“What about eight bouncy houses all the way down the block?”
Carson says this to me with an earnest confidence unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met. I try not to reveal the inner parade happening in my heart as he makes this no-nonsense ask, and instead tap my pointer finger to chin, squint my eyes in the way your boss might when you suggest something that “they’ll need to think about, but will shoot you an email by EOD,” and say: “I think we can definitely workshop this idea.”
Carson is seven years old. He likes trees, lives next door, hugs me every time he sees me walking home, and has big ideas for a potential block party this July. On the Sunday before the primary elections, he was also one of only a few people I mustered up the courage to speak to about my grand plan to run for committee person of the 27th ward, 5th division in West Philadelphia.
It all started when The Citizen kicked off its coverage for the primary elections.
I’d been reading up on the state of our voting machines in Pennsylvania, efforts by Philadelphians to get voters to the polls, and Philly 3.0’s handy breakdown of all things elections. It was these last couple of stories that ultimately grabbed my attention—there was this sense of both urgency and ease that made running for office seem comparable to running the dishwasher, something you just need to do and it’s as easy as pressing “Start.” (Little did I know it’s more like scrubbing the grease off the pan, collecting the empty cups from various rooms, and resisting the urge to eat the tide pods, but I digress.)
So I pressed start. I enjoy trying new things. Like the time I rode a bike 300 miles with a bunch of 16 year olds throughout the Adirondacks for a summer with almost no prior bike knowledge. Or that time I got my eyebrow pierced. “Running for office” felt like a mini adventure—one that was accessible enough with a little bit of edge, challenge.
I’m 25 years old and have lived in Philly for just under a couple years. After doing some traveling, I needed a city to call home and a friend who went to Bryn Mawr College said I would love it here. Turns out, I love it here. And while I don’t have ambitious political plans, I do feel weary and exhausted and sometimes saddened by those currently in office, and even more disappointed by the demographic of those represented. So why not me? Or if not me, who? Also, on a more dreamy note, I like making things better, as many do, and this seemed like an opportunity to have some real ability to act on that.
While I don’t have ambitious political plans, I do feel weary and exhausted and sometimes saddened by those currently in office, and even more disappointed by the demographic of those represented. So why not me? Or if not me, who?
My next step was to hesitantly reach out to Ali Perelman, who some may call the executive director of Philly 3.0, but to me…she is a good government angel and personal hero. I emailed Ali (a lot, like, certainly too much) with questions ranging from “I’d like to run for committee person, also, what is a committee person?” to “Wait, what is a Ward?” to “Do I actually have to speak with people to get them to vote for me?”
Ali was the Mickey to my Rocky, hustling me along, giving me the tools and resources I needed to figure out how to share with people my plan to run as a write-in for committee person. She gave me the templates candidates use to easily fill in information about themselves, tips on how to connect with neighbors and when, and walked me through everything I should do leading up to election day.
And then on Saturday it rained.
So I said, “Ok, I’ll talk to real human people on Sunday.”
And then Sunday came. And I quickly realized my work-from-home-writer lifestyle wasn’t doing my newfound political career any favors. I decided to start with what I knew. Or who, I should say.
Next to Carson, my roommate would be the best way to practice telling my “I’m running for committee person, please write me in” story. So I showed her my printed hand out, told her what a committee person was, why I was running and how she could vote for me. And I felt good about locking in at least one vote.
Then, I was able to connect with two (or so) more neighbors who I frantically talked to about the election, committee person position, and even managed to remember to say, “Oh, and my name is Jamie!” as they politely, but firmly, shooed me from their front doors. Four potential votes. Perfect.
After my long, arduous day of campaigning, I settled into my couch to review once more the resource guide Ali Perelman had sent me—and came to a full stop at the very first step for running for committee person: “Check to see that you are registered in your division.”
Last summer, I moved to a new apartment in the same neighborhood. And during the thrilling yet painful process of taking apart an IKEA bed and putting it back together in another location, I forgot to change my voter registration. This was confirmed when I went to www.vote.org in a blind frenzy and typed in my current address. “You are NOT registered to vote” blared on my computer screen in red, angry letters.
That’s it, I thought. My political career was over. I was a fraud before I even made it to office. My hopes and dreams of becoming a real life Leslie Knope were tossed out the window. Ruined. Corrupt. I saw the hot-off-the-press headlines whirring around in my brain: “Philadelphian Political Career Over in Embarrassing Scandal” and “Residents Throw Tomatoes at Failed Politician’s Home After Election Fraud.” Yellow journalism is alive and well, my friends.
Then I took a breath and checked my old address. I was still registered, and able to vote somewhere—just not, you know, in the location where I was striving to hold (lower) office.
Still, I set aside this speed bump (or train wreck) for the time being and powered on thanks to some words of encouragement. On election day, I stood outside of my new district’s polling place (specifically 10 feet away) and asked a couple of people to please write me in, and then swiftly ran away after approximately seven minutes because my precious ego couldn’t handle the confused rejection from strangers heading inside to vote.
And then, with election day behind me, I tucked my campaign papers in a desk drawer and got back to my usual routine. There’s no way I could have won this thing: Even my one reliable vote, my sweet, sweet roommate, realized after the fact that she accidentally wrote me in for Lieutenant Governor instead of committee person. It was time to throw in the proverbial towel.
But just in case, a week later I called City Commissioner Al Schmidt’s office to check in. I got on the line with Michelle Montalvo, digital media and communications language access coordinator, and after a time I received an unofficial: “Congratulations! Someone wrote you in!” And then, “Also, weird, someone wrote you in for Lieutenant Governor…you know you didn’t get that right?”
When I called back to be showered with a final, true “Congratulations” I was instead faced with a Mickey Mouse situation. And this Mickey Mouse came in the form of Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania’s president.
Someone wrote me in for Committeeperson? I asked if it was a joke. She said no. I said, are you sure? She said yes. I paused and said, but are you sure? She said, yes, that’s enough now. But, she cautioned, the official results would be ready on May 30th; Michelle told me to call back then. “Because, you know, people could write in anyone, they could write in Mickey Mouse, who knows,” she said.
I told everyone. My mom, my grandma, my friends, my boss—I was on top of the world and had quickly decided to remove the “unofficial” from Michelle’s congratulatory statement from my memory and fully embrace my win.
But my win wasn’t fully mine. Not yet anyway. Because when I called back on May 30th ready to be showered with a final, true “Congratulations” I was instead faced with a Mickey Mouse situation. And this Mickey Mouse came in the form of a woman named Dina—and Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania’s president.
Even worse, the young man on the phone explained that since I wasn’t technically registered in my division (I’d been caught), this was the end of the road for me. This whole process had now turned into a roller coaster I very much wanted to get off of.
That night, The Citizen hosted its Solutions Open Mic & Happy Hour event, where we invite Philadelphians to get a little tipsy and share some of Philly’s challenges and ideas for solutions. I’m standing off to the side before the event began playing a fun game called “see how many cheese cubes you can eat before anyone notices,” when I hear: “That’s Jamie Bogert?!” I whip around, and Michelle Montalvo quickly introduces herself. “We’ve been talking about your committee person situation all day at the office!” she said.
I’m two gin punches in and slur: “Oh, you mean how I lost, how I’m a fraud and a phony? Take your pick why dontchya,” (I then slide my glass down the bar to the open hand of a bartender and mumble: “gimme another, make it a double.”)
What actually happened, however, was a truly captivating conversation about our city’s politics and the inner workings of the election process. Michelle instantly lit up given the opportunity to talk about my convoluted situation and I began to feel a sort of inner political Ninja Warrior start to stir. I found out that both Amy Gutmann and the other write-in were also not registered in my division, and likely weren’t serious write ins at all. I also learned that if my ID confirmed my current address and if my change of address application was in process, there was still a chance.
I had a couple different plans. I knew the next day I needed to go to the City Commissioners’ building to be there in person for the tie breaker. If Amy Gutmann—eighth president of the University of Pennsylvania, award-winning political theorist, and the author of 16 books—won, I would simply give her a quick call and politely ask her to resign. At which point, I could then contact my division’s ward leader and ask that they appoint me to the position. A sort of backhanded road to victory, but victory nonetheless.
Everything I’d gone through culminated here, in this room, in front of the City Commissioners, a courtroom stenographer, and a gentleman jingling three bingo balls inside a 60 year old Horn & Hardart Coffee can that has its own Facebook page. This, right here, is democracy at work.
Luckily, I didn’t have to follow that route. There were over 60 ties across the city and the small courtroom filled with a handful of people awaiting their fates. I accidentally showed up an hour early, and signed in first and was the first to be called up.
As I walked slowly to the front of the room, the events from the last month flashed before my mind. Everything I’d gone through culminated here, in this room, in front of the City Commissioners, a courtroom stenographer, and a gentleman jingling three bingo balls inside a 60 year old Horn & Hardart Coffee can that has its own Facebook page. This, right here, is democracy at work.
I held my breath. The bingo ball with “1” etched into it was pulled out. And the person recording the winners looked at me and said: “You won.”
In disbelief, I stared blankly at the poor man and after he repeated the fact that I won, I made some odd cackling sound, thought briefly about making an acceptance speech, and made my way back to my seat. After the rest of the ties were resolved, I got in line behind the other winners to receive a blue computer paper print off that reads: “THIS CERTIFIES THAT JAMIE BOGERT WAS DULY ELECTED AT THE ELECTION HELD ON MAY 15, 2018 TO A FOUR-YEAR TERM TO THE OFFICE OF DEMOCRATIC WARD EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE IN WARD 27, DIVISION 05.”
That evening, I was greeted by Carson with a much needed hug. I waved to his mom and asked him how he felt about being my deputy committee person. He kicked around a stick in the grass and said “I got some ideas written down on a piece of paper, but actually I think I lost it.” I smiled and said: “Let’s get to work on those bouncy houses.”Pixabay