Learning on the job

Claire Goldsmith

Regardless of the outcome, I’m grateful for the experience.

When I say this, I’m often told I sound like a politician. Even though many people might be insulted by that remark, I’ll take it as a compliment – after all, I’m emulating a politician I deeply admire.

Nearly a year ago, I began working on Wendy Greuel’s campaign for mayor of Los Angeles. Two summers ago, I interned for her in the City Controller’s Office.

Greuel ran for mayor against City Councilman Eric Garcetti ’88. Treachery, you cry. How could I not support an alumnus of my school?

I based my allegiance not on each candidate’s alma mater, but on what he or she represented. In my two years working for Greuel, I saw her determination and vision for a better city. She was always friendly with her interns, knew our names and our interests, chatted with us when she had a rare free moment.

I admire Greuel, and I relish the time I spent working for her campaign. I started as an intern and worked my way up to the position of Organizing Fellow. I learned how to cold-call hundreds of people without the slightest hesitation and how to connect with complete strangers over an issue they really cared about. I met some incredible people on the campaign, people I’m sure I’ll see run for office themselves one day.

The campaign showed me a realm of future possibilities, but it also reminded me why we as a society find it so difficult to break free of the past. I fielded more calls than I could count with men who could never quite put into words why they weren’t voting for her – maybe, as California Attorney General Kamala Harris says, we’re still not comfortable with women being in charge of our money and our security.

I heard the same complaint over and over from women who loved Greuel and were impressed by her endorsements. There was just one problem, though. They couldn’t vote for her, they said, because she had a son. After all, how could she be Mayor and be a good mother at the same time?

No matter her impressive qualifications or plans, Greuel would never be accepted by these voters.

Emblazoned with “Wendy for Mayor” buttons and sticking lawn signs wherever I could, I faced some negative reactions from my Garcetti-loving peers. As a Democrat at an overall Democratic school, I’ve rarely held the minority opinion here, at least regarding politics. I scoffed at other views since they weren’t the ones I had, without bothering to assess the validity of those arguments.

Now, having spent approximately 10 months on the other side of that interaction, I wish I had given more consideration to others’ points of view. It’s difficult enough to hold an unpopular opinion without being mocked for it.

The last lesson I learned on the campaign trail was how to accept defeat gracefully. Late Tuesday night, as the election results trickled in, Greuel conceded the race in a private phone call to Garcetti. In her statement the next day, she congratulated her opponent, recognized their strong friendship and championed the future of both women in politics and the futre of the city.

I know I won’t succeed at everything I attempt in life, and when that happens, I hope to handle it like Greuel. For lack of a better phrase, she’s a classy lady, and she taught me volumes during the time I spent with her.

So, congratulations to Mayor-elect Garcetti. He’ll be a great leader of the city, and if I can’t have a woman as mayor, at least I’ll have a Wolverine.