With one massive blog post, Jones threw his quill into what has already been a compelling two-person race between long-time local politician Yvonne Johnson and downtown developer Milton Kern. His position statement, on its way to becoming a novella-length tome, has a particular focus on gang-related crime, prevalent in the east Greensboro neighborhood in which Jones lives, and touches on water conservation, alternative transportation, waning trust in the police department, business incentives and more.
Winning as a write-in candidate, though rare, is not unheard of. Michael Sessions was still a senior in high school when he won the Hillsdale, Mich., mayor's office as a write-in candidate two years ago. In fact, mayors from Long Beach, Calif., to Waterbury, Conn., have won offices as write-in candidates; Strom Thurmond even won his first seat in the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate — and a Democrat!
Be that as it may, Jones is fighting an uphill battle. It may seem like a small thing to ask voters to be able to recall a name rather than simply recognizing it, but psychologists would say otherwise. Even with a name like Billy Jones, we are simply better at recognizing things (like names) that we've seen before rather than conjuring those things from memory. (I'd be curious to know how many write-in votes are placed for candidates named Bob Smith or Dave Jones or other creations of people attempting to recall Billy Jones.)
For this very reason, Jones has to work double-time to cultivate the kind of name recognition his opponents have gained over the years. But like an illusionist who insists on being not only blindfolded but also handcuffed before performing his daring escape, Jones has asked that supporters not send him the very thing he needs to accomplish that end: money. To avoid campaign finance issues, he is asking that people make donations or use grass-roots channels to spread his message. Suggestions on his site include do-it-yourself yard signs, letter-writing campaigns and arrangements to speak to groups.
Of course, grass-roots is passé, and Jones has its replacement, netroots, in the bag. He's not Billy the Blogging Poet for nothing, after all. Recent history has certainly brought plenty of examples of netroots propelling dark horse national candidates to near victory. Perhaps, in a city our size, it could be enough to win.
The fact that Greensboro is historically lackadaisical about local elections may actually work to Jones' advantage. In the last mayoral election, only 19,000 ballots were cast, making individual votes even more significant. Between the adoration of Greensboro's blogging community and the eye-catching advertising that is his StreetPlane, Jones could well reach enough people to give Johnson and Kern a serious run for their money.
That is, of course, if voters are willing to put their ballots where their mouths are. Though Americans make a sport of distrusting the baby-kissing, image-conscious, power-grabbing stereotypical politician, we seem largely unwilling to take a chance on those who don't meet that image. From his Saint Nick-inspired tresses to his notable lack of politicking, Jones is a significant paradigm shift from his opponents and outgoing Mayor Keith Holliday.
Whether or not Jones's vision for Greensboro appeals to its citizens, his candidacy allows us the rare opportunity to see how unconventional candidates and low-budget campaigns impact races.
Election Day is Nov. 6; let your vote act as your voice in determining the future of our city.