Editor’s Note: A few weeks before Akron’s September 8th primary election, we asked all potential mayoral candidates to submit an essay about their experiences on the campaign trail. We will be posting the responses we have received. Please note that these opinions do not reflect those of the Akronist or Akron Digital Media Center. This is not a series about endorsing a particular viewpoint, instead we are interested in examining the campaign process from those who entrenched within it.
Six months ago, I never would have believed I would be doing this – running for the mayor of Akron as an independent candidate, but here I am. It all started with a call from Bryan Williams, chair of the local Republican Committee. He invited me to a meet and greet event featuring their candidate for this year’s mayoral election. A few days later, resignation of our current mayor hit the news, followed by two other solicitations seeking my support. This sequence of event piqued my interest and I thought to myself, “I need to support a winner.” After some due diligence and even couple of 1 on 1 meetings, I came away very disappointed, there was no clear winner in the fray. Next, I heard that a gentleman named Charles Landry was coming to Akron to give a talk on “Cities of Ambition.” I attended the event and became intrigued by his message. Then in church, we sang a hymn, “Here I Am Lord” and all of a sudden, it hit me. I am being called to run.
The last time I ran for an office was in my junior year in high school and I ran for class president. It was more of a popularity contest and I won, mainly due to my other activities – I was editor of the yearbook, member of the national honor society and an eagle scout with a leadership role in the local scout troop. Running for mayor of Akron has been a whole different ball game.
First, I had to learn all the rules of engagement. I soon learned that in order to be placed on the ballot as an independent candidate, I needed to collect 373 signatures from bonified voters who live within Akron’s city limits. I learned that many folks who have Akron as a postal address don’t live within the city limits. Collecting these signatures became an arduous and time-consuming task. Next, I had to pull together my campaign TEAM. First key member of the TEAM was the Treasurer. I reached out to Ken Nilsestuen, international tax consultant, a CPA and a fellow philatelist. (Editor’s Note: Philately is the study of stamps, postal history and other related items.) It happened that he had recently decided to run for President of the American Philatelic Society and initially declined but, in the end, I prevailed and we made a pact. He would be my treasurer and I agreed to help him in his quest for President of the APS. I chose the phrase, “Do the right thing for the right reason” as my motto, convened a small group of close friends and associates and kicked off my campaign with a press release on July 20th.
I sat down and developed my strategy. I wanted to conduct a totally different campaign and resort to my strength as an engineer (engineers are trained to solve problems) and my business management skills learned at GE, from excellent role models like Jack Welch. I knew I would never have the kind of money other candidates would raise, so I had to rely on other methods. I hired Julie D’Alosio who has a social media marketing company, Spidercat Marketing to create my website, www.billmelver.com. She later agreed to become my Director of Communication. I also hired Cecilia Sveeda of Minx Design to design my logo.
One thing I discovered was how starved this city is for new leadership.
Everywhere I go and meet folks, they seem to welcome me and are eager to hear my message of how I would approach the many issues facing Akron. They love the fact that I am not a politician and I offer to look at problem solving, based on fundamentals that are at the root of the problems. I am also learning a lot about myself and other people. I learned that I don’t do well thinking on my feet; rather, I am more analytical and need to ponder questions before responding. I also discovered I find it awkward to meet and greet total strangers. This aspect of the campaign, however, is an absolute necessity and I am beginning to get better with each day. This evening will be my first outing to go door to door in search of signatures for my petition. As of this writing, I am still about 150 signatures shy of the required number. I also learned many folks are eager to help but when it really comes down to the real nitty gritty aspects of things, a lot of their initial enthusiasm quickly fades away. I am discovering and am extremely thankful for the few whom I can absolutely rely on to get things done, my way. I also learned an interesting fact. Most of my accomplishments in Akron have been in the non-profit world but it turns out, they are reluctant to give endorsements for my contributions and accomplishments for fear of jeopardizing their non-profit status. No wonder the professional politicians don’t waste their time in such endeavors. One accomplishment with an altruistic motive, Akron Life & Leisure (Editor’s Note: The magazine has been rebranded akronlife.) has helped me a lot, just in navigating this city to identify the movers and the shakers, as well as with some name recognition.
As I look to what the future holds, my first goal is to obtain the necessary signatures on my petition. I have set a personal goal to accomplishing that by September 1. Following the primary, the official ballot for the general election will have the D and R candidates plus myself and one or two more independent candidates. Then the fun should start. I hope to be invited to debates and events to tell my story. These will be my opportunity to truly differentiate myself from the other candidates. Topics in the debate will not change much. It will focus on the sewer mandate, the city’s finances, citizens’ advisory board, education, jobs, and economic development.
I will be prepared.
Editor’s Note: Melver submitted his signatures before the deadline and will be the only independent candidate on the ballot. However, according to Melver, “I think most of the interesting things are happening, since I wrote that. Especially in the past couple of days – I’ve been interviewed by the Akron/Cleveland Association of Realtors for a possible PAC endorsement, then the Press Club decided not to include me in their mayoral debate so even though I am officially on the ballot, only Horrigan and Siplen will be participating in that debate.”