Though Newark Mayor Cory Booker leads his Senate primary by 40 points and is raking in money faster than a Vegas blackjack dealer, all is not joyful in Mudville.
In an email to senior Booker for Senate staffers, a regional field director offers a harsh critique of the ground level campaign.
“Our team feels like we’re sprinting in place,” said the field director in the email. “I’ve been speaking with each member of my team individually to try and get as clear a sense of the specific issues as possible. I’ve compiled their specific grievances into the themes below.”
He goes on to break down the “grievances” into multiple categories that include “field plan” (There isn’t one, he says) “tone deafness and respect” (organizers are working their tails off to meet “absurd” goals with no appreciation from the folks at Booker HQ), “lack of trust” (Booker HQ doesn’t trust their ground level opinions on calls and door knocking) “priorities” (this gentlemen’s office has not had internet service in 10 days) and “lack of ownership” (in a nutshell, nobody at HQ cares about the gripes from the field level people, particularly Field Director Anne Batchelder.)
According to a blog written by the director, the Booker for Senate gig is his first job out of college after working for the Obama campaign while in school.
The fied representative also took the campaign to task for reneging on a promise to provide staff housing, leaving some staff members, at least temporarily, without anywhere to sleep.
“Field Organizing is already a job that operates in the extremes, the last thing an organizer wants to face at the end of any day is a long commute home or having to figure out where to sleep,” he wrote. “But, deciding to temporarily abandon the effort to find housing and thus threaten many organizers with homelessness served more than anything else to set the negative tone for this campaign.”
And he’s not taking the slights from the ladies and gentlemen in Newark lying down. The brass need to help reengage the staff, the field director wrote, otherwise they won’t be staff for long.
“I believe there is still a chance to reengage our team and improve morale– but it has to come from the top,” he wrote. “We have to see and feel like we’re respected, trusted, appreciated and not taken for granted by our leaders, because the simple love for a candidate is not enough to keep us going. We came for Cory, show us that you want us to stay.”
Booker spokesman Kevin Griffis said ultimately, the campaign strategy will prevail.
“In just over a month, this campaign has built a statewide grassroots effort from the hard work of scores of staffers and hundreds of volunteers,” Griffis said in an email. “As any campaign veteran knows, they’re working long, pressure-filled days – in this case to reach hundreds of thousands of New Jersey voters in a remarkably short amount of time. We’re confident this effort will identify and turn out the votes to deliver this election for Mayor Booker.”
One Democrat connected to the campaign said there are a few reasons for the gripes. First, the short window means the ramp-up to full-fledged campaign has been fast. Too fast for some and the complaints from the field director amount to simple growing pains.
Second, the senior Booker staff is made up of operatives from President Obama’s most recent victory. They are trying to implement a presidential style campaign without a true understanding of the ground politics in New Jersey.
That’s been a familiar complaint as many of the high-level staffers in Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono’s campaign come from Obama’s orbit. Buono’s campaign has failed to take off and the message has been nearly non-existent, Democratic critics say.
The full email is below:
Our team feels like we’re sprinting in place. I’ve been speaking with each member of my team individually to try and get as clear a sense of the specific issues as possible. I’ve compiled their specific grievances into the themes below.
There are two main issues regarding the field plan: 1) we’re not confident we know what it is, 2) if it is to build a neighborhood team-like team structure with co-leaders, it’s not working.
1) The only mention there’s been of a field plan was on one slide during our first training. Since then, it has not been mentioned once. If we’re expected to execute a certain strategy regular reinforcement of the overall plan is crucial. It gives us context and helps us keep our ground work in perspective. My team has repeatedly asked me for details about the field plan, and the best answer I can give and have received from HQ is essentially “neighborhood team-lite.”
2) This field plan might have made sense conceptually, but from what we see every day on the ground, it’s not working. Volunteers are not responding to the pace HQ is demanding. and instead of recognizing the plan’s shortcomings and adjusting accordingly, HQ has decided to try and force it through, which has lead to unattainable goals, especially considering the staff’s time on the ground and the volunteer capacity we have at this point.
Disrespect and Tone Deafness:
We feel disrespected and an unappreciated by HQ and recent decisions have only reinforced this opinion. It started with the supporter housing fiasco, then went to goals and political, then supporter housing again, then hiring.
1) HQ doesn’t seem to appreciate that the majority of the staff has made incredible sacrifices—financial and otherwise—to get here in the time frame they requested motivated partly by the promise of safe and reliable supporter housing. Obviously this was not the case, then after less than a week, HQ essentially told the staff “well we tried, it didn’t work out, you get paid, so figure it out.” Field Organizing is already a job that operates in the extremes, the last thing an organizer wants to face at the end of any day is a long commute home or having to figure out where to sleep. But, deciding to temporarily abandon the effort to find housing and thus threaten many organizers with homelessness served more than anything else to set the negative tone for this campaign.
2) Two separate frustrations seem to stem from our goals. 1) the goals themselves and 2) a lack of communication and transparency.
a. Goals: they are absurd. We understand that this might be what’s necessary to properly execute the field plan, but knocking on ~1,500 doors per FO on the second week of the canvassing program and on the 3rd week of the campaign is extreme, then setting the expectation to scale at the rate of 100% per week leading to GOTV is borderline ridiculous. We feel like we’re being set up to fail. Nobody wants to work 120 hours a week to get 40% to goal.
b. Communication: We feel like we’re sprinting in the dark. Why are we finding out goals the night before we’re expected to meet them? Why do people (not just political people) show up at our office to deliver or collect items without notice? What we’re allowed to do and not do is always at risk of changing without notice; i.e. weekday canvasses to only weekend canvasses to canvassing every day. The lack of transparency and fear of a shifting foundation makes it difficult for us to plan beyond one day, which further reduces the likelihood of us meeting our goals.
Lack of Trust:
1) Call minimums: FOs are expected to make 200 calls/day to recruit shifts and it’s non-negotiable. With fewer than 3 weeks left until the primary, the data shows that calls are not necessarily the best use of our time nor the best method to recruit shifts—especially in urban areas with more transient populations. However, by not letting us try new volunteer recruitment strategies during call time, thus forcing us to be stationary for the 4 hours a day when people are most active shows that either 1) HQ doesn’t trust our judgment, 2) is not listening to what we’re saying about what’s happening on the ground, or 3) is ignoring our 10% contact rate.
2) Political: This is certainly the most delicate issue many of us– both in HQ and on the ground– face. Unfortunately, the political landscape continues to deteriorate as we move forward. Nobody seems to know what their canvassing operation is doing, and I have no good answer for my FOs and volunteers who come back after walking 3 hours in 100 degree whether to tell me that the places they went had been walked the day before. I have no good answer for them when everyday they talk to people who say this is the 3rd, 4th, or 5th phone call they’ve received that day.
a. So, while I obviously do not know the whole story about the political situation, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that our FOs should be able to have lunch with local elected officials without undermining the whole operation.
1) I have personally been pinged about providing an agenda for our office opening twice a day for a week, and despite my daily email, our office has been without internet for 10 days.
Lack of Ownership:
Considering HQ has been on the ground for as long as we have, most of these offenses could have easily been forgiven had HQ (Anne) taken some form of ownership our situation. But instead, on last Friday’s call, she decided to tell us, in more words than were necessary, that despite whatever issues might have had, we had to suck it up and meet our goals.
I had to talk multiple FOs out of quitting after that call.
I believe there is still a chance to reengage our team and improve morale– but it has to come from the top. We have to see and feel like we’re respected, trusted, appreciated and not taken for granted by our leaders, because the simple love for a candidate is not enough to keep us going. We came for Cory, show us that you want us to stay.