For Faith Tyler, it all started with the sidewalks.
Crumbling and dangerous sidewalks drew this 35-year-old mother of two to political activism that resulted in her bid to become mayor of Groton this past March.
Faith lost the election by a margin she’s pretty proud of. She garnered nearly 40 percent of the vote in a heavily Republican village.
“The times we are in … if you are going to sit passively by and not make a change, you are complicit. My generation has got to step up to the plate and get involved for change,” she says.
Faith and her husband, Chris, moved to Groton six years ago, seeking an affordable, small town to raise a family in. He works in client services at a local credit union. She’s a stay at home mom and part-time DJ at a nearby banquet and events facility.
“From the beginning, I was adamant about pushing the town board to make changes. The sidewalks are in horrible shape village wide,” she says.
This is a problem, Faith says, because poorly maintained sidewalks make it difficult for the elderly, parents with young children, runners and dog walkers to get outside to enjoy their neighborhoods, as well as the least expensive form of exercise. She worries that the unsightly sidewalks contribute to a lessened curb appeal of the village.
Faith also grew increasingly concerned about absentee landlords and dilapidated structures in the village. Among her community efforts, Faith helped secure grant funding for improvements to a neighborhood park.
“Groton is one of the least expensive places to live in the area but we have the highest rate of taxes. And I think the state of the village keeps property values down,” Faith says.
Faith wanted to see more progressive action from the village board. So, four years ago, she ran for village trustee. She was not successful.
“Groton is a heavily Republican town. It’s been a good old boys club for a long time. But there’s definitely some push back from more liberal people,” Faith says.
With her sons Sam and Dylan now 5 and 18 months, and disheartened by the 2016 presidential election, Faith decided to run again, this time for mayor.
“I’ve always been adamant about women being represented in government. We need female leaders. Especially in (Tompkins County), it’s really important for people to see diversity,” she says.
So Faith connected and caucused with local Democrats, and secured the backing of some highly engaged community figures. She announced her campaign on Facebook and started a donations campaign.
“People started donating immediately,” she says.
Faith got an endorsement from the Tompkins County Progressives. Trailblazers matched local donations of Village of Groton donors. Trailblazers PAC’s matching funds program encouraged Faith to collect contributions from her voters, not solely from outside interests or political committees. This, in turn, created vested interest in the candidate that inspired a higher-than-average voter participation rate in Groton.
With the donations, Faith was able to purchase yard signs and get some campaign momentum going. She said community members were quick to volunteer to make phone calls, write letters and go door-to-door.
Faith felt she was the most qualified mayoral candidate, with the most drive and the ambition to make a real change. She was disappointed she didn’t win.
“It felt good to run. It was a long shot, and I understood that- better than out-of-town family and friends. That was the hardest part- letting people down,” she says.
Faith says running for office is not for everyone. But she says residents just need to be confident, driven and unafraid to challenge the status quo to run for their local seats.
“It was very exciting, and a little emotional, in that you are battling for one spot against one person who is pretty well-known and well-liked in the community … I think any negative reasons you might have for not running are less important than the positive ones,” Faith says. “And you do feel like a mini celebrity in even the smallest elections. It’s a good way to connect with people, and people really appreciate it.”
Although she didn’t come away in victory, Faith says the campaign process was worth the effort.
“I can see that (our elected officials) feel more responsible to their constituents. It’s a wakeup call that they don’t just get to rule uncontested,” she says.
Post-election, Faith is not stepping back from activism and local politics. With a little more campaign experience behind her, she is helping organize a slate of three women candidates in the upcoming town board election.
For anyone considering running in the local elections, Faith has this advice:
“Every seat matters … There’s nothing to lose; only experience and connections to gain. Holding yourself back due to fear you’re not good enough to run is not serving yourself or your community. You want to be the representative for your community that you believe in. Let that be your motivation.”