“Are you the Ryan Shell that just ran for Greensboro City Council at-large?” With a small grin on my face I said, “Yes.” Then the attendant behind the ticket counter at Triad Stage said, “Oh my gosh — I voted for you! I’m so sorry you didn’t win, but I think you did really great job.” At this point I was smiling from ear to ear and reached through the ticket window to shake her hand. “You have no idea how much that means to me,” I said. “Thank you.”
I didn’t win my recent political campaign, but I received just shy of 1,700 votes, and moments like that make me feel like an absolute winner.
Running for political office is one of the hardest things you can ever do, especially from a mental standpoint. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you say, there’s always going to be someone that adamantly disagrees with you.
This fact reaffirmed that I very much dislike how society stereotypes people, especially from a racial and age standpoint. I’m 30 years old and I don’t think my age negatively impacted me that much (at least I hope that is the case), but I know it mattered to some people.
I remember knocking on one lady’s door who said, “How old are you? You don’t look old enough to run for council.” I replied by saying, “Thank you for that complement, I’m sure I’ll appreciate it when I’m 60. But I do have to ask, how old does someone need to look to run for council?” I started my campaign roughly five months before the primary and would probably start even earlier if I opted to run again. Building name awareness doesn’t happen overnight and I think the early part of a campaign allows you to plan and strategize so you can later focus on implementation.
As a first-time candidate I was very interested in co-managing my campaign so that I could learn the ropes, but there’s no way I’d do that again. Candidates are pulled in many different directions and it’s crucial to have someone guide the process — at least for my campaigning style.
Throughout the campaign people asked lots of very interesting questions, and as you might imagine I tried to answer them. Should I ever do this again I want to do a better job of tying questions back to my core message — it’s absolutely necessary.
From what I’ve been told my ground campaign was on point, and I feel confident in saying we did lots of things right.
For instance, I was determined to knock on more doors (of people who were likely to vote) than any other candidate, and by the end of the campaign I had knocked on thousands of them. Strategically this was wildly important because, as a newcomer, I knew I would probably have fewer resources (money) than other candidates so I had to make up the gap on the ground.
In addition to running a hard ground campaign, I wanted to change how political candidates in Greensboro communicate with voters, or at least show that it could be done differently.
My website had the typical campaign information, but also featured a very active blog. By the day of the primary the site had been viewed 20,000 times, which felt like a nice accomplishment. I also used social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to give voters a more in-depth view of my campaign. Not only did social media help spread the message, but it helped engage voters who could typically care less about local politics — that was huge!
Last, but certainly not least I think we did a good job raising awareness around issues When I got behind an issue I didn’t just talk about it, I screamed it (not literally). For instance, I helped raise awareness about the tragic number of bus stops that don’t have weather shelters. This isn’t something some folks may care about, but part of my job was to bring issues to the forefront and explain their importance.
Another example is when I suggested that all new multi-family complexes should be required to offer recycling. I’m very passionate about this cause because it’s good for the environment and would also help cut down on the amount of trash we haul to Montgomery County. It’s a win/win for the environment and the taxpayers.
All and all I really enjoyed running for city council and am grateful for everyone that helped me along the way. Oh, and there’s one thing that I learned prior to running for political office that is worth mentioning: You don’t have to have a title to get things done.
Ryan Shell ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat on Greensboro City Council this year.