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Never admit defeat

A long fought battle: The story of Syracuse Politician Kevin Kuehner

Written By Danielle Waugh
Produced by Danielle Waugh

Syracuse University student, Dan Fitzpatrick, sits awaiting Kuehner's election results as the ballots are counted.

Syracuse University student, Dan Fitzpatrick, sits awaiting Kuehner's election results as the ballots are counted.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – “Wow,” Kevin Kuehner said as the election results come in on television. He sat at a table in the corner of the Republican Rally site, surrounded by friends, family and supporters– all wearing the same “Kuehner for the County” campaign sticker.

This was Kuehner’s third time running for the same office: County Legislator for the 16th District of Onondaga County. Each time, he’s run against the incumbent, Sam Laguzza. And each time, Kuehner’s lost marginally.

Kvin Kuehner

Kevin Kuehner

The Campaign Strategy
The first two times he ran for County Legislature, in 2005 and 2007, Keuhner ran a traditional campaign. He knocked door to door, put up campaign signs and targeted people living in the residential areas of his district. But Kuehner had several obstacles: he was running against a 20 year incumbent, and a Democrat in a largely democratic district.

This time would be different.

“I’m changing the rules of the election,” Kuehner said in mid October. “Rather than knocking on doors of people that don’t vote anyway, I’m trying to bring new people into the process and I’m going to steal the election.”

Kuehner’s plan was to campaign on Syracuse University’s campus, rally for student support and register student voters. College students typically turn out in small numbers for local elections. They are a demographic that Sam Laguzza did not target. “I’ve been to SU, I’ve been to Le Moyne, I do all that stuff,” Laguzza said. “You can put it in front of them, but you can’t make them eat.”

But Kuehner was about to serve the first course.

Campaign Season

Kuehner started his college campaign with the Syracuse University College Republicans. He came to one of their weekly meetings in mid September.
“I told them the voter turnout is so low, that a number of students can turn this election if they chose to. And I asked them to do it,” Kuehner said.

Although they had never met Kuehner before this meeting, some of the College Republicans took to his cause.

The students passed out campaign information and a campaign item designed specifically for students: a drink koozie that reads: “Sometimes Local is the Answer, Vote for Kevin.” Together, the student campaigners registered 280 new voters in the 16th District.

“I would have liked a lot more,” Kuehner said on the October 9 deadline to turn in the new voter registration forms. “I’m a little surprised. I thought it would be easier to get the students registered to vote.”

After registering new voters, Kuehner had to get those students to actually come out and vote. He launched a campaign online; creating a Twitter account, Facebook page, and campaign website that was targeted to students. As students joined his Facebook groups or accessed his website, he created a data base with their email addresses.

Days before the election, Kuehner sent out a mass email to 736 students, inviting them to a forum on campus called “Kevin Kuehner Addresses Student Issues.” Of those 736 invited, zero showed up. “It’s OK, I’m going to keep trying,” Kuehner said, visibly disappointed.

Election Day
“The epicenter for this race is Bird Library,” Kuehner said. “Bird library is the voting booth at which I will either become a County Legislator or I will not. And that’s because for a majority of the students, that’s where their voting booth is.”

But on November 3, Bird Library was quiet. There were no lines, not the turnout Kuehner needed to steal the election.

According to data he obtained from the Board of Elections, Bird Library had about 80 students vote—the same number as 2007, when Kuehner didn’t campaign on campus.

The final count: Sam Laguzza 1,135 votes. Kevin Kuehner, 398.
One of the student campaigners was with Kuehner as the results were coming in.

“I think the simple thing is students are lazy,” said Syracuse University Student Daniel Fitzpatrick. “And it’s not that they didn’t vote for Mr. Kuehner, it’s that they didn’t vote at all.”

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