Nope. Not Running For City Council.
Whew, that was close.
I was an eyelash away from blowing what’s left of my severance package on industrial-strength Spanx and control-top pantyhose.
Lemme back up.
I left The Virginian-Pilot on December 1, 2017, but I didn’t retire. I never planned to retire. Just figured I’d keep writing until I lost my faculties. (Insert your favorite you-lost-your-faculties-years-ago joke here.)
But I reluctantly accepted a severance package, started this website and began writing a book. Never mind what it’s about. You can buy a copy when it’s published.
After 17 years as a metro columnist who specialized in snarking about the shameless shenanigans of Virginia Beach City Council, several people suggested that I should run for that body myself. More than several, actually.
“Are you nuts?” I asked at first. “Journalists can’t run for office.”
You’re not a journalist anymore they reminded me.
Besides, I hate going to meetings, I protested, admitting that I’d spent decades at The Pilot skipping staff meetings. (Interviews with convicts, sick kids, doggie dental appointments, any excuse to get out of tedious confabs.)
But eventually, the notion became more palatable. Especially after FOIAed emails printed in The Pilot in March seemed to suggest that the city manager secretly held out hope that the developer-driven light rail boondoggle that voters had rejected a year and a half earlier would somehow be revived.
Someone needs to put a nail in THAT coffin, I thought.
Might as well be me.
So I put out “feelers” about running and got a positive response from folks I liked and trusted. The incumbent is easily beatable, they all agreed. Promises of contributions poured in. So I went to the registrar’s office and got the paperwork needed to become a candidate.
(By the way, will someone tell the malicious morons who are spreading a rumor that I missed the filing deadline that it’s not until June 12th. Honestly, people. I’m not dead. I still hear things.)
Some really nice folks offered to circulate petitions to get my name on the ballot.
But you know what? The minute you say you’ll run for office, you begin to lose control.
You’re a product to be packaged.
There was, for instance, the delicate matter of my attire.
I’m definitely not stylish. I can’t tie a scarf. I own exactly one decent dress. I’m not proud of this, but I was once mistaken for a homeless person, by a homeless person at 7-Eleven.
My daughter, who studied political science at Ole Miss and worked on several congressional and other campaigns in the Magnolia State, offered to make me presentable.
“First of all, you’ll have to stop wearing clothes with holes in them when you walk the dogs,” she said. “Voters are everywhere.”
“Second, you’re gonna need Spanx and you have to stop going bare-legged in skirts when you go out.”
Pantyhose? Spanx? In Virginia Beach in the summer? I started sweating at the thought.
“And you’ll want to get eyelash extensions so you’ll always look made up,” she suggested. “Besides, they make you look younger and save time on eye makeup.“
Gawd no. Those magnetic eyelashes she gave me for Christmas last year felt like little weights on my lids. Wore them for about an hour. Cannot imagine having eyelash barbells glued to each lash for the next five months.
“Oh, and you might want to consider a Brazilian blow-out for your hair so it won’t be frizzy when you’re going door to door,” she said.
A blow-out? With formaldehyde? What, and kill whatever brain cells are left after 42 years in journalism?
It wasn’t just her. The guy who agreed to be my campaign manager had a few ideas of his own.
“I don’t have great clothes,” I admitted up front.
“You look fine, “ he said assessing the white denim skirt and black T-shirt that I’d worn to our first meeting. “But you’ll have to step it up for the forums.”
Step up to what, a ball gown? I’d stepped it up for our meeting.
I thought of the Henry David Thoreau quote: “Beware of all enterprises requiring new clothes.”
Then I pushed it out of my mind.
Another seasoned politician who was urging me to run said I needed to be at the busiest McDonald’s in Virginia Beach every weekday morning at 7 a.m. to work the Egg McMuffin crowd.
I did the math. Allowing myself time to shower, squeeze into my Spanx and pantyhose, blow dry my hair and spackle on makeup, meant getting up at 5 a.m.
Every damn day. From now till November.
“You’ll need to hit every civic league in town too,” another unofficial advisor told me.
“How many are there? I asked tentatively.
“Your job from here till Election Day is to campaign and raise money. Period,” said my campaign manager matter-of-factly.
What about my trip to Montana?
What about going to college football games?
Record ‘em on TV and watch late at night.
But what about time with my granddaughter?
“You can push her in a stroller when you’re campaigning. She’ll be adorable in campaign photos. Nothing voters love more than cute kids and dogs.”
Sawyer Grace: Campaign prop.
And her mother, political animal that she is, was on board with it.
“Look, I bought her red cowboy boots for the campaign!” she exclaimed one day, holding up a pair of tiny, crimson Annie Oakleys. “You can wear yours and you two’ll match.”
Then there was the straw that broke the candidate’s back: Photos.
“We need to get you with a photographer this week,” my manager said.
“What’s wrong with my Facebook photo?” I asked.
“It looks like a high school yearbook picture. Plus, we’ll need lots of candid shots for the website. Don’t worry, we’ll get someone who’s good with photoshop,” he promised.
Photo sessions. Airbrushed wrinkles. Cancelled trips. Clothes without holes in them.
I wasn’t sleeping anymore. Instead, I was lying awake at night thinking about eyelashes and latex underwear and fretting that the Ole Miss Rebels were going to have an amazing football season and I wouldn’t be in the stadium for a single game.
It was 2 a.m. almost two weeks ago when I sent a text to my soon-to-be-ex campaign manager.
“Why?” he asked in the morning.
"I don’t have my heart in it,” I told him. "I may not work for a newspaper anymore, but I’m still a journalist.
"We don’t run for office. We pick on those who do.”