October 13, 2009 in 2009 Fall Elections
Ingredients for the success of Green incumbents: Cam Gordon and Alan Brison
by David McCorquodale, Green Party of Delaware and Elections Editor
As Green Parties have grown and begun to mature as political organizations, some Green candidates are finding themselves in the happy situation of running as incumbents, having already been elected to office and now having to run as standing officeholders. Helpful for future Green candidates would be examining the similarities of incumbent candidates Cam Gordon and Allan Brison, in this off-year election.
Cam Gordon, a Montessori educator, is the City Councilman of Ward 2 in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was elected to a four-year term in 2005. Alan Brison, elected to a two-year term in 2007, is the Alderman of Ward 10 in New Haven, Connecticut
A History of Activism in the Community and Previous Candidacies
Cam Gordon, a founding member of the Green Party of Minnesota in the early 1990s, has a long history of involvement in his community. He has worked in the community as a teacher, community organizer and performer as well as a reporter for the neighborhood newspaper. As a resident of the area for over 30 years, he has served on the boards of neighborhood associations and revitalization programs as well as Common Cause Minnesota and FairVote Minnesota. Gordon served on the Mayoral Ethics Task Force in 2001-2002.
In 2001 Gordon was first-time candidate for city council. Endorsed by The Green Party; Progressive Minnesota; United Electrical Workers; Sierra Club; Clean Water Action Alliance; U. of Minn. College Green Party; Lavender Greens; and the Minnesota Daily, he finished second with 48 percent of the vote.
Allan Brison is a retired computer programmer and stay-at-home dad, who has lived in his ward since 1997. Since 2001 he has worked with unions, in particular the Yale Union, representing workers at Yale University. Brison also ran for Alderman in 2001, coming in second with 38 percent of the vote. Persistence in being visible to the public by previous runs for office and by ongoing community involvement appears to be important to electoral success.
Brison reports when he is out door-knocking, a resident will say, “I know who you are. You’re doing good things and I’m going to vote for you.”
First Term Election and Accomplishments
After initial losses in 2001 Gordon and Brison won narrow majority victories on their second attempts. Name recognition from their earlier candidacies and their willingness to get out and knock on doors helped. According to Robin Garwood, Gordon’s campaign manager, voters have found Gordon to have a mild temperament and to be open and transparent about where he stands on issues.
Once in office, Brison and Gordon have forged strong records of accomplishments, too numerous to completely cover. To highlight, Brison co-sponsored the successful legislation for more pedestrian/bike friendly streets and for green cleaning agents to be used by city workers, as well as resolving many neighborhood traffic and street problems. Still in committee are proposals on “double-dipping” of retirees and layoff oversight. He has advocated for more transparency in the budget process. Outside of his official capacity, Brison belongs to Fight the Hike, which opposes utility rate hikes and advocates for clean energy generation.
Gordon has worked on numerous issues, such as community-center policing; protection of free speech during the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in 2008 and other events; passing Ranked Choice Voting; planned transportation including light rail and more bike paths; and neighborhood livability emphasizing a healthier environment for children. On environmental issues he has championed the city’s first environmental planning policy, green building policies, allowing wind turbines where appropriate, and funding for solar, rain barrel and tree projects.
ìNow that people have seen his performance, they have been pleasantly surprised that Cam is engaging and more effective than they thought.î
Outlook for Upcoming Elections
Both candidates are optimistic about their chances for re-election. Having a record of accomplishments certainly helps. But both the voters and the other members of their councils have had their eyes opened.
Brison reports when he is out door knocking, a resident will say, “I know who you are. You’re doing good things and I’m going to vote for you.” Brison’s Democratic opponent, Justin Elicker is a graduate student at Yale. However, Brison feels his support by Yale graduate students, who are trying to unionize and know of his record of supporting unions, trumps any support his opponent would get from them in the district, which is heavily populated with graduate students.
On the other hand, because New Haven is almost totally controlled by the Democratic Party, including the mayor, almost all of the other ward elections will be decided on primary day. Since his district is one of the few contested in the general election, Brison says his opponent “will be getting a lot of help from the administration.”
Cam Gordon appears to have a somewhat easier path to re-election. His opponent, Allen Aigbogun, bills himself, as ìsort of a libertarian,î who is endorsed by the Republican Party. That will be a tough sell in this very progressive area. Also numerous union groups, the Sierra Club, and the grassroots organization Take Action Minnesota endorse Gordon. Going into his fourth year since he was first elected by a slight majority, “now that people have seen his performance, they have been pleasantly surprised that Cam is engaging and more effective than they thought,” said campaign manager Robin Garwood.
Second Term Focus
Should either Gordon or Brison be re-elected, they plan to build upon their first term accomplishments. Each candidate has a plethora of ideas in the pipeline.
Some ideas Gordon wants to implement include the production of more homegrown food, making the city friendlier to walkers, changing maximum occupancy laws that tend to discriminate against students, and creating rideshare opportunities over the Internet and cell phone applications without having these vehicles labeled taxis.
Brison would like to emphasize the issue of why Yale University is exempt from property taxes. Also he is pushing for an independent city school board. Currently the school board budget is controlled at the discretion of the mayor, who also appoints the board members. Within his ward Brison calls for community policing and a neighborhood youth center.
Cam Gordon and Allan Brison demonstrate getting elected requires persistence. A history of activism and concern for the issues citizens care about helps. Their ideas demonstrate how even one Green can expand the thinking of elected bodies and entire communities.