Getting REALTOR® champions—politicians in tune with the REALTOR® organization’s views—elected to public office has long been a priority. Since the laws governing campaign contributions were relaxed in 2010, more advocacy organizations have entered the arena with huge amounts of money for federal candidates. In response, REALTORS® have stepped up their efforts and engaged in nearly 500 state and local campaigns in the past two years.
Case in point: Sunnyvale, Calif., holds its City Council elections in the off-year, so there is relatively low turnout in these elections. With low turnout, vociferous anti-business, no-growth candidates can take up a much larger proportion of the vote than is reflective of the beliefs of the general population.
The 4,000-member Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® knew something had to be done to change the course of politics in the area. Three of the seven City Council seats were up for election in November 2013, two of which were open seats. The association identified two REALTOR® champions to run for those seats.
Association Government Affairs Director Jessica Epstein contacted NAR about how she could take action and learned about the resources and grants available to run an independent expenditure campaign* through the REALTOR® Party. It took only 10 days from the time Epstein applied for funds and assistance from the REALTOR® Party to get the funding approved.
REALTOR® champion and Sunnyvale planning Commissioner Gustav Larsson was an ideal choice to run. Elected officials and community leaders who were already REALTOR® champions supported him. He understood the needs of homeowners, opposed point-of-sale mandates and rent control, and supported the temporary placement of real estate signs on public property.
The association also identified planning Commissioner Glenn Hendricks as an ideal candidate. He promoted the development of small affordable-housing units and took a nuanced approach to historic preservation, preferring a case-by-case basis to a blanket approach.
The San Jose Mercury News said of the candidates in its endorsement editorial that “Hendricks and Larsson have in common excellent preparation for the council on the planning commission, listening to all sides and making thoughtful decisions.” NAR polled area voters to check on candidate viability and confirmed that the association’s choices were solid.
After discussing the various campaign tools available, the Silicon Valley Association opted to help get Larsson and Hendricks elected the old-fashioned way—knocking on doors. In addition to running online ads that would drive Internet traffic directly to the candidates’ Web sites, the association sent out dozens of canvassers to knock on doors during the month of October up to Election Day. Wearing “Neighbors of Glenn” and “Neighbors of Gustav” T-shirts, the canvassers (who were recruited and paid; many were students) reached out to those most likely to vote in this off-year election.
By the time the polls closed on Election Day, the door-to-door field team had knocked on 34,000 doors, spreading the word about our REALTOR® champion candidates and encouraging the voters to get to the polls. And the effort was well worth the end result: Larsson won with 53 percent of the vote; Hendricks won with 58 percent.
November is election time in many areas. Associations should plan now to get involved by supporting their issue champions and working to replace real estate-unfriendly elected officials. Open seats are the best opportunities to change the shape of a governing body. Now is also the time to recruit local candidates to run—maybe even a REALTOR®.
-- Julienne Uhlich is a campaign services manager at the National Association of Realtors® in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at 202-383-1325 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* A political campaign that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate that is not made in cooperation with or at the request of a candidate or a political party.
Event: Sunnyvale City Council Elections
• When: Fall, 2013
• Total amount of REALTOR® Party Grant: $124,900
• Costs: $22,000: online ads; $102,900: field program elements, including T-shirts, door hangers, canvassers, and more.