It’s 5 p.m. Tuesday, six days until the election. Campaign managers Stephany Ashley and Nathan Allbee walk down Market Street carrying Peet’s coffee to the former clothing store turned campaign office they’ve lived in since July.
Inside, the front windows are covered with Harvey Milk photos and cutouts of District 8 hot spots; Mission Dolores and the Castro Theater are two. No evening volunteers have arrived yet, so they both check e-mail. Before long they’ll be directing a phone bank and canvassing operation.
It doesn’t take long for three high-school senior girls to walk in to volunteer. Ashley hooks them up with T-shirts and signs and sends them to the corner of Market and Church.
“We’re totally the coolest campaign,” Ashley assures them. “Don’t feel self-conscious about the shirt — it’s a badge of honor.”
In rolled-up skinny jeans, wearing big gold hoops and with tattoos slipping out of her sleeves, she’s convincing.
Over the course of the evening, Ashley and Allbee will direct 15 to 20 volunteers, strategize, knock on doors, and when that ends, they’ll lead a pub crawl through the neighborhood to convince voters to choose public law attorney Rafael Mandelman for District 8 supervisor.
Ashley, 25 and a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, met Mandelman at an election party for progressive candidate winners in 2008. He convinced her to join the Harvey Milk Democratic Club (he was president), and soon after he decided to run for Supervisor Bevan Dufty’s vacating seat.
She’s been his campaign manager since January 2009 — first volunteering, but eventually getting paid. It’s her first time running a campaign.
“He was excited about having young, new people,” Ashley says about her boss, “but he definitely took a gamble on us.”
Across the room, the other part of “us,” deputy campaign manager Nathan Allbee, hands scripts to the volunteers filtering in to make calls.
“I had a come-to-Jesus moment — what am I doing with my life? I threw myself a retirement party,” the Academy of Art graduate said.
Then he started researching candidates, and Mandelman’s nuanced answers rather than black-and-white solutions impressed him. He liked that this candidate didn’t put down people or ideas that he disagreed with.
He arranged to have coffee with Ashley. Expecting a middle-aged woman, he waited on the patio sharing a cigarette with “this hot girl with tattoos.” She turned out to be the campaign manager. The rest is history.
Allbee, the former entertainer, is hooked.
“We talk to people who are getting evicted, struggling with homelessness,” he said. “It’s important to get somebody in office to help the people in my city.”
Mandelman is running in a close race in a district that encompasses portions of the Mission, the Castro and Noe Valley. Considered the most progressive candidate, Mandelman is battling it out with two other attorneys, Scott Wiener and Rebecca Prozan. All three have been working in city politics for many years.
“You’ve got such strong candidates competing for votes from such an informed, engaged group of people,” Ashley says.
Once six people are set up making calls to potential voters and several others have left to walk and knock, the campaign managers, two volunteers and a dog, stuff into a car to head to the Mission to speak with voters. After parking, the four split up. Ashley points to a July 4th triumph — getting four Mandelman signs up in one building on Dolores Street.
She calls her job the “most exhausting and probably most exciting thing I’ve ever done.”
As she and a few others wrap up canvassing and wait for a volunteer, she heads out to talk to the couple of dozen people sitting in Dolores Park. They might be voters in District 8.
Back at the office, another volunteer is still calling voters. “You still seem to be maintaining some amount of energy,” she said to Ashley. “How is that possible?”
“Coffee,” Ashley says without hesitation, and begins calling constituents.
When the election is over she plans to sleep for three weeks. Sometimes campaign managers continue working with their candidate upon election, she says, but that isn’t the rule.
In her conversations with Mandelman, they’ve decided to get to election day, sleep, then make decisions.
“It is a really good trial period, running a campaign together,” Ashley says. “You already built these relationships. You have the same vision for why you’re doing this and what you want to accomplish.”
For now, their reward is hearing people tell them they are voting for their guy. The rest of the reward, they’re hoping, comes Tuesday.
“It’s kind of crazy working for a year for one day,” Allbee says.