

As campaign veterans reading this will tell you, many of the doors you reach will not have residents at home. I would say that roughly 40% of the time I reach for the doorbell ends with my leaving our literature behind.

Thankfully, the vast majority of the residents I have spoken to have been willing to listen, and most of those have expressed their willingness to support me. Of that 60% who I’ve talked to, I would say 70% have said “Yes”, and another 20% are leaning towards supporting me. I have had only one door shut in my face, which I attribute to the man’s grandchildren occupying his attention. “I think you’re all idiots”, he growled at me. I marked him down as “Undecided” and moved on.

The best moments when going door-to-door are when you can tell the resident (or residents) really appreciates your arrival. There was one couple I met who, despite living in Berkeley Heights for over a decade had never met a candidate in person. They had intended to skip this election, but after I talked to them about why I was running, they changed their mind completely. “I am going to vote because of you,” the wife told me, “and because you cared enough to come and offer your ideas.”

I believe we would call that “erasing the enthusiasm gap” on a micro-level.

The most headway this week resulted from the two debates held in Berkeley Heights; the first by the local Taxpayers’ Association, the second from the League of Women Voters. Since they were on back-to-back nights, they provided the residents their best chance to hear what we had to say, and what we offered to do, as elected officials.

In both debates, Linda and I cleaned our opponents’ clocks. As many residents in attendance had never met me before, this was especially good for me. After each debate, a number of residents came up to me and told me I had won their vote – including residents previously supporting my opponents! I believe my success in the debates was due to a few different reasons:

1. Because I’m young and my opponents are all at least 20 years older, the “bar” was set much lower for me in many residents’ eyes. Since their expectations for me were low, I ended up “clearing” the bar quite easily. It also helped that, in both debates, I usually was not the first to answer (out of 6), which gave me time to collect my thoughts.

2. I offered specific proposals for stabilizing taxes, rebuilding our downtown, and providing better transparency and communications with the residents. My opponents largely did not, with 3 of the 4 unable to provide a coherent answer to many of the questions.

3. I have a knack for words, going back to when I would edit my friends’ papers and tutor others. I have also have a good deal of experience in public speaking, both from politics and acting in plays. While my opponents read from prepared texts in their opening and closing speeches, I gave my remarks off-the-cuff. I was able to look straight at the audience and connect with them. This also came in handy when it came to questions from the audience, questions which the candidates did not know in advance.

Don’t take my word for it – the video of the League debate will be available soon online.

My proudest moment in the League debate came when one of my opponents, a conservative running as an Independent, stated that he was opposed to all government intervention in the “private sector”, especially in terms of “subsidies”. This piqued my interest, because in his opening statement he had emphasized his desire to help Berkeley Heights’ seniors in these difficult times.

After addressing the question, I then said:

“I noticed that [my opponent] stated that he is against all government intervention in the private sector. Considering his stated desire to help our seniors – and we all wish to on this dais – I believe our seniors ought to know that he is against Social Security and Medicare.”

While it wasn’t necessary to bring it up, I simply could not let a right-wing talking point go unanswered. If my opponent had his way with our government staying out of the “private sector” completely, the hard lessons of the Great Depression and the Gilded Age would have to be learned again. All Americans – including in Berkeley Heights – deserve to know what “laissez-faire” would do to them.

In my closing statement, I quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1932 called for “bold, persistent experimentation” in ending the Great Depression. I added this to his quote (I might be slightly paraphrasing):

“Leadership means that you don’t wait around for someone else to figure out what’s right and wrong. It means that you do the right thing and find out for yourself …I want do the very best I can for Berkeley Heights, and that means providing new ideas, listening to your concerns, and not being afraid to lead. If you give me your support on November 2nd, I will make you proud.”

I don’t know if I’ll win on November 2nd or not. But win or lose, I know that this campaign has been worth it. Not only have I learned more about Berkeley Heights and its residents than I ever did before, but I have learned a great deal about me as well. The experience of running for office can be hard at times, but as a whole it has been a wonderful ride.

Thanks for reading!  

Comments (6)

  1. Stephen Yellin (Post author)

    My student newspaper at Drew University (my alma mater) is running a front-page profile of me and my campaign today. You can check out the article online at http://www.drewacorn.com/news/

    (Thanks to the Drew University “Acorn” for putting this together!)

    Speaking of Drew, I won 1st place in the New Jersey Press Association’s 2009-10 college newspaper contest for Editorial Writing. There were almost 400 applications in that category!  

  2. Bill Orr

    hard work, good ideas, a website, and connecting with people.

    Best wishes for success.


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