Door knocking, research and comfy shoes: Past election candidates share what it takes to win

·4 min read
Jeff Denomme, Ryan Mancini, and John Elliott all ran for Windsor city council in the last 10 years.  (TJ Dhir/CBC - image credit)
Jeff Denomme, Ryan Mancini, and John Elliott all ran for Windsor city council in the last 10 years. (TJ Dhir/CBC - image credit)

The municipal election is underway, and candidates for city council are out canvassing for votes.

But candidates from previous elections want to impart their wisdom on this election's contenders.

Every campaign and every candidate's experience is different. CBC News spoke with three people who previously ran for Windsor city council and asked what advice they have for those running this time around.

'If you know you're going to lose, drop out'

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

Despite gaining over a third of the vote, Jeff Denomme lost to incumbent Jo-Anne Gignac in Ward 6 in 2018 by 1,027 votes, who gained just over half the vote.

Denomme says candidates running against incumbents are hardly mentioned in the news. He wants that to change.

"Every time I was on the radio, they'd go 'Ward 1, this person, this person. Ward 2, this person, this person. It's gonna be a hot race,'" he said.

"They get to Ward 6 and they'll be like, 'Don't worry about Ward 6, it's just the current person. Just keep going. Nobody really good is running.' And it was bypassed. They would never say my name."

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

One political expert says that's part of the incumbent advantage.

"If somebody's been in the seat before, assuming they haven't done anything egregious and many people dislike them to the point where they're going to vote against them, they tend to have an advantage over the challengers," said Lydia Miljan, a political science professor at the University of Windsor.

Denomme says with better media coverage, his result would have been closer to Gignac's. But he also had some unusual advice to candidates who know they will lose the election.

"If you actually want change, and if you know you're going to lose, drop out," he said. "That's the most important way to flip something. Unless you're on that team anyway, then who cares who wins? Let the [incumbent] stay in."

Do your research

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

Ryan Mancini contested the 2014 election in Ward 1. He gained almost 30 per cent of the vote, but lost to Fred Francis by 583 votes.

He remembers the campaign as a gruelling process.

"When I decided to get into the race, I decided to devote myself solely to the campaign," Mancini said. "It was a lot of work. I knocked on approximately 8,000 doors, which were nearly all the doors in the ward. I wore out a pair of shoes. I got chased by a Rottweiler on one occasion."

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

Mancini's advice to would-be council members is to do their research.

"Look into the job and figure out why you want to be a city councillor," he said.

"The process to register is very easy. You can go down to city hall and register for the race, but running an efficient campaign is a lot of work. You have to be ready to put in a lot of hours, work hard to meet your constituents and address their concerns the best that you possibly can."

'Get to as many doors as you can'

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

One candidate actually made it to council.

John Elliott was elected as the councillor for Ward 2 in 2014. He also ran in 2010 and 2018, but lost both races.

During his time on council, Elliott maintained his position as the executive director of the Sandwich Teen Action Group, an after-school program designed to keep teenagers off the streets.

WATCH | John Elliott talks about why he wanted to be a councillor:

"The balance was easier for me," he said. "I was lucky that way because I had that type of job where I had a lot of flexibility to [work on] council and my job at the same time. If there were early morning meetings or different meetings, I could get out of work to attend meetings like that."

In the 2010 election, Elliott lost in a recount by only five votes. He was more successful four years later, and he says it was because he did one of the most basic things.

"Get to as many doors as you can and talk to people," Elliott said. "You have to get the vote of the people, and you have to get those people out to vote. When we did win, we went across the ward. We didn't miss any area. It was very successful, and we were able to win."

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

But for Elliott, balancing two jobs took a toll.

"The thing I didn't think about a lot was the burnout and the end of it," Elliott said.

Miljan said door knocking is the most important part of a campaign strategy.

"Even with social media and the electronic age, a lot of candidates can reach a lot of people through social media," she said. "But it still matters on the ground, knocking on doors, meeting individuals at their homes. People remember you if you take the time to knock on their doors and talk to them."

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

Elliott believes the reason he lost the 2018 election was because of burnout halfway through the campaign.

"That's not to say I still would have won, but I didn't get to a key area in the ward to get to the doors," he said.

"If the people don't see you, you're out of sight and out of mind."