Telling the Stories of America’s Underdogs (Interview)

Photo of DE Business Times article featuring James Spadola

James Spadola may have lost his bid last year for the state Senate, but he gained an appreciation for the political underdogs, especially the ones who manage to get elected.

In September, the former City of Newark police officer launched Elected Officials of America, a series of Q&A podcasts that capture the story of at least one elected official from every state. Delaware, of course, is first.

“Running for office was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” said Spadola, who lost to an incumbent candidate by a slim margin. “You make friends, you learn about democracy. It took me outside my comfort zone and I definitely didn’t anticipate all of the emotions involved.”

The journey piqued his interest in the stories of elected officials who fought against the odds and took a chance. People like Colin Bonini, who was first elected to the state Senate at age 29. He joked to Spadola, “There were literally 11 people who said ‘You can do this;’ or Alex Torpey, who at 23 was jeered by resident as he canvassed neighborhoods, but was elected mayor of South Orange, New Jersey, by a 13-vote margin in 2011.

“I’ve always enjoyed hearing people’s stories,” said Spadola. “There are a lot of podcasts that focus on business leaders and their journey and the challenges they face. But there is not a lot that focuses on political leaders and if there is, it’s topical and sensational.”

There’s no angling for issues in Spadola’s podcasts, no questions about Obamacare repeals or term limits.

Spadola just wants the backstory. He said he’s hopeful that the series of 40-minute podcasts resonates with young people considering dipping a toe in the political arena – some perhaps against the advice of others.

“There was one conversation I had with a mentor right in the beginning when I was thinking of running, and he said everybody thinks ‘That’s not for me,’ ” said Spadola. “But he said unless you’re born and raised to go into politics, which most people aren’t, politics isn’t really about the best and brightest. No, it’s really about who shows up.”

Article originally published in the Delaware Business Times

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