The Politico Next Door

After a winter of colorful primary races, the general election season is underway, and grassroots groups for each camp are planting seeds across the country in earnest. This is particularly true in neighborhoods flanking Ventura Boulevard, where lawn signs, window posters and bumper stickers for both candidates have sprouted like wildflowers.

After a winter of colorful primary races, the general election season is underway, and grassroots groups for each camp are planting seeds across the country in earnest. This is particularly true in neighborhoods flanking Ventura Boulevard, where lawn signs, window posters and bumper stickers for both candidates have sprouted like wildflowers. 

As summer segues into fall, chances are you will see active politicos phone banking  and registering voters at picnics, local parks  and  street fairs. You may even find lively political debates at reading clubs staged at trendy coffee shops.

From phone banking coaches to whiz kids using technology to involve young voters through Facebook and Twitter … to number crunchers processing data collected in phone banking surveys, volunteers of all stripes are active in the process. And they are on a mission to get others involved in the political process, from the presidency on down.
Agi Kessler, three-term chairperson for the Democratic   Party of the San Fernando Valley (DPSFV), leads efforts to oversee the Valley’s 27 Democratic volunteer clubs and bring volunteers together.

“We run the largest campaign office in the state, which is independently funded, as opposed to being endorsed by a candidate or the California Democratic Party,” Agi states. “We work with neighborhood group officers and committee chairs to solidify our strategies and unify our messaging for canvassing or phone banking. A lot of people come together in a spirit of volunteerism that is really amazing.”

Volunteer Peter Rothenberg is running for president of the Valley Grass Roots for Democracy and leads its affiliated political book club. He says the presence of “Organizing for America (OFA)”—borne out of the original “Obama for America”  organization formed for the 2008 presidential campaign—is so  strong in the San Fernando Valley that the group not only begat “Valley for Obama” but also smaller neighborhood “teams” directed by “team leaders.” These campaigners not only help recruit volunteers but take on a variety of responsibilities to galvanize campaign efforts.

The Obama camp and its site ( is so prolific that Valley for Obama instituted a series of weekly newsletters and synchronized websites to make it easier for prospective volunteers to find phone banking events close by.

Though Republicans make up a smaller percentage of Valley residents, realtor Gary Aminoff, chair for the San Fernando Valley Republican Club (, notes his fellow Republicans are galvanized to support Romney through an “aggressive” grassroots campaign where volunteers will have a presence anywhere there is “high profile exposure, from farmers markets to street fairs to malls and parks.”

“We are going to be knocking on as many doors as possible,” affirms Gary. “We have an email list of 2,500 Republicans who we contact on a regular basis. Our members are your friends and neighbors—a group of ordinary, hard-working, concerned citizens. They are Republicans taking the initiative to spend time with other like-minded people. When it comes to the 2012 election, we are doing it all. For the primaries and local elections, we provide and train volunteers to assist the individual candidates in a number of areas, who set up their own phone banks and precinct walks—the manpower.”

Perhaps David Bennett, a Republican Valley volunteer organizer and 2010 candidate for the U.S. Congress, sums it up best. “Though the media shows a lot of angry crowds and people on both sides in nationally broadcast news stories, the truth is that there are far more people out there who simply care about America’s future and want to get involved and volunteer in a meaningful way,” Bennett says.


Tamara Cannon reaches out to voters at a weekend Democratic party phone bank at North Hollywood Park.


Jo Perry and Janice Radder: The Volunteer Squad

As co-team leaders for Studio City/NoHo/Valley Village Organizing for America, it’s up to Jo Perry and Janice Radder to identify new volunteers and train them to help make a difference.

“We get groups of people together to galvanize the effort,” says Janice. “Sometimes it is new people, and other times it is people who worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign. In many cases, the volunteers come together to phone bank. They bring charged phones, hearts and minds to make calls to enlist new volunteers and to call voters in battleground states to explain voter laws, candidates, health care, etc.”

Lisa Hopgood: Mistress of Data Magic

Studio City based Lisa Hopgood believes her experience as a Hollywood production manager gives her an edge. She and her volunteers collect and analyze information culled from volunteers during phone banks and other information-getting activities. 

“We’re using our knowledge of how Obama campaign computer applications work to create some forms that later benefit efforts to get Obama and other Democrats elected,” she explains. “We spend several hours processing information from data collected and turn that into something the campaign can use.”

Sue Sheridan: Phone Bank Queen

Sue Sheridan is a central organizer. She contacts OFA team members about events and holds meetings with new members to assess abilities. Sheridan then follows up with volunteers to make sure they show up at events once they’ve signed up.  

“I find the ‘show up’ rate is double if you take that extra step to do the reminders,” the Emmy- and Grammy-winning songwriter says. “In the music industry, you need a lot of courage, as contacting people who do not know you can be daunting—even if you share the same interests. I train volunteers who are newly recruited to get over any fears and just do it. Once they get comfortable with calling, they find as I do that that every phone bank is a learning experience.”

Janice Radder

Nick Roberts: Troubadour of Truth

Nick Roberts has what you might call a more progressive job within the local Obama effort.    He shows up at campaign events to entertain      the troops. Roberts performs folk music—with some original songs—at volunteer training sessions, monthly meetings, phone banks and other grassroots events to motivate and inspire the OFA’s troops. 

“I was inspired to write for Organize For America because of what they stand for on various issues. And also because I wanted to do my bit creatively to get Obama as well as other Democratic and progressive candidates elected this fall,” Nick shares. “My songs serve as a reminder to get the population out to vote and learn about the issues, and my role is to help inspire other volunteers to perpetuate the message.”

Marcia Schneider: Dedicated Delegate

Marcia Schneider’s coaching for canvassing and phone banking runs the gamut from making that day’s script flow like natural speech to taking informal polls to filling out phone bank data tracking sheets. 

“Training is an ongoing process and not a one-time event,” says Maria. “Some experienced volunteers only need a little coaching, while others are coming for the first time and need to be guided a little more closely through the process. What makes the process satisfying is that I have a lot of support and education to give.” Marcia, by the way, is a delegate for the California convention.

Tama Winograd: Dashboard Diva

Being good with details is an essential part of Tama Winograd’s “day job” as a paralegal. These skills equip the Valley Village resident for the somewhat daunting task of entering data collected from the phone banks into the OFA database. She also bears the responsibility of running OFA’s “Dashboard” communication system, which welcomes new members to the team and passes along notices of upcoming events.

Although phone banking can be challenging when she encounters “unreceptive” people, Tama insists the work is gratifying. “The most rewarding part is collaborating with other smart, aware, liberal people,” she says. “It is fun because of the wonderful people I’ve met and the very strong sense of camaraderie that unites us.”


Woodland Hills Republican Women Federated vice president Esperanza Butler


Doris Kenney: Commander in Chief

Before assuming the presidency of the Woodland Hills chapter in 2011, Doris Kenney brought membership up to 200 during her tenure as membership chairman. Today, she oversees an executive board of top volunteers, making sure they follow through with their responsibilities. She also organizes registration and voter education events at high-traffic areas like the Westfield Topanga Mall and the LA Convention Center.

“I have one of the best boards imaginable, and I have learned so much in my overall volunteer work for the organization,” Doris affirms. “The low turnout for the recent open primary this summer was quite educational. I hope this will drive us all to enlighten the public on the importance of voting and getting involved.”

David Benning: Chief Grassroots Organizer

David Benning is a guy who knows what it is like to run for office, having made a bid for a U.S. House of Representatives seat from the Los Angeles district in 2010. The businessman and software engineer says social networking activities (such as Twitter handles, or usernames) are directed by Romney campaign headquarters in Boston. Most local volunteer training, meanwhile, is conducted on the Westside. But he still has a full plate—acting as a liaison between the Boston and Valley volunteers and keeping tabs on how Valley volunteers can be productive.

“I let them know if there (are) events we need volunteers for,” he says. “When they look to their local Republican club for materials such as signs, stickers, window posters or other things for their election activities, the leaders of various Republican clubs will know they can go through me to get the supplies they need.”

Karen Kenney: Fearless Coordinator

Encino resident and psychotherapist Karen Kenney brings her people skills and experience as an elected official (she’s a member of the 40th Assembly District Republican Central Committee) to her efforts on behalf of the San Fernando Valley Patriots. The grassroots organization was formed in 2009 and is affiliated with the Tea Party movement. She notes that while her group is not a part of the Republican Party, they are aligned with them in terms of three shared principles: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free market.

“My primary work as a volunteer leader is voter education–helping voters select candidates that represent and support those shared values,” she explains. “I organize monthly meetings and bring in informative speakers for our discussions. We just had (people from) The Integrity Project come in to educate our membership on how to protect our votes. It is important to me that people have the facts to make informed decisions about candidates, propositions (for laws) and local and state issues that will affect their votes.”

Samantha Fugitt: Rising Star

In her three-year run as the Valley leader for California Young Republican Federation, Samantha Fugitt focuses on bringing like-minded voters between ages 18 and 39 to the polls and to action for Republican causes. For the Romney campaign, the 29-year-old is now concentrating on getting her constituents involved in phone banking, precinct walking and other activities—or as she puts it, “to be a part of the Republican team as a whole.” This fall, she is stepping up her efforts to encourage the membership to be present at Republican events via Facebook and word-of-mouth.

“I assumed the leadership role because I wanted to focus on ways younger Republican voters could make a difference and show the public young voters care,” she says.

Woodland Hills’ Doris Kenney calls a meeting of Republican women to order at her home.

Nancy Eisenhart: Femme-Reach Coordinator

As president of the California Federation of Republican Women–Southern Division, Nancy Eisenhart oversees a volunteer constituency extending from Santa Barbara to San Diego counties, covering 9,000 dues-paying Republican women in more than 100 local chapters–including five here in the Valley.  The Woodland Hills retiree joined the group in 2000, with a determination to bring greater public awareness to the Federation because of her own difficulty in finding a group to volunteer for during that year’s presidential election.  

“I’m promoting the Federation because it breaks my heart that there are a lot of Republican women out there do not know about us,” she says. “My activities cover most of Southern California, so we have a lot of races that we are watching over.

Our chapters do the work, and it is a point of pride that we have so many chapters active on a year-long basis along the Ventura Boulevard corridor supporting and vetting candidates.” 

Esperanza Butler: Voter Registration Leader

A naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Mexico, Esperanza Butler is a vice president for Woodland Hills Republican Women Federated. She chooses to focus her efforts on voter registration because of concerns about her native country’s political direction. Her goal is to take the intimidation out of the voting process for Spanish-speaking Americans, explaining the candidates’ platforms and the issues behind what is being reported on the news.
“I came to this country for the `American Dream’ and freedom, not for freebies,” says Esperanza. “One of the most important things in U.S. citizenship is ensuring the right to vote and having your voice be heard. Helping others be heard and preserving the American Dream is special to me.”

Jan Edwards: Membership Head Hunter

Jan Edwards believes her past career experience organizing golf tournaments for the Southern California Golf Association prepared her well for her current task of bringing new members into Woodland Hills Republican Women Federated. The monthly newsletter that this membership chairman contributes to regularly wins raves throughout the larger California Federation of Republican Women organization. She also works on organizing gatherings like the “Happy Elephant Hour,” taking place September 20 at the Disabled American Veterans Hall in Canoga Park. 

“We average about 85 attendees at our monthly meetings, and seeing that many members present and active is heartwarming,” Jan says. “My attention to detail, follow-up and meeting deadlines are all crucial in ensuring we keep our membership engaged and involved in what we are doing.”

Gary Aminoff: Motivational Mover & Shaker

When it comes to the Valley’s Republican Party efforts, real estate company owner Gary Aminoff leads the charge. His official title is chair for the San Fernando Valley Republican Club, but Gary does everything from organizing monthly meetings and themed events to directing social networking on the web.

“I help direct efforts on our club’s behalf to recruit people to canvas neighborhoods, make campaign calls and assist other races that will have an impact on Romney’s success and agenda, including the local and state races,” he says. “We just upgraded our San Fernando Valley website and will be hiring somebody specific soon to oversee the Twitter, Facebook, as well as other new media to promote Romney and our other candidates.”