For Whom the Bell Tolls and Losing an Election

Ernest Hemingway.

Depending on your age, interest in reading American Literature, or level of Metallica fandom (forget the Bee-Gees version), the term “for whom the bell tolls” may have entered your orbit in high school English class or at a random karaoke bar. What does this have to do with politics or elections?

Ernest Hemingway made this term somewhat famous with the publication of his book in 1940, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was an interesting read about the Spanish Civil War of 1936. One of the more transferable themes in this book contemplated the use of automatic weapons in war, translating that the best soldier didn’t necessarily win the day, it was whom ever had the bigger weapons. Sounds vaguely familiar to modern day elections.

Election Day is fast approaching – November 5th for those not glued to New Jersey political websites – and that means we will have many election day winners and losers.

As a former candidate, I recall the anxiety on primary and general election nights (1989 to 2013) as we waited for the voter counts to roll in. The week before the elections wasn’t much better as you hear from “friends” and others about what they are hearing about your pending election.  Most of the anecdotal information and rumor does nothing but increase the acid level in your stomach.  I used to love (not really) the story or two, usually 7 to 10 days out from the  actual election day,  about some random poll in my legislative district, say Wyckoff, that had my team down by 17% or an informal straw election in a senior home in Wanaque that had our team losing 2-1. Those phantom polls are usually inaccurate and are sometimes the tricks of political enemies or folks who want to “fix” your local issue.

Hint- while the candidate doesn’t want every detail sugarcoated, it isn’t all that helpful to drop critical tidbits of stupidity on the lap of the overwhelmed and anxious candidate days leading up to the life or death election.

In my younger days as a candidate I would live and die each hour as negative mail (every election, but 2007 was the worst), national trends (thanks Former Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995), reports of record spending by the other party, or some other calamity would seemingly swallow the campaign.  As one gets more experience and less concerned about being the exalted elected official for life, the anxiety of winning or losing became much less of an obsession or compulsion.

This election will be no different as most of the odds-on favorites will win, with an exception here or there, and most of the underdogs will lose.

All the candidates charge into that good election cycle believing, or at least saying, that they can lower taxes, clean the environment, make health care affordable, make college within reach for all, or some other promise – but all promise to make a difference.

Advice to all candidates—Shakespeare, General Robert E. Lee and a few others have passed along something to think about—paraphrasing them all—the coward dies a thousand times and the brave but one.

Modern application–Elections have consequences and don’t get caught up believing that your life is over if you lose on November 5, 2019.

I remember in 1985, the young on the rise State Assembly Member from Montclair was defeated in a hotly contested race. I had front row seats as I worked the campaign of John V. Kelly as he targeted the young upstart, Steven Adubato Jr., for defeat. Steve lost and I will never forget that election night when our team in District 30 ran the table and took out the two incumbent members.  Steve won’t like the retelling of his physical collapse that night as he was shocked by the defeat (he was talked about as the next governor) and as legend has it, and told to me by Steve’s dear friend and lawyer, Nick Grieco, Steve cried throughout the night and said that his life was over. A bit dramatic but do you know Steve?? This defeated one term candidate has pivoted from that loss and parlayed his life experiences into an Emmy award winning profession which has bestselling books, televisions shows, and national recognition.  Of course, had he won that race in 1985, he would currently be the longest serving Assembly Member, chairing whatever committee. Steve – your loss in 1985 was the greatest thing that could have happened to you professionally.

And for those who face the hearing of the bells tolling on election day, exhale and fully comprehend that life isn’t over and there are many exciting opportunities in your next life.

Port Authority New York and New Jersey Chairman Kevin O’Toole is the former  state senator from the 40th District.

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One response to “For Whom the Bell Tolls and Losing an Election”

  1. Mr. O’Toole always made sense/honest/encouraging to all parties/candidates….Would be a much saner political competition if all were trusted/honest/did not bash reputations/lie…Keep Mr O’Toole in mind instead of current drum beat of “Lock’em all up”!

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