Former VCPORA President Nathan Chapman led the organization for over 5 years, during which time we prevailed in nearly all of our efforts, and secured a veto to prevent the undoing of the de facto hotel moratorium in the French Quarter – the first land use veto in New Orleans’ history! In the interest of helping other neighborhoods prevail, Nathan developed a list of strategies. We’re pleased to make them available to everyone interested in protecting their neighborhoods, and winning at City Hall!
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The Neighborhood Guide to Winning at City Hall:
by Nathan Chapman
1. You have to feel empowered in order to win. If you’re willing to accept defeat, you’ll probably get it because any elected official not inclined to vote your way will assume the hubris will blow over. Relentless is the key.
2. Target whoever is the actual decision-maker(s). You need to determine and name what individuals (not institutions) have the power to do what you want. Maybe you need four votes on the City Council…or the maybe the approval of a regional head of a federal agency is required…or maybe the governor can veto. Spend almost all of your committee time trying to determine what needs to happen for those “target(s)” to decide to support your side. Every tactic needs to tie to the goal of influencing your target(s).
3. Votes are almost always decided before the public hearings. We have a saying, “If you walk into a meeting of a decision making body and you don’t know who’s winning that day, it’s not you.” You need to make your case to each official, one at a time, before the day of the vote. If you can’t get a commitment to vote your way, keep looking for votes. You may need to have your committee split up, with each leader organizing the strongest possible team for each official with whom you need to meet.
4. Always focus on what motivates your target audience. If you’re asking the public or politicians to simply care about you, that’s a weak strategy. Much stronger is to think why the other party might care based on their self interests. If you have a meeting with politicians, always take people from their district. Ideally, these are voters whom they already know, but any voter is better than a room of all outsiders, since the constituents matter to elected officials. Take a campaign donor, if you can (a donor list is available through the LA Secretary of State).
5. If you’re doing a media interview, try to figure out why the public should care. For example, hurting the French Quarter is bad for our tourism economy. Putting a large tourist attraction may make it harder for the public to park when trying to visit the French Quarter. In contrast, if you only say that you won’t be able to park near your house, most people will just think too bad about you – you probably shouldn’t have moved to the French Quarter in the first place.
6. There is strength in numbers. The definition of power is the ability to influence. For example, our elected officials are powerful because they have a lot of influence. If you are seen as someone with influence in your neighborhood, then you will be (and be seen as) more powerful. You need to be able to show that people listen to you…so the politicians will need to listen to you, too. Nobody understands better than an elected official about the importance of numbers of supporters: That’s what election day is all about.
Ways to develop your influence include building strong committees, developing a good e-mail system, utilizing paid advertising and being able to get people to call or e-mail officials as needed. You need to cultivate a relationship with “your people” so that they will have trust in you, and will answer your call to help when you reach out.
In summary, if you work hard and work focused, it can tip many, if not most, issues your way. It does take a lot of time and effort, but it’s rewarding and you meet some wonderful people along the way – the ones who share your values about what makes this a great community.
Former President, Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates
Founder and President, The Marketing Center