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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dash for cash: The inside story of Kyle Keyser's 48-hour scramble to get on the Atlanta mayoral ballot

click to enlarge freedomrock
  • Kyle Keyser, in front of City Hall

Kyle Keyser’s surprising announcement that he was running for mayor of Atlanta invigorated an already dramatic campaign race — but it came with a catch.  In order to officially enter the race, Keyser had to raise the $4,425 filing fee to get on the ballot.

And he had to do it in 48 hours.

The following is an account of the emotional days leading up to the announcement and the critical hours that followed in which the unlikely upstart candidate used Facebook, Twitter, Freedom Rock and an iPhone app to rally a community and help him get in the game.

Friday, Aug. 28

6:30 p.m: Keyser speaks at an Atlantans Together Against Crime (ATAC) rally at Bessie Branham Park in Kirkwood, held in response to the shooting of a 55-year-old man who was mowing his lawn.

This is when things really started to kick in. There were probably 200 people and I got up to speak at the end, and I just looked out and saw all these eyes looking at me and I just felt this sadness in the community, like they'd been broken by this incident, and a little hurt more so than angry. I thought to myself, "This is eight months from the time I started [ATAC].  How many more rallies do there have to be?  How many more people are going to be affected by this?"  That's when I started to strongly consider running.

Monday, Aug. 31

3:21 p.m.: Facebook update: "ain’t gonna do it."

I was not going to run at this point. But I was still flirting with the idea; maybe I should do it.

6 p.m.: Keyser speaks at another ATAC rally in front of Vinocity in Kirkwood.

The Monday rally was what put me over. I sat on my pile of signs, cleaning up, and talked to people who attended the rally and lived in the neighborhood. I just felt compelled to do something. I examined the situation and looked at myself and was like, “What can I do to affect the most change?” It was really like a compulsion. I’m like, “I have to do something.”

Then I decided, "I'm gonna do it."

Tuesday, Sept. 1

2:07 a.m.: Facebook update: "Inspired by [my] community again.  I love you ATL!"

12 p.m.: Keyser goes to City Hall.

I went to the municipal clerk's office and I said, “Okay, to qualify for mayor what do I have to do?” The clerk said, “Well, you can get 2,213 signatures by Friday at 4:30 p.m. or you can pay the filing fee of $4,425.” And I said, “Well, if I get the money do I need the signatures?” She said no. So I got all the paperwork and the forms and asked if I could raise the money to qualify. She said I could raise the money as long as I filled out a declaration of intent.

So I went out to my car with the forms and called some people, talked to some good friends. They said, "File the form. Put it in there. You've got a thousand Facebook friends, so go ask each one of them for five or ten dollars and you can make it happen." So I went back inside and filled out the form and turned it in.

At that point I was like, "OK...this is real."

2:30 p.m.: Keyser goes home to plan how he was going to announce his candidacy.

I decided I would put it out there in a small way. I wasn't going to come out in some grandiose situation. I was going to put it out to the community Wednesday morning that I'm going to try to qualify, and if I can raise the money to do it, I'll do it. So I collected my thoughts and wrote an open letter to the community and created a website. I wanted to do it right. I wanted things as prepared as possible.

Wednesday, Sept. 2

10:52 a.m.: Facebook update: "[I’m] gonna run for Mayor. Read my letter. I think it’s time to let them know the residents of Atlanta are serious about change. So I’m in. I’ll need your help …"

There had been this intense 24 hours of buildup and then you press a button and put it out there and then there’s just … silence. I was like, “Alright, it’s out there. I really want to do this, so let’s see what happens.”

12:33 p.m.: Facebook update with PayPal link attached: "Needs you to donate at least 10 … but maybe 20?  :)"

1:05 p.m.: The first donation comes in, for $100.

Wednesday afternoon: Interviews with CL, the AJC, Southern Voice, Daily Kos and Project Q Atlanta.

Wednesday night: Keyser heads home and discusses strategy with campaign assistant Fiona Sites-Bowen.

End of day total: $1,643

Amount left to raise: $2,782

Hours remaining:  36

The signs were good. In my head I was like, “I gotta make this happen.”

Thursday, Sept. 3

1:47 a.m.: Facebook update: "Has Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer” preventing me from falling asleep. Telling …"

Lyrics from the chorus of “Livin’ on a Prayer”: “Oh, we’re halfway there.”

Thursday morning: Keyser emails targeted groups of contacts he’s worked with throughout the country.

11 a.m.: Interview with reporter from NPR at Outwrite bookstore.

12 p.m.: Lunch with a friend involved in politics at Nickiemoto’s.

He said, “You need to get on the phone. It’s called dialing for dollars, Kyle. If you ask people for $10 directly, they’ll give it to you. Don’t think you can just pull this off on Facebook.”

I was fairly comfortable calling and asking, but it was just a matter of time constraints for me. I looked at all the people in my phone book and thought, "How am I going to call all of them?" So I went back and modified my approach. I wrote text messages saying, "Hey, give $10," and I gave the PayPal URL and spent a good part of the day doing that … thank God for the copy and paste feature on the iPhone.

Thursday afternoon: Keyser meets with Sites-Bowen to discuss a new idea.

I said, "What if we do a fundraiser tonight at Noni's?" Once in a while I'll pick up a bar shift there. I’ve got my Freedom Rock double-CD set from the '90s, so I figured, "Let’s grab it and get people to come out." It’ll be real America. So we came up with the idea of the Freedom Rock fundraiser.

4:39 p.m.: Keyser posts Facebook invite for Freedom Rock Fundraiser for Kyle Keyser for Mayor.


8:00 p.m.: Freedom Rock fundraiser at Noni’s.

I'm bartending and I had my iPhone by my computer screen. I would go to the computer and ring in a drink, go to the next contact on my iPhone, text message them and go back.  The fundraiser had about 40 to 45 people and we raised close to $700.

End of day total: $3,473.

Amount left to raise: $952

Hours remaining: 12

Friday, Sept. 4

I woke up at 8:30 a.m. and stayed in bed and continued going down my phone list and text-messaging people.

9:26 a.m.: Facebook/Twitter update with PayPal link attached: "Less than $1000 away. Amazing. If you’re reading this PLEASE click and give $5. Just $5! If each of you did I’ll walk into City Hall at noon and QUALIFY."

I'm like okay, we have a thousand bucks to raise in four hours.  So I sat on my phone and text messaged and that's really the thing that put me over the edge, because I laid in bed from 9 till like 11 text messaging people, so a lot of the people who had gotten the text message the night before were getting up that morning and starting to donate.

11 a.m.: Facebook/Twitter update: "[I'm] going to tell you a secret...(we're only 25 ten dollar donations away!). Incredible."

12:27 p.m.: Facebook/Twitter update: "Just raised enough to qualify to RUN FOR MAYOR! Headed down to City Hall at 2:30 p.m. to officially qualify. THANK YOU!"

It was very inspiring. This stuff is really all for us, and it was really empowering to say, "OK I'm filing as a candidate for mayor."

2:30 p.m.: Keyser goes to City Hall and officially files as a candidate for mayor of Atlanta.

3:26 p.m.: Facebook update with pic attached: "Let's get started."


3:30 p.m.: Keyser and friends walk out onto the steps of City Hall, where they decide to make one last stop.

We were like, "Let's go get some lunch." And it was just sort of natural that the Standard came to mind.

The week before Christmas last year, Keyser was mugged at gunpoint. Intowners began to voice concern that violent crime in Atlanta was quickly rising. Less than a month later, Standard bartender John Henderson was killed during a robbery. The incident sparked Keyser to create Atlantans Together Against Crime.

Eight months later, Keyser was sitting just feet from where Henderson was slain.

It was the answer to that nagging feeling I had earlier in the week. On Monday I was in Kirkwood saying, "Man, I have to do SOMETHING.” On Friday I was at the Standard. I was Atlanta's newest mayoral candidate. I sat there and I had a beer, and I was like, "We did this — we're gonna do it."

(Photo of Keyser by Alli Royce Soble)

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