As the new mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey I couldn't be more excited about the challenges ahead. From a political standpoint, people often look at me curiously because of my younger age while being responsible for a city the size of Jersey City; however I think I've learned a fair amount through the years.
My predecessors in Jersey City have included a colorful array of chief executives; perhaps the most notable of who appears regularly on HBO's Boardwalk Empire and once summarily declared "I am the law." And he meant it. During those times, the endorsements by Jersey City mayors of their candidates of choice often made the difference in local and state and often national elections. Quite literally, they could choose the winner of many elections because of their iron-fisted control of both the party apparatus and the voters who depended on the party for jobs and support.
Times have changed. Not just in my city but across the nation. That's a good thing.
For instance, in my non-partisan election we had two democrats running (myself and the incumbent) and voters chose my candidacy over the incumbent whom was endorsed by my party's leaders from President Obama himself to other important Democrats. Jersey City residents chose differently despite their enthusiasm for many of the party officials who endorsed my opponent.
Could it be that endorsements like these no longer matter? The reality is that most don't. Voters are far more independent now than ever before. Not coincidentally the parties that helped maintain the power bases of these political bosses have also weakened dramatically.
It's been well-chronicled that candidates for higher office now raise their own money, build their own campaign organizations, and have more access for new media outlets so they are not so dependent on party organizations.
Running for office means communicating the power of your ideas and letting voters know how your experiences relate to their lives. My background is a little unusual. I quit a lucrative career in finance to join the Marines as an enlisted man and served in Iraq after 9/11 because of my love for country. Once I finished my tour of duty, I decided there was far more I could do to change Jersey City for the better in government than in the private sector. I bucked party elders, campaigned hard about my vision for one of America's most diversely populated cities and have beaten incumbents two times.
Of course, I also lost an election -- badly -- along the way which taught me that passion and a resume by themselves won't do it. Electoral success comes from connecting with voters and giving them the confidence that candidates can deliver on their ideas.
In the past parties could be depended on to educate voters. But that's not close to today's reality. TV viewers no longer watch just the networks, or even cable for that matter -- in fact more and more they aren't even using televisions to watch shows -- so there isn't single organizing message to deliver to voters. Instead, connecting with them is almost one on one -- either in person or through social media.
Americans are more connected through media than at any time in our history and yet at the same time are ever more independent. Candidates for office must understand this rapidly changing media environment if they are to be successful. Endorsements as the Holy Grail of campaign momentum are a thing of the past.
Will I endorse candidates who I believe will improve the lives of their constituents? No doubt. But I don't expect that to make much of a difference in their efforts. They will succeed because of the power of their ideas and their effectiveness in motivating voters to believe they can deliver on these promises.