Lessons Learned for the next “young” women of color who NEED to run for office

In the 2017 municipal election of South Orange, NJ I ran as the only independent candidate for one of three available seats on the Board of Trustees. While not a partisan race, I ran against an establishment slate made up of two incumbents and one challenger. All were the status quo; white, older, without young children, 2 males to 1 female ratio with many years of “experience” in the town. They had more political capital, more money, more contacts, and more resources period. But beyond the outward factors, there are the quiet factors that made my challenging the slate even more of an uphill battle.

Being a “young” person (I was quickly approaching 40 during my campaign, but I was frequently viewed as “young”), a woman, a person of color and a Muslim means I had four extra “challenges” to contend with. These are parts of myself I cannot change, nor do I wish to. I am proud of exactly who I am. But I have grown up my entire life knowing that those things that make me so proud are the same things that allow others to “otherize” me. They see my tenacity, strength, courage, intelligence, and many other beneficial traits all in a different way. And more often than not, those traits are rarely given cadence because I am simply underestimated.

What did I learn or confirm in my 2 months on the campaign trail?

1)      The establishment can be challenged.

The establishment will seek to negate the very things that make you an ideal agent for change. For the same reasons many of us revered JFK or Barack Obama as a youthful presidential candidate, with fresh ideas and change as their mantra, they will seek to ensure that for a woman, youth is a detriment. Often times I was told “ideas are good but a record of execution is better.” This was spoken by a male candidate to a 40-year old woman with 15 years of corporate executive experience, to neutralize my experience and ideas as impractical. Don’t listen to the noise. A desire to grow, innovate, and lead is the ultimate experience needed for any person looking to serve office. In any job, women are all too often told they aren’t enough. They are wrong and my coming within 20 votes of a win proves that as such.

2)      Bias is real. Be ready for it. 

Our liberal leaning small town loves to talk about how diverse we all are. All too often when we are busy congratulating ourselves is when we miss the subtle signs that competition brings out. When power is truly challenged, the just below the surface nasties begin to rise, just as it did for Barack Obama. Let’s name it for what it is. It’s bias.

My religion was brought up in a number of ways as a qualifier. “Nureed Saeed, a Muslim”, whereas my opponents were not qualified by their choice of religion, their gender, or even their haircut in the same fashion. When I chose to discuss it, it was because it was relevant to the conversation, and my choice to discuss that personal part of me, not a qualifier for me as a human being or a candidate. Don’t be surprised when you are qualified by the sum of your exterior facing attributes. But do find a way to keep control of your voice and your narrative. You’re voice and strengths are unique to you.

3)      You will have to work harder and smarter. And still the bias will be there.

NO matter what I have done, achieved, accomplished in my career and this life, it will never be enough. That is the bias again speaking. Privilege gave the ability to tell a “young” woman of color that she has no experience. Privilege gave the ability to say well you need to wait your turn. Privilege afforded the opportunity to draw the rules and define me in their terms. Other people will work hard to define you. DON’T LET THEM. You know exactly what you have to offer and what you have accomplished to make you the right choice. Focus on that message, of what and how you want to serve, not answering other people’s critiques.  Focus on what you want to do. Stick to the issues, the things that matter, and stick your landings.

4)      Blatant Racism is real.

Quiet bias as described above is one thing. Blatant racism and prejudice is another. On multiple occasions, I had a middle aged to older white gentlemen tell me “I would never vote for you in a million years!” They gave no real reasons, though I asked. They had never really spoken to me, and when I offered olive branches they refused them. So I know what was there. I lived it my entire life. Each instance whipped me back to being 13-years old growing up in the suburbs of Pennsylvania, and being cornered by three white males telling me, “Go back to your country Saddam Hussein’s daughter!” Or being 31-years old living on the Upper West Side in NYC and a 30ish white male tells me, “Your people are what’s wrong with America!” You will face this on the campaign trail. It will shake you like it did to me. It will make you question why are you putting yourself in the line of fire. You are there because someone has to fight. Someone has to speak for the voices of the rest of us. Find your tribe in this moment and let it out of you, then go on to fight again

5)      Find your tribe.

The single best thing you can do for yourself is identify the people who believe in you, understand your vision and can push you to be your best self. They are also the people who can talk you down and hear you out when you are angry. They are the people who will speak up, and coordinate others to speak up so that you do not need to bear the brunt of defending yourself. They are the ones who can spread the word, and who can push you. My tribe decided the biggest “rule” we were going to break, was seeking out voters who don’t vote in municipal elections. We went to activate those voters that the other candidates wrote off as not being interested or caring; the young families, the families of young children of color, the mothers who were working full time at the peak of their career and believed they shouldn’t have to wait, the people who never voted in a primary once. We didn’t discount the people who normally voted, but we sought out a significant contingent of people who are not known for voting regularly. And we came within 20 votes.

6)      The rules are for the establishment. That’s not us.

There are ways to campaign. There are playbooks and strategies. Some work. Some don’t. But if you are on the outside looking in, they won’t likely be yours to control. What does that mean for you? Burn the playbooks. Make your own. Your advantage; you have a set of rules that can’t be written by anyone other than you and your team. Own them and don’t sway from them no matter what a political strategist tells you. 

7)      Stay true to yourself.

I am an “other.” NO matter what I will be reminded of that fact as I have been my entire childhood in Pennsylvania, my career in retail and fashion for 15 years, and now here in South Orange. My children will be reminded of that fact no matter what I do to have us “fit in.” I am ok with that. Being on the other side is what makes me able to think critically and look for alternate solutions. Being on the outside is why I can remain independent no matter what political forces I work with or people I partner with. No matter what I am focused on the end goals; a better South Orange for my kids and its’ residents.

8)      If you are not invited to the table, make yourself a seat.

I wasn’t invited to run. I made space for myself at the table. I lost, but its’ not over. This was one step in a long-term goal of making my town and the world a better place. So now what? Use your new found political capital to get the message out to other people who want to run and make the world better. Join other volunteer efforts within the town, and continue forcing your seat at the table. Start your own groups. I came within 20 votes of unseating an incumbent. My voice is loud, my spirit is louder, my strength is in the numbers of people who could see what I see, who saw my vision for a better South Orange. 

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As you head to the polls

On Tuesday May 9th, South Orange residents cast their votes in the Board of Trustees election. When I went to pick up my candidate information packet, the only qualifications to run were one year of residency in South Orange as well as being a citizen. That meant our Founders valued one thing above all, a love for South Orange. It didn’t even take me that long to fall in love with the town.  I doubt it took you that long either.

I ran because I could not allow another election to be uncontested. I ran because I believe that running as a slate in a non-partisan election is not truly democratic, and is a disservice to the residents who want the best for their town. I ran because I started asking questions about why it is so hard for businesses to thrive in South Orange. I ran because as I started looking for answers they weren’t easy to find, with missing minutes and agendas from the Board of Trustees and the committee meetings. I ran because I saw a Board that didn’t represent the true diversity of the town, and certainly did not have a diversity of thought. I ran because many of us feel the Board operated in an echo chamber.  I ran because I have a vision of South Orange, with a successful retail corridor and downtown, an inclusive community and government, and innovative government to push us forwards. I ran because I see South Orange as it can and should be… distinct, innovative, and thriving. I ran because I don’t think we should have to wait to see that vision realized.

Now it’s time for you, the voters to do your part. Put me to work.  I bring solutions. I believe in ideals grounded in practical applications. I know we can utilize zoning and negotiate better deals. I know we can court a good mix of high end and low end retail and restaurants that will succeed in our vacant retail spaces. I have the expertise to guide us there and I won’t sell us short.  

My independent voice will force innovation by breaking up group think. The other candidates don’t have regular access to the parts of the community I have access to; including the young families moving into the community who plan to be here for the next 30 years or more. I will ask questions to make our development better, such as "Why don’t we have Uber/Lyft/taxi pull offs as a requirement for traffic variances if we want to be a walking town?" I think the answer is simple, because the conversations haven’t been pushed by new ideas to be innovative enough.

I will demand actual transparency and accountability. Accountability based on SMART goals for each department and Trustee that the community can grade us against. Transparency based on agendas and minutes that are public, clear, and produced on the website in a consistent and timely fashion that allows residents the chance to be involved. I want to increase our democratic process and move our non-partisan elections to November. I will be there to represent you and your vision, and I hope that you hold me accountable to my promises to you.

I’ve read the promises the two incumbents seeking re-election made 4 years ago. I see glaring areas in which they missed the mark, on transparency, on filling the downtown, and on using new ordinances to encourage landlords to fill their vacant storefronts. We were told there would be more townhall meetings and more effective uses of technology to include residents. We were told there would be less vacant storefronts, and ordinances to encourage them to be filled. These are the issues that have resonated with those residents I’ve been meeting with, because they haven’t seen the change and progress they expected in the last few years. Feel free to look for yourself and decide if my opponents really delivered on their promises they made to you four years ago:

Campaign Promises from Walter Clarke and Steve Schnall in 2013

The voters I’ve talked to, who want to see a change, understand something fundamental about how humans work in teams. The best work, the most innovative work, comes when there is some catalyst and divergence that then coalesces into a solid view that is greater than the sum of its parts. I will be your catalyst on the Board of Trustees.

So make the time. Don’t forget to vote on May 9th for Nureed Saeed, Line A. We all want results; and I want to get to work getting them for all of us.

P.S. Thanks to each and every one of you whose shared your concerns with me. 

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Experience Matters... The Right Experience for the Right Moment

When hiring for a position or electing a representative we all look at one thing first; what is the person’s experience? As a former senior executive who has hired my fair share of staff, I always consider the resume or list of achievements as basic information. The most essential element in creating a dynamic, functioning, high producing team is finding skill sets that complement each other and gaps in other team members skill sets. I never needed a team with 5 power forwards. I needed a good mix of skill, talent, but mostly a desire to get down to hard work.

In my 15 years of corporate experience I all too often met people who were in positions because they sounded like the right choice, but they generally never were the ones willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Electing someone is not that different from hiring a person for your team. I think the voters should look at what they think are the most pressing issues of the current day, and decide which candidate can address those issues.

Do I have 15 years of volunteer experience in South Orange? No. Before I lived in South Orange, I was involved in a different way. I spent 8 years driving from NYC to Pennsylvania every weekend to help my mother care for my father who had Parkinson’s, during my 30s. This is not your typical volunteer situation. But it taught me empathy, humility, and that service is both a calling and of the utmost importance. After my father passed away, I have looked for ways to rededicate the time I spent with him and bring that empathy, and drive to “do the work” to where I live.

Bridging and bringing people together to share in the community is what I have always done; either by being a good neighbor, being part of the neighborhood organization, being part of my community at my local mosques, volunteering with my alma matter Philadelphia University, being on the board of the Newstead Association or volunteering now in SOMa with several of our local activist groups. I make myself part of the community wherever I go. I believe the most important values for a Village Trustee are dedication, empathy, and commitment. I have those in droves. But I also have one thing that sets me apart, and makes me the right candidate for the right moment.

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Transparency Matters

We live in South Orange, an amazing town with an amazingly talented group of citizens who want to take part in our government. You see that in the groundswell of people who have joined groups like SOMA Action and SOMAdems and PARES. You also see that one of the challenges to people being able to mobilize is the lack of information that is available to them. It’s simple. If you want to know what’s going on in town, it’s just not that easy. A commuting parent or working parent, just does not have time to attend every town Committee meeting  hoping to hear about the topic they are concerned about. How many people can attend a 9:30am Wednesday meeting? I am fortunate in having my own business where I can create my own hours, but no one should have to take off work to know what is going on in the town government.

Part of my platform, as a candidate for Board of Trustees, is to systematize and routinize information sharing with residents. The agenda to each meeting should be publicly posted on the website 2 days before a meeting. The minutes to the meeting need to be finalized and posted within 60 days of the meeting.

But to date, the Board of Trustees has not posted minutes to their semi-monthly meetings in over a year. The Village Clerk’s position has been vacant for over a year, but with creative solutions (from getting an intern from Seton Hall to requiring Trustees to take the minutes on an alternating basis) we could have addressed this.  Our town deserves more transparency into what is happening in our government and how our tax dollars are being spent, and voting me into office means I won’t let up until we meet the standards we should hold ourselves to.

Here is a quick look at the Trustee committees’ record to date on meetings scheduled to meet each month:

  • Legal and Personnel Committee: No minutes to meetings since 7/27/15.
  • Finance and IT Committee : No minutes or agendas since February 2016
  • Planning and Zoning Committee: No minutes to meetings since November 2016. How can you possibly keep up with the Village Hall developments if you don’t have access to this information?
  • Public Works Committee: There have been no agendas posted since December 2016. How would you chose whether it was important to hire a babysitter so you could attend if you didn’t know what would be discussed?
  • Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee: There was one agenda posted in January 2016, but before that none since 2013!
  • Public Safety Committee – This committee has been regularly posting agenda’s and minutes. Ironically, the Chair of that Committee is Trustee Dubowy, the Trustee leaving the Board this May.

 

Transparency is critically important; not just to prevent fraud, but so that we all feel involved and knowledgeable about what is going on in our community and how our tax dollars are being spent. I challenge anyone here, to say their bosses would be happy with that performance. My bosses would have told me without information, they couldn’t even evaluate my performance. The constituents are the bosses of the Trustees and it’s time to tell them that this performance is unacceptable. The time for sleepy politics as usual has passed. It’s time for engaged political and democratic processes that are open and transparent. I for one can’t wait. Vote for me on May 9th and help me bring us to where we need to be.

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What makes a downtown work?

I have spent a lot of time actively listening to the residents concerns and questions for our downtown development. I have heard two common themes: Why don’t we have any great stores or reasons to go to our downtown? And why can’t we be like Maplewood or Montclair?

Developing a viable town center involves more than just the town; it involves a real partnership with the residents, developers, landlords, existing businesses, potential retail anchor brands and the governing body.  In my 15 years of retail industry experience, I have come together with all stakeholders to make the plan for development. But beyond that, success was predicated on the planning that took place before and after in order to properly ensure the vision for the town is executed.  In my professional career, I managed global brands worth more than $365 million dollars. I know what it takes to get these businesses in and I know that when you are planning a downtown, a village center, or a mall a critical component is making sure retail is stabilized.

Step 1: Pre-planning: Some residents will wish for our town to have the quaint, charming village feel of Maplewood Avenue, others wish for it to have the hustle and bustle of Montclair and others are hoping for us to connect more to Seton Hall University and develop a Princeton-like college town center. We have an identity crisis!

The disparity in vision for the town starts with an exercise in defining our identity, as our own, not in relation to others. I believe that South Orange is truly unique. There are elements of our history, our historical assets, our diverse community and our position as a transportation hub for NJ that make us special. We need to identify those assets and articulate our town message so we are all speaking the same language and then realize a cohesive vision for the village. In addition to ensuring we are all on the same page, it defines the style our town development should take from an aesthetic perspective. Are we going to be a walking town? Then we need the development to facilitate that. Variances on parking, without the appropriate safety measures for Uber drop offs, and Valet are short sighted. We need a vision of the store mix and types of brands that we want. This vital process needs to be guided, but does not need to take years to complete.

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Campaign Launch Party!

Supporters and their families gathered at the home of Nureed Saeed to launch her campaign for South Orange Village Trustee. The video below is Nureed's welcome speech. Please watch and sign up to join us in spreading the word, or volunteering for the campaign.

https://www.facebook.com/NureedSaeedforTrustee/videos/763301993825104/ 

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Thank you!

Thanks to everyone who signed a petition to get Nureed Saeed on the ballot in South Orange. We couldn't have done this without you! Thank you for promoting Independent Thought. Innovation. Inclusion.

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Opinion - Muslim ban an attack on us all

On February 6th, Nureed spoke in front of 250 residents at the SOMA Action Rally in Solidarity with our Immigrant and Muslim Communities. Her words moved the crowd to tears and celebrated the spirit that links us all. Her speech was submitted as an op-ed in the Village Green. You can find the text below.

http://villagegreennj.com/politics/opinion-travel-ban-attack-not-muslims-entire-community/

 

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Nureed Saeed's Campaign Launches

Nureed Saeed announces her candidacy for South Orange Trustee.

 

farmers market orangesAre you concerned about development in South Orange not keeping pace with what's needed?

Do you wish the School Board and the Village Trustees were more transparent and accountable?

Do you want a government that publishes SMART goals, and departmental progress towards those goals?

Are you looking for a candidate who doesn't represent the status quo but can work with everyone to bring South Orange to its full potential?

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