GW students take SA campaign skills to D.C. elections

Damian McKenna has been down this road before – tattooed with candidate stickers, armed with palmcards, flashing a smile from ear to ear.

He stood outside the West End branch of the D.C. public library Tuesday, shaking hands with potential voters, urging them to vote for D.C. mayoral candidate Jack Evans (D).

Just a few years ago, McKenna had the same enthusiasm as he stood outside the Marvin Center, encouraging students to make him Student Association president.

McKenna won that race for SA president in 1996 and now serves as a Presidential Administrative Fellow, taking graduate classes at GW and working on education policy in Evans’ city council office. He volunteered his time and campaign experience to Evans’ mayoral drive and said he saw similarities between the two races.

“You learn the same stuff at GW working a student election,” McKenna said. “Why issues are important, why people vote, why people don’t vote.”

McKenna said he can draw comparisons between voters’ behaviors in SA elections and Tuesday’s citywide race. He said former SA President Kuyomars “Q” Golparvar was not a politician, but he appealed to voters – similar to Anthony Williams, who picked up the Democratic nomination for mayor Tuesday.

“Trust is crucial,” he said. “If you don’t have trust from the people, you won’t win.”

McKenna is not the only recent graduate of the SA school of campaigning to find his way into the race for mayor. Just a few months after campaigning unsuccessfully for SA executive vice president, senior Jason Haber found himself in the middle of Harold Brazil’s mayoral run, working as his press secretary and spokesman.

“I learned so much about campaigning and what it is to be a press secretary in a race with a lot of media outlets,” Haber said.

Haber started volunteering twice a week during the summer. He gained the trust of the Brazil team and became the candidate’s liaison to the media.

“A lot of people did not like taking orders from a 21-year-old,” Haber said. “You have to prove yourself.”

Haber’s candidate did not prove himself to the voters, receiving only five percent of the vote and finishing fourth, but Haber said he proved he was capable of running the candidate’s press operations.

“I wanted (the media) to know I was on top of things,” Haber said. “They came to respect me because I gave them the quotes and the bites they needed.”

Haber said the mayoral race was on a larger scale than campus elections, but the lessons he learned in the SA still apply.

“You can learn certain things about people that you can take from the (SA campaigning) experience and apply it anywhere.”

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