How do you get elected to municipal government when nobody knows your name? - InfoNews

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How do you get elected to municipal government when nobody knows your name?

Loyal Wooldridge, pictured in this undated submitted photo, was the only newcomer to get elected to Kelowna city council.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED
October 24, 2018 - 1:30 PM

KELOWNA - Door knocking, social media and just putting in the time and effort were keys to getting some newcomers elected to city councils in Kelowna and West Kelowna.

In Kelowna, Loyal Wooldridge was the only outsider elected to city council to the only vacant seat on council as the seven incumbents running for re-election topped the polls.

“I think, if you don’t have the name recognition and you’re not an incumbent, then you really have to do the leg work a year in advance,” Wooldridge told iNFOnews.ca.

He’s wanted to run for council for about seven years but needed to get his business (Loyal Hair) to a place where he could back away and put in the time.

While he officially launched his campaign in May, he started building his community profile about a year ago, attending more than 100 community meetings - everything from the Chamber of Commerce to anti-poverty groups.

“I’ve always been deeply involved in the community from a philanthropic perspective,” he said. “I believe in giving back.”

Early on, he met with Mayor Colin Basran and all the incumbents and sat through about 20 council meetings, where he never saw any other candidates.

“Colin, when I met with him last November, he said, ‘start going to council meetings. Once you get elected you don’t want to realize you don’t want to do that.”

Basran's point was that sitting on council means spending a lot of time dealing with more mundane matters, like rezoning applications, side-yard setbacks and carriage house applications, not the big picture, more dramatic things like crime, homelessness and transportation.

Attending council meetings is one of the things Stephen Johnston did on the way to finishing first in the West Kelowna election, beating out six incumbent councillors.

Johnston wasn’t completely unknown, having run for mayor in 2014 and getting 41 per cent of the vote. After that, he became vice-chair of the West Kelowna Economic Development Commission, sat on the Central Okanagan Planning Study and was president of the West Kelowna Shelter Society.

During the four years between elections he attended many council meetings and, since December 2017, viewed or attended every council meeting, public hearing or special meeting. While that got him up to speed on the workings of council, when it came time to campaign he was out on the streets knocking on doors.

“My door knocking team was mainly my wife and our two kids, who are 10 and 12 and my mom and dad and one of my sisters” Johnston said. “It was a pretty small group of us although, on a couple of days, we gathered bigger groups out there and got to 1,000 doors a day.”

In all, he and his team knocked on about 6,500 doors that helped him get almost 4,300 votes, far more than any other incumbent.

Jayson Zilkie — with less name recognition than Johnston — finished second in West Kelowna about 1,000 votes behind, but still about 50 votes ahead of the top incumbent councillor Rick de Jong.

Zilkie didn’t kick off his campaign until September. His first step was to contact some key people for advice, like mayor-elect Gord Milson, attend council meetings and knock on doors.

His door knocking team consisted of himself, his wife and mother.

That seems to have been an effective strategy in West Kelowna but not an effective use of Wooldridge’s time. He figured he needed 10,000 votes to get elected and ended up with almost 12,500 for eighth spot.

“I did a few days of it (door knocking) and had a whole crew go out, which was quite effective,” he said. “But I encouraged supporters to do meet and greets with 10 to 20 people at residences or coffee house. It was really about strategizing and maximizing my own personal time.”

Much of his campaign was through social media, which he used extensively through his work. His goal was to get 1,000 followers by election day. He managed to get about 1,040.

Still, Wooldridge estimates it cost about $17,000 to run his campaign. Money was spent on boosting social media posts, signs, campaign literature and his launch party. He did a little bit of traditional radio and news website advertising but didn’t find it as cost-effective as social media.

It was tough raising that much money since new election rules allow candidates to only spend $2,400 of their own money and businesses can no longer donate.

In West Kelowna, Johnston didn’t have an estimate on the cost of his campaign but Zilkie estimated he spent about $5,000.

“I was really blessed that a lot of people said they would support me, including a lot of people I didn’t know,” Zilkie said. “I was so tickled by that because I didn’t have enough money to run my campaign. It was pretty cool. I’d get letters in the mail with cheque in them.”

Now that the election is over, it’s time to get down to work.

Kelowna’s new councillor orientation day is tomorrow, Oct. 25, with West Kelowna’s on Monday, Oct. 29.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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