Arlingtonians Invest Time in Politics

Arlingtonians Invest Time in Politics

Volunteering on the campaign trail for Democratic and Republican candidates.

The presidential election, coupled with a heated congressional race in the Eighth District, is drawing many Arlingtonians to volunteer.

Some are hitting the streets with flyers and putting up signs. Others are manning phone banks, polling would be voters to promote their candidate. With less than a month until election day, their contributions, according to staffers, will make or break campaigns.

Arlington Democrats are pitching in at the headquarters of US Rep. Jim Moran (D) on Wilson Boulevard. The small office, housed in what was once a photo developing store, hums with activity all week long.

"Campaigns are always a sort of controlled chaos and the volunteers help channel that chaos," said Mike Brown, Moran's campaign manager. "I started out as a volunteer. There's a definite community that you find by volunteering, people with similar views, similar values and backgrounds."

Many volunteers contribute by spreading Moran and Kerry's Democratic message. But behind the scenes, a campaign needs others to keep it organized and running smoothly. Stephanie Millar, a land use planner based in Arlington, started out her volunteer experience in Washington working on the Kerry campaign and now helps run the offices at Moran/Kerry headquarters. She is writing procedural guidelines for volunteers to use in the field.

"We have so many volunteers coming in and every new person needs to be trained," she said.

Millar puts in several hours each week at the campaign's office but the other volunteers there have made the experience more like fun than work.

"You do meet a lot of cool people," she said. "There's such a range of volunteers, high school students all the way up to older, retired people who donate their time."

Many professionals are also lending a hand, donating not only their time but their expertise to campaign.

"When the campaign was kicking off, I decided, okay, enough talk," said Judith Stearns, an events planner and fund-raiser. "I guess it's fallout from the 2000 election."

Judith has helped organize special events for the campaign and coordinate volunteer efforts at public events like the Arlington Farmer's Market and Dogtoberfest. "We plug into those events and provide volunteers, so we have a presence at whatever kind of function."

Brown said the campaigns can always use skilled volunteers like Stearns.

"If people have a certain skill set they can bring to the table, we can benefit from that and it gives them a chance to do what they know best, to take the lead on a project and make it their own."

The average volunteer contributes between 10 to 15 hours each week.

Sophie Ure, a newly arrived resident from Scotland, spends her time updating volunteer information lists and helping around the office. To her, this election has international consequences that cannot be ignored.

"I can't vote here but I feel that because American politics effect the rest of the world and I would rather those were Kerry politics than Bush politics," she said.

Brown added that volunteers "are basically ambassadors for the campaign. It isn't like they work on it and then they don't think about it the rest of the week. They'll talk to their friends about it and that's a good way for the campaign's message to spread."

Alice Biby, who is in her late sixties, said she volunteered on Moran's campaign because of the federal support he has brought to Arlington.

"Jim has done so much for Northern Virginia and comes out ahead on issues like transportation, like the funding for the system down Columbia Pike and the funding for some much needed work with gangs," she said. "He's just a person who embraces the philosophy of the Democratic party."

Based in Alexandria, Lisa Marie Cheney's Republican congressional campaign in the eighth district boasts a roster of more than 1,000 volunteers.

"Our volunteers are a vital part of Lisa's campaign," said manager Clark Chris Unger.

Unger added that the volunteers run the gamut of the voting populace, from working professionals to homemakers, college students to senior citizens. Yet volunteer Maria Chariochi has spent much of her time on the campaign trail working to mobilize young people through a special coalition, Young Professionals for Lisa Marie.

"It's pretty much my second full-time job," said Chariochi. "It's a support network, kind of like a focus group. We work on trying to encourage other young professionals to join Lisa's campaign."

A legal assistant for an energy regulation firm in Washington, Chariochi said she got active with local Republicans after hearing Cheney speak.

"I went to a Young Republican's meeting and she happened to be the speaker," she said. "She was just everything I want in a politician and I told her that night I would offer any help that she needed."

Kerry Finnegan, who has worked both on the Cheney campaign and at the Bush-Cheney 2004 national headquarters in Arlington, said she joined the Cheney camp as a way of starting her career. She also shares Cheney's views when it comes to America's future.

"I like Lisa Marie's ideas on strengthening national defense, her support of the president and the war in Iraq and her vision of smaller government and keeping taxes low to encourage business," she said.

Finnegan's work has focused primarily on spreading Cheney's campaign message at public booths and on the street. In what is largely liberal territory, Finnigan said getting the word out can often be a challenge.

"It depends on the venue," she said. "Northern Virginia tends to lean a bit towards the left. Sometimes you're a little outnumbered."

But Finnegan has also managed to put her professional skills to work. An events coordinator for the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank, she recently helped put together a fund-raiser.

"I signed the venue and did some of the organizing for an event and literature drop on Halloween Day," she said.

With the campaign trail coming down to the wire, volunteers are now feeling some anxiety and anticipation, wondering whether the candidate they've backed for months will make it into office.

"It's become really exciting," said Anthony DeAngelo, a political science student at American University, who began working with Cheney's campaign through a friend in AU's Young Republicans group. He now works five to six days each week, setting up signs and contributing to Cheney's public affairs efforts.

"It's fast-paced work, very interesting," he said. "It's been a great experience."