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Campaign volunteers braved chilly election night

With temperatures that ranged from 11 degrees just before 7 a.m. to 25 degrees right after 4 p.m., only the truly dedicated election volunteers stayed at the polls in last week’s city primary elections.

“I’ve volunteered on a lot of campaigns, but I don’t ever remember an election day this cold,” said Haden Smith, a teacher and lawyer who stood at the polls for the last three hours at the Hodgen Middle School, 1616 California Ave., in The Gate District.

Alas, the efforts of Smith and others weren’t enough for his candidate, Debra Carnahan, to defeat incumbent Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia in the battle for the Democratic nomination for Ward 6 alderman. But Smith didn’t know that yet when he talked early in the evening at a watch party at Sqwires Restaurant & Annex in Lafayette Square.

Smith’s done political volunteering since 2000, so he knows what it’s like to campaign when it’s cold, and it’s hot.

“It’s a lot of fun to be out talking to people in person,” he said. “When you know the candidate or feel strongly about the candidate, I think it’s always exciting.”

Rowan Hoel is newer to campaigning. The University City High School senior last year volunteered to help Democratic candidate Paula Brown in the race for state representative and Democrat Jill Shupp in her push for State Senate. She campaigned for Carnahan.

Hoel said she did a lot of knocking on doors and talking to people. “I like to meet new people. You never know what you’re going to get when you knock on the door,” she said.

Madolyn Okohson, a volunteer who helped work on phone banks, said she liked meeting people and getting involved in the political scene. Okohson was out all day on March 5. “It was challenging but rewarding enough to know that you’re making a difference,” she said.

Being a member of a family of Democratic politicians, Carnahan knows a lot about campaigning. Politicians in her family include former U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, who attended last week’s watch party.

Watch parties are important parts of a campaign, Carnahan said.

It’s a place to come together and thank the volunteers, she said.

“A lot of candidates would just like to go home and put their feet up,” she said. “I don’t think it’s as much for the candidate as it is for the people who have supported you.”

Later that night, after the release of the results, Carnahan had a chance to thank her volunteers for helping in a losing effort.

Throughout the city, watch parties went on for candidates, but losing and winning.

In the 24th Ward, Bret Narayan had an easier time, after results showed that he’d won the Democratic nomination for alderman in that ward. Volunteers gathered soon after the close of the polls at the Pat Connolly Tavern at Oakland and Tamm avenues.

“This is kind of the culmination of what we tried to do,” Narayan said.

“We knocked on more than 2,000 doors, almost constantly, in subfreezing temperatures,” Narayan said. Most weekends, four or five people went out knocking on doors. “This is really the story of the campaign.”

Narayan’s campaign and the 24th Ward Progressive Young Democrats co-hosted the party. Joe Jovanovich, owner of the Pat Connolly Tavern, said his tavern has hosted a number of such parties. While he’s a friend of Narayan, the business itself is neutral, he said.

The Narayan watch party was one stop that night for Karisa Gilman-Hernandez, who had been at the polls all day for 14th Ward aldermanic candidate Tony Pecinovsky. Pecinovsky lost to incumbent Alderwoman Carol Howard. From the Narayan party she would go to the party for 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan Green, who lost the race for Board of Aldermen president. Then she would go to the Pecinovsky party at Heavy Anchor, 5226 Gravois Ave.

Gilman-Hernandez spoke of how cold it was at the polls. “We sat around cars to heat up,” she said.

Gilman-Hernandez said she’d been doing campaign work for a few years.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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