As Matt Beato ’09 has found out recently on his campaign trail, being a student candidate for Williamsburg City Council gives one a good deal of face recognition.
“You’re the student running for City Council,” a Williamsburg resident said Tuesday afternoon upon seeing Beato standing outside his front door.
Unfortunately, this recognition does not always translate into votes.
“It’s nice to meet you, but I’m sorry; I’m not going to vote for you,” the resident said.
Beato, who is now used to receiving responses of all kinds when he shows up on people’s doorsteps, handles the response in stride, thanking the man and moving on to the next house on his list.
It is important that Beato roll with the punches that come on the campaign trial. He will likely have to win the votes of a good number of non-student voters, in addition to those of the vast majority of the approximately 1,000 recently registered student voters, if he wishes to be one of the three winners among the six candidates. The other five competitors for the City Council seats are incumbents Paul Freiling ’83 and College economics professor Clyde Haulman, former city mayor Gil Granger ’57, Judy Knudson and Terence Wehle ’77.
“I think I’ll probably turn out 500 [non-student voters],” Beato said. “[David Sievers ’07] got probably 700. My hope is that I can capture most of those.”
Last year, Sievers, who currently is serving as an advisor to the Beato campaign, ran for City Council and came within 155 votes of winning a seat.
Beato has become accustomed to the campaign trail, canvassing neighborhoods every Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., in addition to any other free time he can find. His set-up is low tech; he walks through neighborhoods with nothing more than a clipboard with a list of voters’ addresses and a stack of “Matt Beato for City Council” cards.
This Tuesday he is walking the streets of Ridings Cove and Hunting Cove, upscale neighborhoods located south of the College that feature large, sprawling houses.
Beato is selective in which houses he visits.
“I’m not going to every house. I don’t have time,” Beato said. “I’m looking at registered voters who vote, basically.”
Beato purchased a “Voter File” from the Virginia Board of Elections after deciding to run for the council. The file gives him information about voters, including their names, ages and genders. While he said he believes he visits a majority of Williamsburg’s residents, on this day he visits considerably less than half the neighborhood’s houses.
When Beato visits a home and no one answers, he signs a personal note on his campaign card and leaves it on the door.
Of the people he does speak with, he receives mixed responses. Some quickly dismiss him, while some show support.
“Good luck,” one woman said. “I’m proud of you. I’m a big fan of William and Mary.”
Others fall somewhere in between.
One woman on Hunting Cove said she would vote for Beato after initially appearing hesitant. Beato said that it is times like these, when he is able to flip voters, that he feels most satisfied.
“I probably got her vote, and I would not have gotten it had I not come to her door,” Beato said. “That kind of response makes me the happiest.”
Beato feels optimistic about his chances of winning one of the three seats on the council.
“I think [my chances are] pretty good. In some neighborhoods I get a really, really good response. In some neighborhoods I get a more mixed response,” he said. “I think I’ve done a good job of trying to be out in the community and [making] sure people don’t have concerns that I’m some radical student who is going to destroy the town or anything like that.”
Later, Beato relocates to the Councilor’s Way, a neighborhood off South Boundary Street. He knocks on the door of Nancy Sparling, who is immediately animated upon seeing Beato at her front door.
“I know who you are,” Sparling said, holding a telephone to her ear. “Just a second, just a second.”
After finishing her phone conversation, Sparling invites Beato inside to discuss some of the election’s issues. The two converse for nearly 20 minutes, and Beato leaves assured that he will have Sparling’s vote.
Being invited into a resident’s home to discuss city issues is nothing new to Beato. As he has learned, anything can happen on the campaign trail.
“It’s a lot of fun; you get to meet a lot of different types of people,” Beato said. “If [Sparling] hadn’t let me into her house, I probably never would have met her or been able to hear her perspective.”
Beato added that understanding the residents of Williamsburg was a top priority.
“I think it’s important to meet the people in Williamsburg and figure out what’s going on, what makes them tick,” he said. “It’s something that’s a lot of work.”
After a long day campaigning, Beato receives a word of encouragement Tuesday night when he logs into his e-mail.
“Dear Matt,” a homeowner named Theresa, whose house Beato had visited that day, “Sorry that we stepped out while you called. We will vote for you. Go Tribe!”
Given the many positive responses he has been receiving, it is not surprising that Beato is confident about his chances of winning.
“I’ve been very pleased with the support I’ve been getting,” he said.