Fact: I’m British, so I can’t vote in the upcoming USA elections. 🙁
Fact: If I could vote, I would vote for my American friend, Tom Coale, Ellicott City, District 9B. 🙂
Tom and I have been blogging buddies in Howard County since I moved to the USA in 2012, and I’ve become very good friends with both Tom and his wife.
In May 2012 I was at a Howard County event with Tom, and, having read his blog HoCoRising many times (all about the community, politics and fundraising events in Howard County), I asked him when he was going to run for something political because he seemed like the perfect candidate to do so. He told me he was about to announce that very thing, and shortly afterwards he declared that he would be seeking a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates in 2014, representing the newly formed District 9B in Ellicott City.
Not being able to vote in the election, I therefore offered my PR, events and communications skills instead and since then I have been supporting and following Tom’s campaign. I have a voracious appetite for all things Americana, and politics in the USA is just so different in flavor, style and output from that which happens back in the UK, so it’s been a fascinating journey so far, and I look forward to sharing in Tom’s success in November.
I wanted , though, to dig deeper in to why, at 32, Tom is taking such a big step in the political sphere and so we sat down and chatted about politics, the impact on his family life, and his plans for the future. This is the interview. Enjoy.
Tom Coale, age: 32
1. So, you are running for Maryland State Delegate, District 9B, Ellicott City at the tender age of 32. What does this mean and how did it all come about?
When evaluating whether to run for this seat, I concentrated less on whether I wanted to run than I did whether I could live with myself if I didn’t. We live in a time of great flux with regard to civil rights, fiscal responsibility, and environmental stewardship. My generation has an obligation to own our future. I refer to this seat as an “Opportunity for Ellicott City” and the greatest tragedy would be to see this opportunity lost. That’s why I’m in the race.
2. Tell us about running for this post and what kinds of things you are involved in – plus, the best bits and worst bits about that lifestyle.
I currently serve on the Board of Directors for Voices for Children and the Board of Trustees for the Community Foundation of Howard County. I am also on the Pro Bono and Legal Access Committee for the Baltimore City Bar Association.
Campaigning for office is something you either love or hate. I love door knocking. I love attending community events. I love advocating for Ellicott City in community forums. The most difficult part is raising money. Many of my supporters do not have the means to contribute to a campaign, but that doesn’t diminish their voice. I have to make sure that those who do have the means to help spread our message know how important it is to have their support.
The worst part about this lifestyle is the burden it places on my wife. While I love the independent activities of campaigning, I don’t like leaving her at home.
3. In 10 years’ time, what will Tom Coale have achieved and where will he be in life?
That’s a heavy question. I want to change the way people experience their government. In 10 years, I hope that those individuals that I’ve interacted with feel like their government works, their representative cares about them, and they have a comfortable knowledge about what state government does.
I’m going to be a Dad soon. In 10 years, I want to be making policy for my son or daughter; to make sure the world they inherit is a better place to live.
4. Tell me about some of the personal experiences that have influenced your decision to take on board this political campaign.
When I would volunteer at the Route One Day Center, I would often provide legal advice to the homeless men and women who used the center. I will always remember a woman coming to me with a folder full of collection notices, putting it on the table, and saying “I can’t read this.” She was dyslexic. Sitting there, I realized that the laws we all count on to protect us were running over her. She was a victim of the law. I could help her get through this hard patch, but it would come back.
From those with criminal records to little old ladies being chased out of their houses by collections agencies, I’ve seen the harsh severity our laws can have on the least fortunate. We need to be careful to ensure that if we do nothing else, we protect our neighbors from being run-over by well-intended laws.
5. Complete this sentence: being a politician is…..
Knowing when to compromise and when to fight. The best bit of advice I’ve heard on the campaign trail is “You don’t need to attend every argument you’re invited to.” Whether it is door-knocking or talking with family members, you need to have discretion on how much of yourself you are going to invest in an argument compared against the likelihood of conversion. We all agree a little bit and disagree a little bit. For reasons unknown, we spend far too much time talking about the things for which we disagree.
6. If you could improve three things in Howard County, what would they be and why?
1) Long-term Plan for Flood Mitigation in Ellicott City – due to an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms, Ellicott City floods more now than it did 30 years ago. It also floods in a different way, with our overloaded stream dumping rain water down Main Street as opposed to flooding up from the Patapsco. I don’t think this is inevitable and I think there are a number of things we can do to act now and prevent worse flooding later on.
2) End Homelessness – by most estimations, Howard County has between 200 and 300 homeless men, women, and children. That is a large enough number to make us all uncomfortable and a small enough number to make it completely erasable. I think County Executive Ken Ulman has taken courageous steps to wipe out homelessness in Howard County, but we still have significant steps to make in building up an infrastructure of opportunity for these people. I plan to make that a focus as Delegate.
3) Mass Transit – Howard County’s mass tran opportunities are limited. There is a chicken and egg puzzle with regard to whether people don’t use mass tran because there isn’t enough of it or there isn’t enough mass tran because people don’t use it. What we really need to do is give busses priority to make sure those who decrease congestion and decrease emissions by using mass transit see some benefit from their choice to do so. If we can create a culture of mass tran as a viable way to get to work, other opportunities with regard to rail and the like will make more sense.
7. What’s your favorite place in the USA and why?
A folding chair in The Wine Bin parking lot during a Saturday in early June. That’s a little piece of heaven.
8. If you had to give an elevator pitch to promote Howard County, and Ellicott City in particular, what would you say?
I’m going to steal a quote from Larry Carson, longtime Howard beat reporter for The Baltimore Sun – “It’s a dynamic, interesting place with people not content to just sit back and let the other person do things.” We are stereotyped as rich people without any “real problems” to speak of, but the reality is much different. We’re not all rich and I’ve yet to meet a single person who didn’t have some “real problem” they deal with on a day to day basis. The real definition of Howard County lies in what we do for one another through our nonprofits and philanthropy.
9. You have a child on the way, very near to election time. What thoughts do you have about raising your child in the USA today?
I tend not to think big thoughts when it comes to our baby. I think about the clothes they’re going to wear, how much fun it will be to read to them, and where the closest playgrounds are to my house. We talk about the future in such cynical and pessimistic terms, but in reality the future is nothing but opportunity. Can we make it a better place for our children? If we don’t, what will our excuse be.
10. Many people talk about embracing, finding, or living the ‘American dream’ – what does that mean to you?
The American Dream is doing something that matters. I’m not entirely sure what that means in terms of scope, but I think everyone finds meaning in their mission.
You can follow Tom and his campaign in a variety of different ways:
Claire Bolden McGill is a British expat who lived in Maryland for three years and moved back to the UK in August 2015. Claire wrote about her life as a British expat on the East Coast and now works in travel and hospitality PR in the UK. She still finds time to blog about her repatriation and the reverse culture shock that ensued – and she still hasn’t finished that novel, but she’s working on it. You can contact Claire via twitter on @clairebmcgill or via her blog From America to England.