Campaign Memories

20 06 2011

Last night, during a visit to a local bar & grill on the beach, I was asked again if I intended to run for public office.

It’s flattering, I guess. Particularly when it comes from a registered voter. And a government employee, no less.

I told the fellow, that I had no immediate plans of challenging our vaunted State Representative again.

“You have to chip away,” he said.

I appreciated the young man’s encouragement and over a few brews we shared our thoughts on the local political scene. I shared with him, some of the bizarre scenarios I encountered during my run — from the rousing ovation by the Muslim community to boos at a gay bar.

The 2010 campaign was a hard one for all Democrats, but for a political novice in Northwest Florida, it was downright impossible.

I had very little resources and no help from the state party. Still, I stuck to my values and provided an option that 10,000 people bought into.

My presence at the Bay Islamic Society’s annual Ramadan dinner was a fine illustration of the campaign’s message. We were intent on reaching out to everyone in the District to show the value of diversity. How I would be received, however, was in doubt.

The media was still ignoring me at this point. I arrived at the dinner to find a large and welcoming community and when one of the Muslim leaders asked that I address the crowd, I was completely caught off guard.

No speech in hand, I took to the podium and told the crowd that I was their Democratic nominee for the State House of Representatives. Coming into the event, there was an air of bitterness in the campaign rhetoric. The Republican primary for U.S. Congress had been recently decided and, in the closing weeks,  one of the candidates decided to slam Islam at a debate in a cheap attempt to curry favor with religious conservatives.

It didn’t help that this same man shared the first two letters of my last name. He was a “Mic” as the slang goes.

I knew I had to quell tensions in the community, tensions that had also been stoked by one of the local right-wing talk radio clowns.

So, without much preparation, I spoke from the heart that night.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” I said. “And we have to stop hurting each other.”

It was a short and sweet message and I thanked the audience for inviting me to the dinner. The applause I received that night was humbling. As I look back now, it was amazing.

A group of people who have every reason to doubt your intentions and judge your lifestyle showed me compassion and kindness that evening.

After the dinner, a woman approached me, her head covered in traditional Islam clothing. “You said what was on everyone’s mind,” she told me. “Thank you for speaking, Mr. McDonald.”

It was definitely one of the high points of the campaign. One to remember. Our goal all along was to make a difference — and on that night, we did just that.