The first challenge was coming to terms with what COVID meant for the world, for our community, for jobs, for health. But it never occurred to me to not continue the campaign. I knew we needed a leader who could be creative and look for solutions to help our community move forward through the pandemic.
I’m naturally a social butterfly, so it was also a challenge not being able to connect with people in person. I’ve met hundreds of people through my job in public works, at the school district, and as a community organizer, and I was looking forward to doing that on the campaign trail. I’d even arranged my whole summer work schedule around door knocking! But I had to do what I thought was right and what I thought was the best leadership — following health department guidelines that people should stay home if they can. I found other ways to connect with people. We increased our fundraising efforts to support additional mailings. We had a great volunteer team that flooded the whole city with flyers. Volunteers were able to engage in their own neighborhoods, and it really helped people feel like they were part of a movement. During such a scary time, people felt like they had some power to do something positive for their community.
The silver lining has been that Zoom meetings are more accessible. We have people checking in to council meetings while they’re making dinner, folding laundry, or cleaning. They can participate more easily. Zoom has also helped me connect with other elected leaders. I’m in groups with other mayors and BIPOC elected officials, which is really awesome! If these were in person meetings, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to drive up to Bemidji to attend. The opportunity to meet leaders from across Minnesota, and dream together about how our entire state can move forward and take care of more people has been incredible.