For this month’s Public Office Blog, HYPE member Lisa Lazarus spoke with James Woulfe, Director of Advocacy and External Affairs at reSET and candidate for Hartford City Council. Woulfe also serves on the Steering Committee of Young Energetic Solutions (YES), which helps millennials become more civically engaged, and he is a Commission Member of the Commission on Connecticut’s Leadership in Corporation and Business Law.
The goal of HYPE’s Public Office Blog series is to educate readers on the process of running for public office, provide some insight and perspective through personal narratives, and build a network of civically engaged young professionals and entrepreneurs.
What made you run for office?
I’ve always had an interest in public service, but there were a series of major events in my life that led to my decision to run. In 2006, I interned at the Office of Adult Probation in Willimantic when I was only a junior at Eastern Connecticut State University. Meeting probationers my own age, who had been to prison multiple times after getting caught doing the same things that my classmates were doing on campus, was an experience that shook my worldview. After that, I wanted to work to find a way to address recidivism and the lack of opportunities in urban areas.
Believing that the private sector could step up to help solve those issues, I went to law school, and started working at reSET, a Hartford-based 501(c)3 non-profit program that supports community driven businesses. While at reSET, I helped draft and lead an effort to pass legislation that created a new type of corporation for businesses that solve social or environmental problems, called a benefit corporation. This new corporation is helping to empower a new generation of entrepreneurs who put purpose before profits, and act as strong partners in the communities that they are located in.
While working at the Capitol, I got to meet many inspiring and dedicated men and women working to serve their constituents, and make this state a better place to live. Seeing the positive impact that they had through law-making ultimately piqued my interest in public service.
How far in advance did you choose to run?
I decided to run late in the game – this June. The political climate was very negative at the time, and there was no one in the Council race discussing how to help our City’s entrepreneurs, or our residents returning from prison, so I jumped in to give those constituencies a voice. Strangely enough, there was also no one running for City Council from the 4th district, where I live, which contains the downtown area. I wanted to give my district a voice as well.
What are the three tips for getting elected?
I have not yet been elected to office but this is what I hope will get me elected:
- Find a core issue (or two!) that drives you. – I decided to run late in the game, but I think my unique background and experience earned me a seat at the table. Being plugged-in into what was happening in the community and believing I had the ability to drive change helped me to identify the core social issues that fuel my campaign.
- Don’t be shy. – Work your tail off. Make connections. Pound the pavement. Knock on doors. Connect with community residents and leaders. Speak at and attend community events. Get out there and do it, even if it means getting out of your comfort zone.
- Remember who you serve. – When it comes to being a member of Hartford’s City Council, you represent everyone in this City – not just a certain neighborhood, or section of the City. To be effective, you need to listen to and learn from a diverse range of perspectives and voices.
What should a potential candidate know before deciding to run for office?
Before deciding to run, it is important to have frank conversations with your employer, family, mentors, and associates. Having my fiancé’s support, and knowing that she was 100% on board was extremely important in my decision to run.
Potential candidates should also be confident in what they are bringing to the table, and must be willing to put the work in to win. There will be roadblocks, there will be rejection, and there will be times where you are thrown out of your comfort zone and challenged; but, those are opportunities to learn and grow as a candidate, a leader, and a human being.
Once the decision to run has been made, candidates should register with the City Clerk, get a campaign treasurer, fundraise, coordinate volunteers, and start connecting with people. For first-timers, it’s also a good idea to have an attorney that you can speak with to help guide you as well. We are pleased to see active participation in local government and highlight the young professionals pursuing and/or holding these elected positions. Please note that HYPE can not endorse any candidate represented in the blog series or otherwise.