It's hard for one person to have an impact on the political process, particularly when one is a Democrat in San Francisco.If your neighbors decided in 2001 who'd they be voting for (or more accurately, against) this year, there's not much more you can do to help out your party's nominee.
"If you're a Democrat in the Bay Area, it's like being part of an Edvard Munch painting," explains Pat Reilly, president of PR & Co. "You're gripped by this fear about what's going on around you, but you can't make an impact on the local scene."
But Reilly and a friend, attorney and author Deborah Schneider, decided the right event could make a difference. They would raise money for John Kerry while raising issues that might help move voters to the polls.
Reilly and Schneider had long planned to hold a fundraiser for the Kerry campaign on the evening of July 6 - President George W. Bush's birthday. The plan was to screen a new documentary, The Hunting of a President by Harry Thomason - a movie that portrays the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton as a right-wing witch hunt - then commemorate what they hoped would be Bush's "last birthday in the White House."
"Most of our friends are scared at the prospect of another four years of Bush, but we wanted to get them excited about supporting John Kerry," says Schneider. "Doing a screening of one of these new documentaries seemed a good way to accomplish that."
But breaking news and quick thinking on their part turned this fundraiser into a sizeable media event on a day when there was no shortage of news.
"Our original intent was not to spend a lot of time doing media outreach," remembers Reilly, "but then, lo and behold, Kerry selected Edwards on the morning of the sixth."
In order to capitalize on the news about Edwards, Reilly and Schneider tweaked their plans. They would attract the media to the fundraising event by billing it as a forum in which to gauge local reaction.
The two sent out e-mails that morning to local reporters, inviting them to cover the event and get some local reactions. "I was about to start making follow-up calls when I started getting calls in," says Reilly. The local take on both the President's birthday and the presumptive nominee's VP selection enticed the local media. As did a man named Jeffrey Makoff.
Makoff was one of the organizers of the event who was now scheduled to speak. What made Makoff a draw for reporters wasn't just his status as one of Kerry's biggest contributors, but his career as a trial lawyer, same as Edwards. With all the discussion in the media that day about how Edwards' success as a litigator would impact the election, Makoff offered an opportunity for reporters to explore that angle.
To make the event more telegenic, the organizers brought out two large cakes for the President's birthday that read "Bye-bye, W!" Once the movie was over, the entire sold-out theater stood and sang "Happy Birthday" to Bush, but instead of singing "Happy birthday to you," they sang, "Happy birthday, bye-bye."
Two local networks broadcast live from the theater. Each of the top-five Bay Area television stations reported on it, as did BBC radio and SF Gate, the most popular online Bay Area guide. To date, the event has raised more than $19,000 for the Kerry campaign.
Schneider is planning another event for August 26, in which she'll screen the documentary There's Something about W. Attendees will be offered tips on how they can make a difference in "swing" states.
PR team: Pat Reilly, president of PR & Co., and Deborah Schneider, lawyer and author
Campaign: "Bye-bye W" fundraiser for John Kerry
Time frame: July 6, 2004