Candidates for Williamsburg City Council are searching for new ways to appeal to the rapidly growing student voter population.
Over 1,000 students were registered in a campus-wide voter registration drive funded by the Student Assembly. With such an influx of voters, student approval could mean the difference between a spot on the City Council and an unsuccessful campaign. In the 2006 City Council election, Billy Scruggs Jr. lost by 72 votes to Bobby Braxton. Then-student David Sievers ’07 was 156 votes away from a seat. This year’s election puts six candidates up for three positions on the council.
Previous campaign tactics such as door-to-door personal talks proved difficult with the College’s dormitory system and associated security, forcing candidates to find new ways to publicize their names and views on the issues.
Most turned, in one way or another, to student media as a way to reach new voters, agreeing to interviews and completing questionnaires.
“Most students probably aren’t reading the [Virginia] Gazette as much as, say, The Flat Hat,” Council hopeful Terence Wehle ’77 said.
Of the six candidates, Judy Knudson and Paul Freiling ’83 have purchased advertising space with The Flat Hat as an additional outlet.
Whereas face-to-face contact might have originally been the backbone of campaigns, several candidates acknowledged the growing importance of the internet in generating publicity, especially among the younger generation. Wehle, Gil Granger ’57 and Matt Beato ’09 all developed websites outlining their stances on the issues in an effort to reach greater numbers of student voters. The sites can be found at TWforCouncil.com, VoteGranger.biz and MattBeato.com, respectively.
Though Knudson did not create a campaign website, she said this would probably be the last election in which someone could get away with lacking an online presence. Even Facebook.com was used as an outlet for campaign coverage, as evidenced by the “Elect Matt Beato to Williamsburg City Council” Facebook group, which currently has over 500 members.
“I … know the importance of Facebook, and how often people at William and Mary check it,” Beato ’09 said.
Though it may not be surprising that a student’s campaign would involve Facebook, Freiling also used the social networking site to advance his campaign among William and Mary students. On his “Friends of Paul Freiling for City Council” page, Freiling outlined his policies, with emphasis on the city’s relationship to the College, and offered a schedule of events for meeting with students. He noted due to policies concerning non-College affiliates organizing events on campus it was a challenge to reach out to the student body and hold conversations on student turf. Facebook seemed like an accessible alternative.
“Facebook was one of the first things I tried [after failed attempts to come on campus],” Freiling said. “Someone in my running group suggested it.”
While many candidates are working to become a force on campus, Beato is now working to get his name out in the city by the more traditional, personal methods.
“There’s little question what I’m saying resonates with students,” Beato said. “But I’m trying to win support from a broad spectrum of voters.”
Beato began his campaign several months into the voter registration drive, expecting his status as a student to help with on-campus voters, and has since expanded into the Williamsburg community.
“Now a lot of people who support me aren’t [on campus]” Beato said. “I’m not sending texts or Facebook messages. I’m calling them on the phone and going door-to-door.”
Several candidates felt that student-focused issues took a much higher prevalence in the campaign trail this year than in previous election cycles. All candidates, for instance, took a stance on the three-person rule, which bans more than three unrelated persons from occupying the same residence and has been seen as unfair towards College students. All candidates offered suggestions on reform, ranging from determining occupancy on a case-by-case basis to complete elimination of the rule. Other major issues included the introduction of more student-oriented businesses within Williamsburg city limits and the surrounding region, as well as issues with local transport.