‘If no one more attractive than you comes along’: Here’s why a Boston City Council candidate wrote about her canvassing experiences

"Little stuff like that happens, and then you're like, 'Who am I to think I can do this?'"

Hélène Vincent, a Boston City Council candidate for District 8
Hélène Vincent, a Boston City Council candidate for District 8. –Carolyn Vincent

Hélène Vincent knows the realities of the campaign trail.

The Boston City Council District 8 candidate knocks on 100 to 150 doors a day — a necessity in local politics to get the word out to voters, she says.

She also knows what it can bring. She’s angered people before. And on any given excursion, she’s been greeted by one, if not two people answering the door in their underwear.

So when a 77-year-old man greeted her in the West End while wearing a bathrobe and no pants on Tuesday, the sight wasn’t out of the ordinary.

In fact, their conversation was going well, according to Vincent, a social and environmental justice activist vying for the seat to be left vacant by Councilor Josh Zakim.

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As she readied to leave, she asked him a last question: “Can I count on your vote?”

“He just gave me like, you know, the wink look and said, ‘Yeah, if no one more attractive than you comes along,'” Vincent recalled in an interview with Boston.com Thursday.

Feeling beaten down by the kind of interaction she’s had too many times to remember as a female candidate, Vincent took to Twitter.

“People ask me what the hardest part of running for office (is),” she wrote. “I’ll be honest, it’s not the long hours. It’s not the fundraising. It’s dealing with s*** like this every single day and still finding the courage to go knock another door. Usually, I force myself to get right back on the horse and keep going. But today, for some reason, I literally just can’t. All I want to do is just sit in this stairwell and give up.

“Of course, if I do that, nothing will change. People won’t take women or young people seriously and it’ll be the same old story. As [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] said: ‘For 1 of us to make it through, 100 of us have to try.’ Which, I guess, means I have to keep going. So the ones who walk after me don’t have to deal with this s***.”

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In the days since, Vincent said she’s heard from people from across the country, some of them candidates themselves, who’ve shared that same kind of experience with her — who’ve felt pathetic in the face of these interactions, after working hard to put themselves out there in their local elections.

Vincent knows similar situations are bound to happen. But in sharing her story, she wanted others to understand the difficulties women face on the campaign trail, she said.

And she wanted her fellow candidates out there to feel the support so they’ll have the strength to keep going when it happens to them, too.

“Little stuff like that happens, and then you’re like, ‘Who am I to think I can do this?'” Vincent said. “I think it feels demeaning … when people don’t take you seriously.”

“I almost prefer when people react in anger and frustration to me vocally, because then they’re taking me seriously,” she added.

Vincent, the former director of research and academic partnerships at EF Education First, is among five candidates — including Jennifer Nassour, Kenzie Bok, Montez Haywood, and Kristen Mobilia — in the Sept. 24 primary. District 8 spans Mission Hill, Audubon Circle, Kenmore Square, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, and the West End.

Vincent’s campaign focuses on making education, transportation, and housing more equitable and inclusive in Boston. She said she places an emphasis on listening to those who have long felt ignored by the city’s power brokers on major issues, particularly as housing costs have skyrocketed amid the development boom.

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For as much as she can be dismayed by some experiences on the trail, Vincent points to other moments that have have galvanized her.

A couple of months ago, a gay veteran — wearing only boxers — who had never outwardly expressed his sexuality before opened up to Vincent about it when he learned she is a married lesbian, even after the conversation began with political disagreements.

“Eventually, he said, ‘It was because you listened,'” she recalled.

Needless to say, Vincent doesn’t plan to stop knocking on doors anytime soon.

“If I don’t keep knocking on doors, then we’re never going to be able to change,” she said.