Although I lost my bid for an at-large Portland City Council seat, I would not trade the experience of running for office for anything. The learning, of which there was much, was often unexpected.
The campaign confirmed for me again the life lesson that once we begin a journey we truly do not know where it will take us or exactly how it will end.
One of the great learnings was all the Portlanders I met whom I never would have known. I include my opponents as well as candidates for other offices. We shared so many Zoom conferences with civic groups that I feel a common bond with every candidate, even if there were a few I did not meet in person.
Most were of an age that they could have been my students at some point during my 23 years as a high school teacher. I would have liked to have had them in class, which is how I tend to judge younger people.
Also impressive were the many current councilors who shared their insights on how to run for office and the many former officeholders who did the same.
It was also enlightening to see Portland’s neighborhood associations in action along with many other interest groups and publications that reached out to candidates for our views. I can attest that there is a strong awareness of local politics among a segment of Portlanders. I only wish that engagement was shared by a wider percentage of the electorate.
I knocked on hundreds of doors, which led to memorable encounters.
One day, a middle-school student walking home from school crossed the street and asked, “Are you Stuart Tisdale? I wrote a report about you.” I am sure I will never live to hear that again.
Another time the door opened and it was a fellow from our junior high garage band, whom I hadn’t seen in ages. Other times it was former students, some with children at their feet, or the parents of former students, who filled me in on the positive things their kids have gone on to do.
I ran into old friends and acquaintances with whom I grew up in the West End, former teaching and law colleagues, high school and junior high school classmates, and the children of friends, colleagues, and classmates.
Standing at the polls on Election Day, I encountered a steady stream of people from the past. Old friends, including my former spouse; old friends of my brothers; old friends of my children; my kids’ coaches; parents of my children’s childhood friends, and even old friends, students, and colleagues of my mother, who taught at Portland High School.
Throughout the campaign, I had the uncanny sense of my life passing before me. It was an unexpected gift.
Occasionally, I had policy discussions with people on their doorstep. What always impressed me was the feeling that as people of good faith we all have much more in common than sets us apart. If we were to get out of our heads, where partisan differences tend to fester, and get to know one another, I wonder how many differences would melt away.
Finally, I never fully appreciated how running for office is itself a public service. A political campaign steals a huge portion of a candidate’s life and requires immense support from family and friends. Yet if done properly it also represents the supremely generous act of providing the electorate with a meaningful choice.
I will never again take for granted the efforts of local candidates. Every sign, every palm card, every knock on the door, every request for a campaign donation, is at root an act of altruism, regardless of the candidate, regardless of the views.
Stuart Tisdale is an attorney and Cheverus High School teacher who ran unsuccessfully in November for the Portland City Council.