Election day with a homemade candidate

What do you do when you have very little money to fund your political campaign?

That’s the dilemma facing Luis Tejada, the activist candidate in the District 31 New York State Senate election. He raised a meager $4,101, when his opponents Marisol Alcantara, Robert Jackson, and Micah Lasher raised $57,140, $11,920, and $453,467 respectively

The North Polls followed him on the morning of the elections to experience Tejada’s homemade campaign.

8 A.M.: setting up sidewalk signs sisnce dawn

Tejada’s been up since 4AM this morning, personally handing sidewalk signs to the handful of volunteers on his campaign and instructing them on what to do. His improvised office on 139th Street & Broadway is the designated storage room for the day. “It’s hard for me because I don’t have the money to pay for a big campaign.” he says. At the same time, he believes that the lack of money also brings more sincerity and integrity to his campaign: “people who do it [campaigning] for free do it for their ideas, but when you pay people, you don’t have commitment.”

8:15-11:30: handling the campaign around District 31

Tejada has a small but dedicated team of volunteer campaign workers ready to get out the vote around the district.  But they need flyers and leaflets. In a homemade campaign, that’s the job of the candidate himself, who makes sure to keep his troops well-supplied.

Tejada (on the left) stops by on 135th and Broadway

Tajeda relies on support from the Hispanic community but is concerned that some of them might not be familiar with the American voting procedure.  Hence part of his volunteers’ job is to hand out flyers with comprehensive instructions on how to cast a ballot.

On election day, every inch of pavement is up for grabs when it comes to campaigning, hence the importance of sidewalk sign placement.

The art of election sign positioning is an exact science, every inch counts! @luistejadanyc #northattan

A video posted by Louis Baudoin-Laarman (@kaplouis) on Sep 13, 2016 at 6:41am PDT

On a quiet street corner of Washington Heights, we pick up Pedro Tejada, a distant relative of Luis, from the same village in the Dominican Republic. Pedro has been handing out flyers for a while but his street corner is not very busy, so we are driving him to a new location a few streets away. “I help him [Luis Tejada] when he needs more people for volunteering.”, says Pedro in Spanish with a chuckle.

Before dropping off Pedro, our car stops at a red light next to a large SUV. Inside, Robert Jackson is sitting in the back, with two drivers in the front, and another car full of campaign members following behind. Our car has room for Tejada,  Pedro, a reporter and the boxes of posers and flyers. From his seat a few feet above us, Jackson greets Tejada: “You have yourself a good day!”

At the Fort Washington Housing Authority, one of the largest polling stations in district 31, several people come out of the both with smiles and shake Tejada’s hand. .

“Did you vote for me?” Tejada asks an elderly lady he recognizes.
She does not reply, and at last her daughter says yes, although one of Alcantara’s flyers is sticking out of the lady’s purse.


Volunteers don’t only need flyers, they need to know that their candidate is there for them. Each time we cross one of their teams, Tejada stops to greet them and boost morale.


11:30: voting, interviews, and printer problems

At 11:30, Tejada is due at his home on Riverside Drive, where two television crews are waiting to film him cast his ballot at the polling station in his building. “457 families live here, he says, I hope they vote for me. Last elections I won this building.”

After the interviews, we make a quick stop by his apartment to print out forms for his volunteers, but the printer is not working. Tejada is not a man who gets easily discouraged however: we return to Hamilton Heights by car without the forms. Tejada continues his campaigning and we part ways.




Author: Louis Baudoin-Laarman

Canadian-French journalist presently living in New York. I'm doing a double Masters in journalism at SciencesPo's Ecole de Journalisme (Paris) and Columbia's Journalism School. Recent publications included The Daily Star (Beirut) and Le Délit (Montréal).

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