Four Lessons from Amelia Bedelia’s Failed Run for Mayor

by Nathan L. Gonzales August 13, 2013 · 10:32 AM EDT

Amelia Bedelia could hardly hold down a housekeeping job, but that didn’t stop her from running for mayor.

Anybody with small kids or grandchildren is familiar with Amelia Bedelia — the well-intentioned nanny whose literal take on life gets her into plenty of trouble. But after her pun-filled adventures in the eponymous children’s classic, she ran for mayor in a subsequent book.

“Amelia Bedelia 4 Mayor,” written by Herman Parish and illustrated by Lynn Sweat, chronicles one outsider’s journey to become chief executive of a small town. But even though Amelia Bedelia lives in a fictional world filled with forgiveness, there are plenty of real-life candidates who could learn from her experience.

Don’t be afraid to challenge the establishment. Amelia Bedelia had no political experience or even an ounce of political sense. But her naivete allowed her to take on incumbent Mayor Thomas, who was probably previously unchallenged.

Amelia Bedelia broke normal political rules by crashing the mayor’s news conference and one of his ribbon-cutting ceremonies. But those risks turned into favorable media coverage from a press corps that was openly rooting for a competitive race.

Get the incumbent to engage. Amelia Bedelia became the candidate that was impossible to ignore. She captured the imagination of the grass roots and baited Mayor Thomas with frustrating rhetorical discussions. Once he engaged, Mayor Thomas played right into Amelia Bedelia’s hands. And his subsequent attacks caused his approval ratings to drop.

Get some professional help. Amelia Bedelia was the ultimate outsider candidate, but she could have used help from the much-maligned consulting class. Not only did Amelia Bedelia forgo a Twitter handle or a Facebook page, she also often confused polls and poles and didn’t know the difference between casting votes and casting for fish. She didn’t even know what undecided voters were, let alone who they were with a microtargeting plan.

Volunteers crafted some handmade signs, but with a real fundraising effort (the book says she had 43 cents) and a full flight of television ads, we might be calling her Mayor Bedelia today.

Have a compelling reason to run. From the beginning, Amelia Bedelia’s candidacy was doomed because she lacked the fire in the belly. She ran because her boss, Mr. Rogers, was upset with the mayor and suggested that she make a bid — not because she had a personal conviction to run.

Once she got into the race, Amelia Bedelia learned all the right buzzwords (“cut that red tape”) and embraced the media attention. But after the incumbent apologized for a minor insult during their big debate, Amelia Bedelia folded like the Washington Nationals and abruptly dropped out of the race. Her supporters were shocked — her campaign didn’t even make it to Election Day.

If you’re tired of “This Town,” check out “Amelia Bedelia 4 Mayor.” But be warned, there’s no table of contents in the Bedelia diaries either. You’ll have to read all 51 pages.

Apparently August recess is my time to write about politics and children’s books. Here is a story I wrote a couple years ago about not-so-hidden political messages.