Estimated reading time: 12 minute(s)

Title for "In the Mayor's Parlour" by J.S. Fletcher
Clipped from the Project Gutenberg copy of the book

Residents of New York City receive plenty of campaign literature through the mail during local campaign season. Because our local primaries take place in June, the campaign literature has begun. I vote in New York City’s less popular primary, so I avoid the brunt of campaign solicitations. But not all. I recently received a mailing from Sara Tirschwell, an accomplished Wall Street loan trader and hedge fund manager who is seeking the Republican nomination for Mayor. Out of curiosity, I checked her campaign website biography. What I found was the worst campaign introduction that I have ever seen. Having been subjected to it for merely looking up the candidate after receiving an unsolicited campaign mailing, I now share it with all of you.

I Begin By Saying Something Nice

Ms. Tirschwell has a very professional campaign website. It is more user-friendly and modern than the websites of her opponents. The issues section of her site, which I do not address here, is full of all the normal things one would expect. Her About page, which we will discuss here, is too busy, but professional.

Now For the Problems: The About Sara Tirschwell Page

Upon learning about Sara Tirschwell, I checked her campaign website. Before going to see her platform, I decided to check who she was. That is a good place to start. “Who is this person who wants to run New York City?”

A campaign biography for someone like Ms. Tirschwell is very important. While one of her opponents in the Republican primary, Mr. Curtis Sliwa, has, for better or worse, been a prominent figure in New York City news and politics for more than four decades, Ms. Tirschwell is little known outside the finance world. Like most voters, I knew nothing about her before she became a candidate for mayor.

Instead of learning about Ms. Tirschwell’s background and why she is qualified to be the mayor of the largest city in the United States, I was, by the second sentence, confronted with two deaths. The body count grew – we had barely crossed into the 1990s when the death toll reached five and the divorce count one. Regarding her career, I learned that she is a woman in finance – that point was hammered home more assertively than what she actually did and does. I also learned that she stepped forward as a victim of sexual discrimination at work in 2017, but little about the events beyond that.

After running the gauntlet of the myriad deaths in her life and the notes that she was a woman in finance (and a single mother), I learned little about what she thinks recommends her to be mayor. Most of the self-introduction was just generically bad, however, let us examine the worst of the worst, the attempt to play on the emotions of potential voters.

You can follow along with the archived version of her About Page at this link.

The Problem: Little-Explained, Poorly Handled, List of Deaths

Five people die in the first six sentences of Ms. Tirschwell’s introduction. In each case, we learn more about the cause of death than the people and the effect of their deaths on Ms. Tirschwell, much less what any of this has to do with her campaign for mayor. To be clear, lest anyone has a misunderstanding, the purpose of this assessment is to highlight why this “About Sara Tirschwell” page is a horrible piece of political literature, and literature in general. It should go without saying – but I will state for the record in any case – that I am not in any way diminishing the terrible deaths of the five individuals that we as readers are confronted with in the first six sentences of Ms. Tirschwell’s introduction. I dare say that the About page, which uses the deaths to elicit sympathy for the candidate from unsuspecting visitors, does more to diminish the deaths than any third party could.

Deaths in the Second Sentence

In the first sentence of the About Sara Tirschwell page, we learn that she was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, and that her father was an Army dentist. Having the context of the rest of the page to go by, I am glad that this was her father’s only appearance.

Things took a dark turn in the second sentence:

[Ms. Tirschwell’s] mother committed suicide when she was three years old, and her stepmother died of multiple myeloma when she was 14.

This is the only mention of these two women on Ms. Tirschwell’s website. We know that her mother tragically took her own life. We know that her stepmother died of multiple myeloma when she was 14. What we do not know, and will never learn, is how any of this is relevant information to people who may be deciding whether to support Ms. Tirschwell’s campaign.

I can see, in theory, why a politician may discuss the suicide of a parent, although doing so should be done tactfully, as not to exploit the tragic circumstances of a parent’s death for political gain. Perhaps having a loved one commit suicide informs a politician’s commitment to public service, to provide and support services that help people suffering from the most brutal kinds of depression and helplessness. Perhaps it informs a special concern for children who lose parents. But we have no such context here. Ms. Tirschwell’s mother is the first of many deaths, and it is used to make readers feel bad for the candidate.

The treatment of Ms. Tirschwell’s stepmother is even more bizarre. What difference does the cause of death make here? How is that relevant to anything? It seems that whoever wrote this abomination wanted to focus on death details.

But it gets worse.

Deaths in the Third Sentence

Whoever wrote this introduction thought that he or she would have readers reeling after noting the deaths of Ms. Tirschwell’s mother and stepmother. Thus, in the third sentence, we are confronted with another death.

Loreen Anderson became the mother of Sara’s heart, until this past Valentine’s Day when she was killed in a fire.

“[T]he mother of Sara’s heart”? This is wholly unexplained. Having noted Ms. Anderson before describing what Ms. Tirschwell does for a living, you would think we would be offered some context about why Ms. Anderson was important to Ms. Tirschwell. Perhaps some explanation of how Ms. Anderson helped Ms. Tirschwell, or what she taught or instilled in Ms. Tirschwell that has helped her become the successful woman she is today. We get no such context – although the About page includes two pictures. I have no idea what this has to do with Ms. Tirschwell’s candidacy for mayor. The only concrete thing I know about Ms. Anderson is that she died in a fire on Valentine’s Day – at which point, the wording of the passage inadvertently suggests that she ceased being the mother of Ms. Tirschwell’s heart.

Having read three sentences, all I know is that Ms. Tirschwell is from Texas, she lost a mother and stepmother by the age of 14, and “the mother of [her] heart” recently passed away. We did not need to know the cause of death, but are told that Ms. Anderson died in a Valentine’s Day fire. Quite frankly, I have no idea why we needed to learn about Ms. Anderson. No one will tell us.

I come away with the feeling that Ms. Tirschwell’s campaign is using all of these deaths as a cheap way to elicit sympathy for the candidate.

Deaths in the Sixth Sentence

After a brief respite where we learn that Ms. Tirschwell graduated from Rice University and moved to New York City to begin a career breaking glass ceilings in distressed finance, we are confronted with the most disaster-packed sentence of the About page:

Professionally, Sara was breaking glass ceilings… but personally, adversity struck again with the death of her first husband from alcoholism, the end of her second marriage, and the suicide of her best friend.

Three people. Two deaths. One unexplained marriage dissolution. Absolutely no information about any of these people or explanation of how this is relevant to people considering Ms. Tirschwell for mayor.

I do not see, in the context of the About page, why the death of Ms. Tirschwell’s first husband needed noting here. I hope his family signed off on that. Moreover, I have no idea why the cause of death – his struggle with alcoholism – is relevant information to readers deciding whether to support Ms. Tirschwell’s mayoral campaign.

I have no idea what to make of the dissolution of her second marriage. We are offered no information about it. No context. No explanation of why this is important for us to know.

Finally, “the suicide of her best friend” may be the most perverse of all. All we are told is that this poor person committed suicide. Why is this important information for potential voters to know? No one knows. Maybe, I dare suggest, we did not need Ms. Tirschwell’s campaign to expose the cause of her best friend’s death any more than we needed to know about her first husband’s alcoholism.

The First Half of the “About Sara Tirschwell” Page is Horrendous

The rest of the About Sara Tirschwell section is poorly structured, badly written, and uninformative even by the low expectations that one should have for campaign websites. I restrict my essay, however, for I would not have written this article, without the sequential obituaries in the first six sentences.

This entire About page uses the deaths of five individuals as props. No effort is made to explain how these tragic events are relevant to Ms. Tirschwell’s candidacy. Little concern was shown for any other people who may have known the deceased. The object of the About Page appears to be to make readers consider the candidate out of pity.

We are told after the last of the deaths that Ms. Tirschwell “persevered again.” Did she? If all I knew about her was this About Page, I would be led to believe that she introduces herself to people by listing all of the worst things that have happened in her life—or, more accurately, to the people in her life.

As I noted, there are certainly circumstances where tragedies that occurred in a politician’s life are an important part of his or her campaign biography. As craven as politics may be, a campaign should tell the story with care and some degree of respect for the deceased. Had the intent of this About page not been to exploit the feelings of readers, Ms. Tirschwell’s campaign site could have connected the circumstances of the tragic deaths to her reason for seeking office or her interest in particular issues. In the absence of any context, however, there was no meaningful reason for listing these deaths, with no context, in rapid succession. It was a play on emotion that bordered on gratuitous exploitation.

The About Page is Tone Deaf to Voters

The About Page makes a tone-deaf case for the candidate.

New York State has the highest death toll from the Wuhan coronavirus in the nation, and New York City has one of the highest death tolls in the world. Many New Yorkers lost spouses, parents, and grandparents in nursing homes in circumstances that were often potentially avoidable, had their elected representatives pursued vastly different policies with respect to nursing homes.

Beyond the many New Yorkers who lost parents and grandparents in the last year, New York City currently suffers from high unemployment. Children in public schools are being denied any semblance of a suitable education as the goalposts on school re-openings are moved. Crime is increasing in New York City, highlighted by very damaging looting and lawlessness last summer.

Most voters will be looking for a candidate to advance their prerogatives and to make New York City a better place to live. Many Republican Primary voters will be looking for a candidate to bring attention to issues and concerns that they care about, well aware that the winner of the Republican Primary will not be the next Mayor of New York City (barring some truly extraordinary circumstances).

Few voters, especially ones who are suffering greater hardship than any of the many candidates running for mayor, are looking for the best Hallmark movie plot to send to Gracie Mansion.

The About Sara Tirschwell Page makes no case for why Sara Tirschwell the person is the person most qualified to make New York City a better place to live. It is no more successful as an effort to convince voters that she is one of them. It does not try to convince Republican voters that nominating her will improve the prospects of the party and its concerned voters in 2021 or beyond.

My Unsolicited Advice to Ms. Tirschwell

From the outset, I will note that I am not voting for Ms. Tirschwell in the June primary for reasons unrelated to how her campaign is pitching her to voters – although, were I seriously considering voting for her in the primary, the campaign literature certainly would not have helped. Nevertheless, because that campaign biography should be a genuine embarrassment to anyone involved, I will charitably offer unsolicited advice. While I have said in other contexts that it is generally a bad idea to take advice from random internet writers, Ms. Tirschwell should strongly consider this random internet writer advice if she becomes aware of it.

Do Not Throw Away Common Sense Gleaned From Your Real Job

Ms. Tirschwell appears to have had a successful career on Wall Street. I can only imagine that this must be the case for her to have been able to raise enough money in what is ultimately a hopeless campaign for mayor to send me a campaign mailing.

When one ventures into an entirely new field – here, running for office – one may be tempted to defer to the “experts” in the field. These so-called experts, whose only expertise may be working on losing campaigns, may tell the neophyte candidate that he or she should not introduce him or herself by making a positive case for his or her qualifications. Instead, they may advice the candidate to make a play for sympathy by portraying him or herself as a victim of fate and mistreatment.

I venture that if a subordinate suggested to Ms. Tirschwell that she introduce herself to a business contact with a woe-be-me list of tragedies, Ms. Tirschwell would fire the subordinate. She would be correct to do so.

Politics is a different field, but there is something always to be said for common sense. Ms. Tirschwell should draw upon the reservoir of common sense she surely accrued in her 30-year business career to scrap the current About Sara Tirschwell section of her campaign website.

The Other Republican Candidates Have Better About Pages

Lest anyone thinks that I am unfairly picking on Ms. Tirschwell, the About section of her website compares unfavorably to her Republican primary opponents. You will find an explanation of why, along with links to archived versions of the relevant websites, below.

Mr. Curtis Sliwa

Mr. Curtis Sliwa’s About page focused primarily on his founding and leading the Guardian Angels, which ties directly to his case for his candidacy. Furthermore, I will add that Mr. Sliwa’s website includes a lengthy timeline highlighting key events in his life. One of those events is when he was gut-shot, and nearly murdered, by associates of mob boss John A. Gotti. Rather than seek pity for what was surely a traumatic incident that caused Mr. Sliwa life-long health problems, his campaign website simply describes the event – which Mr. Sliwa probably sees as something of a badge of honor in any case. Imagine what Ms. Tirschwell’s campaign team would have done with this…

Mr. Fernando Mateo

Mr. Fernando Mateo’s website introduction lists his career and accomplishments and ties these accomplishments to his case for being mayor. It errs on the grandiose side at points, but its occasional excesses are forgivable in light of the alternative. Note that Mr. Mateo at no point asks any readers to feel sorry for him. His campaign team made an energetic and assertive case for the candidate.

Mr. Bill Pepitone

Last but not least, Mr. Bill Pepitone is the only candidate whose website introduction is written from a first-person perspective. He begins: “Hello everyone. I’d like to take this opportunity to provide you with a look into my background and experience as well as the family who helped make me who I am.” In his intro, we learn about Mr. Pepitone’s family’s life of service, his own decision to become a police officer, his career in the New York Police Department, and his decision to first enter politics after leaving the force. He concludes by explaining why he now wants to be Mayor of New York City.

My word, this is exactly the type of information that someone might look for to learn about a candidate before assessing his or her platform. The scales have fallen from my eyes.

Conclusion

Suffice it to say, Ms. Tirschwell’s campaign website design team zigged where her three opponents zagged. Her experiences as a woman in finance and nonprofit head are very different than Mr. Sliwa’s (Guardian Angeles founder and radio shock jock), Mr. Mateo’s (entrepreneur and unofficial trade group founder), and Mr. Pepitone’s (career police officer), so one would expect her to have very different content in her campaign bio.

But her experience is not so different that her campaign website biography should not focus on telling us about Ms. Tirschwell, her credentials, and what she offers as a candidate to be the Republican nominee for Mayor of New York City. Her campaign team not only failed at those basic tasks, but did so in a way that was so outstandingly bad, and in bad taste, it managed to leave an memorably unfortunate impression.

It is exceedingly unlikely that Ms. Tirschwell – or any of her primary opponents – will be the next Mayor of New York City. Once this campaign is over, she will most likely return to her jobs in finance and in the nonprofit sector. In the interim, I hope that she reassesses how her campaign is selling her biography to voters. Surely someone with her long career and recent speaking out against sexual harassment in the workplace could give a far better account of herself to the people of New York City than what her campaign put on her website.

There is a theory that all news is good news.

That does not apply to the current iteration of the About Sara Tirschwell page.