BY JACOB KAYE
Peter Harrison had a plan. His campaign was going to knock on every door in every NYCHA apartment located in the congressional district he’s hoping to represent come November. Then the pandemic began.
As was true for many candidates, Harrison’s ambitious ground game came to a halt. The message would have to be spread through the phone, online or other non-traditional campaign means.
But despite the change in his physical campaign, Harrison, whose messaging revolves around equitable housing policy, found that his policy goals and political convictions didn’t change at all.
As many candidates running for office have come to believe, the COVID- 19 crisis has only amplified the issues they were fighting for prior to the pandemic, and has made their policy goals more pertinent than ever.
“Just like so many other issues, COVID hasn’t created the housing crisis. It’s just heightened it so much,” Harrison said. “It’s really clarified why I’m running.”
Leaning on creativity
Most politicians and candidates agree – nothing beats connecting with voters in person. But as the novel coronavirus crisis ravaged the city and campaign events like town halls, knocking on doors and handing out flyers at subway stations became matters of public health, candidates turned to the web.
“We’ve moved to being 100 percent digital,” said Lauren Ashcraft, who, along with Harrison, is challenging Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in New York’s 12th Congressional District. “It’s been a pretty smooth transition, but we are also kind of leaning on our creativity, as well.”
Every Monday, Ashcraft takes to social media to livestream her lunch. While she cooks, Ashcraft takes questions about her platform. On Saturdays, she takes questions as she makes her way through the COVID-19-free world of Fortnite.
But the candidate hasn’t gotten rid of all traditional campaign methods. With many people in their homes, the first-time candidate has a slew of volunteers across the country calling voters on behalf of the campaign. Ashcraft has also hosted several virtual town halls on Zoom.
Many candidates have mobilized their volunteers and utilized their organizing skills to deliver direct aid to the people and communities they hope to soon represent.
Anthony Miranda, a retired NYPD sergeant running for Queens borough president, began making welfare calls to Queens residents and getting food and supplies to residents and first responders alike.
“The first thing that changed is that we focused on getting emergency supplies to individuals,” Miranda said.
The former president of the National Latino Officers Association said that he and his team organized to deliver 100,000 masks to hospital workers and that they soon plan on donating 100,000 more.
City Councilman Donovan Richards, who is also running for Queens borough president, has mobilized his campaign to get food and supplies to his constituents as well.
“The bread and butter issues that are important to the community are the priority,” Richards said.
But Richards, who’s been in the City Council since 2013, has also embraced online campaigning.
“There’s no shortage of Zoom meetings,” Richards said.
In fact, the southeast Queens representative believes that the digital changes made during the COVID-19 crisis might become standard practice in future campaigns.
“You can’t replace the one-on-one human aspect of a campaign,” Richards said. “But this crisis is actually going to change the face of how campaigning is done in the future.”
Validating the thesis
While physical campaigning has changed, many candidates believe that the issues that made up their platform prior to the pandemic have only become more relevant.
Across the political spectrum, candidates feel the COVID-19 crisis has only highlighted and heightened the issues they hope to address once elected.
For Iggy Terravnova, an Astorian challenging Michael Gianaris for the incumbent’s state Senate seat, Amazon’s HQ2 withdrawal is what brought him into politics. According to Terranova, the issue couldn’t be more relevant now.
“So many people are losing their jobs. If Amazon was here now, Queens would be in such a better position because there would be jobs here,” Terranova said. “COVID-19 emphasized how selfish everyone was because they were short minded. Here we are, a year and change later, and we could really use them.”
Candidates who have run on issues related to health care have found their message more pertinent than ever.
“My platform is for universal healthcare,” said Jessica González-Rojas, who’s challenging Michael DenDekker in the New York state Assembly. “They say the virus doesn’t discriminate but it does. Health inequalities are multiplied for people of color and low-income communities. That’s something I’ve been fighting my entire life.”
For Richards — who represented the Rockaways during the Hurricane Sandy recovery — the COVID-19 crisis, while distinct and devastating in its own right, is nothing new for the community he represents.
“As a black man from southeast Queens and the Rockaways, we’re living a real moment,” Richards said. “The people dying in large numbers are people who look just like me and my community. This only reinforces and heightens my purpose in running and fighting for people from my community.”
Harrison said that the public health crisis, which has touched nearly every aspect of New Yorkers’ lives, has only validated his campaign’s thesis about housing.
He’s gone back to his roots as an organizer and has shifted his campaign to focus more on rent strikes – New York’s 12th Congressional District is mostly comprised of renters.
For Harrison and others, COVID-19 has put political campaigns into perspective. The policy issues they want to fight for have become even more important, and doing what they believe will best help their community has become the top priority.
“Whether that translates to victory on June 23, we’ll see,” Harrison said. “But these issues don’t go away on June 24.”
This story first appeared on qns.com.