Nov. 8, 2011, was the second Tuesday of the month and like this year it was election night. Although I had been successful in five straight town board elections spanning two decades, I had, from the outset, felt trepidation about that election’s outcome. In January, upon purchasing my appointment book, in an action that was part motivation and part premonition, I immediately went to Nov. 8, and penciled in, “The day I lose.”
Not wanting to go down without a fight, I campaigned that year harder than ever. I spent all but a handful of evenings over the final six months leading up to Election Day walking our beloved town, knocking on doors and reintroducing myself to my constituents. Although I didn’t keep the exact number, I believe I visited well over 5,000 households!
My campaign that year was a mirror of all my other efforts. I held my own in the debates, sent out two positive mailings and attended all the usual civic events, concerts and dinners. Yet, as the returns came in during that fateful November night, it became clear that a sixth term was not meant to be.
Take my word for it: election night is a harrowing experience for the candidates involved. You sit on pins and needles, helplessly awaiting the public’s verdict, powerless at that point to change the result. You can’t help but take personally votes lodged against you. It’s as if everyone you knew was suddenly given an opportunity to voice his/her opinion about you, both positive and negative!
When it became clear that I had lost the election, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. It hurt. Once all the returns were in, I had been bested by two fine public servants (and good friends), Dave Paganelli and Nick Bianco. The fact that they were superb candidates who deserved every vote they received did not make the agony of defeat any less intense.
Given my painful memory, I couldn’t help but imagine what Hillary Clinton was feeling when it became apparent on Tuesday night that Donald Trump was winning. After a lifetime of public service and an exceedingly intense campaign for the presidency, to come so close (winning the popular vote) and yet to lose a chance for the highest office in the land had to be 1,000 times more painful than anything I’d experienced five years ago.
I don’t know if it was the need to process an extremely heartbreaking result or just the need for extra time to compose an unexpected final speech that compelled Mrs. Clinton to delay her formal concession speech until the next morning. Whatever the reason, I heard some Republicans criticize the delay, calling Mrs. Clinton “selfish.” I humbly ask that at least for one brief moment we stop the partisanship and look at each other with kind hearts.
To that end, I was heartened by the words of President-elect Trump on election night, when he did exactly that: “I just received a call from Secretary Clinton. She congratulated us…I congratulated her and her family on a very hard-fought campaign. I mean, she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely.” Signaling a much-needed call to unity, Mr. Trump continued: “Now it’s time to bind the wounds of division. We have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents around the nation, I say it is time to come together as one united people. It’s time.”
The next morning, Mrs. Clinton publicly conceded with the grace and dignity that I believe are the hallmarks of her public service:
“Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans…This is painful and it will be for a long time, but I want to remind you to remember this. Our campaign was never about one person or even one election. It was about the country we love and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought, but I still believe in America and always will. If you do, then we must accept the result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things. The rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.”
As I listened to her speak, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that the negative caricature of Secretary Clinton that her opponents successfully painted during her years of public service is the opposite of the dedicated public servant that I know and admire. That dedication and selflessness was evident as she finished what will most likely be the last address she will ever give:
“I am grateful for our country and for all it has given to me. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American, and I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our conviction and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us. Because, you know, I believe we are stronger together, and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. You know, scripture tells us, let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. So, my friends let us have faith in each other. Let us not grow weary. Let us not lose heart, for there are more seasons to come, and there is more work to do. I am incredibly honored and grateful to have had the chance to represent all of you in this consequential election. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.”