John Lee was recently elected as the new Councilman for northwestern San Fernando Valley’s 12th District seat following a special election against Loraine Lundquist. Cerrell congratulates John Lee on his hard-fought win. As the election comes to an end, we wanted to highlight our very own Josh Yeager for courageously running for the CD12 seat as the youngest candidate in the race. Josh shares his experience as a first-time candidate, lessons learned and why he remains committed to serving his community in the North Valley.
I ran for Los Angeles City Council in my neighborhood of Chatsworth.
When I decided to run, I was immediately faced with criticism. “You’re too young; wait your turn; you’re too inexperienced; you don’t have any major financial backers,” and the list goes on. I was a 26-year-old public policy graduate from UC San Diego with three years of experience working at Cerrell and very little political capital.
I knew that running was ambitious, and that winning the race would be a long shot, but I felt new leadership and voices were needed to drive change.
I was running against 15 candidates, including a former elected official, two former city staffers and a congressional district director. As the newcomer and youngest candidate in the race, I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. I made it my goal to talk to as many people as I could in my community, setting a goal of knocking on 350 doors a week.
I shared my personal story with everyone who would listen. A son of successful entrepreneurs, the grandson of immigrants, an active member in the community, and a lifelong resident of my district, I was running because I had solutions to issues facing my district.
I met law enforcement officers, parents, retirees, and many other people like me who care about their community and wanted to make sure their voices were being heard. I spent a lot of time listening to people about their vision for a safer, cleaner and more inclusive community. I even went as far as to show that I was a man of action by mowing a neighbor’s lawn in the blistering San Fernando Valley heat.
I felt energized by the conversations I had and connections I made. Even being a novice to political campaigning, I kept to my principles and stayed true to myself. I threw my hat in the race because I wanted to bring new leadership that would prioritize forward-thinking and innovative solutions. I ran to ensure the debates included a new perspective on ways to address the issues facing the North Valley, including homelessness, economic development, public safety and transportation.
And while the polls and endorsements weren’t ever on my side, I decided to see my campaign through to the very end.
I had high aspirations, but realistic expectations. Although I did not place in the general, I learned valuable lessons about running as a young candidate in a competitive district:
1. Hit the Pavement
Talk to as many people as you can, but also take time to listen. While having your elevator pitch on why you’re running is important, it’s equally important to listen to constituents. Politicians too often do all the talking and forget to make sure voters feel like they’re being heard and their concerns are being addressed.
2. Build a Support Base
You need serious financial and political capital in a crowded field. First-time candidates need to dig deep into their pockets to amass the necessary financial resources to establish themselves as serious players and run a robust campaign. I started off by making personal calls to family and friends. I then asked family and friends to hold gatherings in their homes to introduce me to new constituents. Through those efforts I was able to fundraise a decent amount of money, but not enough to run a campaign to separate myself from the rest of the candidates.
3. Stand Out
Be creative with how you conduct outreach and communicate with constituents. One of the benefits of being a young candidate is that social media is engrained in the millennial culture, so it was a free and easy platform for me to engage with potential voters.
Signing my declaration of intent to be a candidate.
A potential voter wanted to see if I was a doer, or a just another talker… so I went ahead and mowed her lawn. Every vote counts!
Phone banking quickly became my favorite weekend activity.
No age limit on listening to the community!
While the outcome of the election wasn’t what I hoped for, there were many bright spots on the campaign trail that made it all worth it.
I obtained a deeper appreciation for my community through peoples’ stories, learned regardless of affiliation we are much more alike than we are different, discovered treasures unique to my district, and forged strong relationships with community leaders across the political spectrum.
I will run again. I ran because I love my community and I want to make sure that the North Valley’s voice is included in the conversations in City Hall. And while I’m currently not running a campaign, it doesn’t mean I can’t and won’t continue to be an active member of my community.
This experience taught me to challenge convention and always, no matter the circumstance, be authentic. I hope my experience serves not only as an example to young individuals who seek to hold office, but truly inspires them to run.