I first met Candace Allen Nafissi when we worked together several years ago. We sat across from each other, and shared countless conversations and way too many inside jokes.
And while we had a ton of fun together as colleagues, one thing that always impressed me about her was that when it was time to get down to business, Nafissi was definitely on top of her game. As serious as she was passionate, she was fiery, hard-working, highly driven and goal-oriented. She always seemed to have a clear path set before her, confident and clear about she wanted to accomplish—personally, professionally and politically. And just as importantly, she had this way of eloquently explaining her vision, to the point where it made you want to just quit your job and join her right then and there.
So when I learned that she was running for Redondo Beach City Council District 3, while I wasn’t surprised, I was immediately intrigued to find out more about her decision to run, especially now, with a newborn, a toddler, a full-time job and a brand new house. Sure, I always knew she had a lot of balls to juggle in the air and she always did it with such style and grace, but how in the world was she going to pull off a campaign, with everything going on? And, what exactly did it take to run a successful city council campaign, anyway?
I stopped by her fundraising event last month and also chatted with her on the phone last week to get answers to my questions and also further insight into what it was like running as one of the youngest candidates ever, who if elected, would also be the first woman to sit on the Redondo Beach City Council.
She shared with me why she decided to run now, what a typical campaign day for her was like and of course, her favorite “where to” destination in Redondo Beach.
Read my interview with her below, and don’t forget to vote Tuesday, March 3, no matter what city, council or district you’re in!
WilsonsGuide: Why run for council now?
Candace: Since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to be something “great,” but the question was, what could I get engaged in that kept my interest, kept my attention span, that I really liked and that I could feel like I could own it?
I thought about different careers I could go into, really thinking about my personality, my commitment to school and what I was really willing to do. Being a judge was number one, but I realized I had to be a lawyer, and I wasn’t going to law school. Going to school wasn’t my thing. And so I thought about which careers I could engage in and that really accented my personality and, I realized it had to be something like public relations or some type of job where I get to talk with people, engage with people and have direct contact with people. All of my careers thus far have been something of that nature, connecting with people or certain groups of folks. That’s just where my heart is.
So basically, there was a measure on the ballot for term limits. And so I said to myself and to my husband, “if this doesn’t pass, I want to run for council.” And he sort of laughed and was like, “uh, OK, whatever, you know, Candace—this is one of your things.” And then it didn’t pass—my current council member was being termed out—and so I came to him and I said “hey, I want to run for council.”
My next step was to meet with family and friends, and talk about how they could support me, because I obviously am going to need a tremendous amount of support. I’m a new mom—there’s a lot going on in my life, so I needed a lot of the help. Everybody said OK, and then that kind of brings me to today.
WilsonsGuide: What would you say are some of the challenges with running for an office?
Candace: Especially as young as I am—no one in our city has ever run at this age—my biggest challenge was, how am I going to fund raise? All of my friends are either my age or in college. All of my friends are mid-career, starting their lives, having families. They don’t have a ton of money to donate. The maximum they’re going to donate is like $75. How am I going to finance this campaign?
And the other challenge was, how am I going to get a community to trust me to run for council, considering my age and my limited experience? I’m young, I’ve only had about seven years in the workforce. How do I get them to trust me?
So I knew that one of the challenges was going to be my age, second challenge was going to be money, and third challenge was going to be trust, because I don’t have a huge, established career that people can look back on…In the grand scheme of things, I might look seriously inexperienced, and that’s a big a challenge I have to fight every day when I’m going door-to-door.
WilsonsGuide: How do you overcome those challenges?
Candace: I was incredibly self-conscious about it at first—I mean really self-conscious of my age. At first I was like, “no one tell a soul I’m 33,” because I knew that people would be like “oh she’s too young. She’s too young. It’s not her time.” I’ve totally heard that before. But I’ve overcome it by connecting with people. Because the second that you can open the door and connect with a person—you’re able to reiterate what’s going on and answer every single question thoroughly and write your phone number, and really have that connection with people—then people think a lot less about your age and a lot less about your career, but your ability to connect with them and establish a relationship.
WilsonsGuide: How have the experiences that you’ve had—you’ve worked with the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce and you’ve been the Historical Commissioner for the City of Redondo Beach for the past two years—shaped your background?
Candace: I think that everything I’ve done thus far has helped position me to run for council. Every single opportunity. I’ve been very smart and strategic about opportunities I engage in, not because I felt like, “oh this was the angle,” but because I always wanted to be doing something that was really productive and like I said, had a big impact on people. So people understand that I have a limited record because I’m younger—I’m only 33—but everything I’ve been engaging in has been very intentional and meaningful.
I think that my background has absolutely helped me. I’ve worked on council campaigns. I’ve interned for Council Member Jerome Horton, I’ve interned for [former California] Congresswoman Jane Herman, [former California State] Assembly Member Mike Gordon, I worked for [former California State] Assembly Member Ted Lieu and even though I was an intern, I was kind of like a pea in the pod, and got first-hand experience working on campaigns, and that information has really allowed me to be successful and valuable right now.
WilsonsGuide: As you mentioned, you are a new mother, you also work full-time and you’re managing a campaign. Literally, how do you do it all? That’s a lot on your plate!
Candace: There are 24 hours in a day and I only work seven of them, so there’s still a lot of time to do other stuff. I think part of my success is creating clear delineations of time. You have to carve out time for work, you have to carve out time for family, you have to carve out time for the campaign. And right now, I’m taking a break on my friends. And they understand that [laughs].
Tuesday is my campaign day, so on campaign day, I don’t check work emails. When I’m at work, I’m at work, and when I do campaign stuff, I’m doing campaign stuff. And when I’m with family, I’m with family. It’s important to me. Everybody needs some time from me right now, and I’m happy to give it, it just has to be at the right time.
WilsonsGuide: Is there a typical campaign day?
Candace: My Tuesdays are usually filled with half-days of meetings and then it’s going door-to-door. I organize a set of volunteers on Saturdays and Sundays to come to my home and then they also go door-to-door for me, too...and then after the day, after everyone comes back, we generally eat together and just kind of debrief about what they heard out there. Then I generally call all the people that [sic] weren’t home, when we went door-to-door. So it’s a lot of phone-banking and follow up.
WilsonsGuide: What advice would you have for anyone—especially who might be young or a woman—running for council for the first time?
Candace: I’d say my advice would be: it takes courage to do it, but you’d be surprised how many people will support you once you do it. And so, take a jump. It’s really scary. It’s like the scariest thing I’ve ever done. To put yourself out there publicly, you have no idea how people are going to react. I was so scared. You have no idea what’s going to come out of the wood works, what people will say about you, about your past or anything. But if you’re a good person, you just take a chance and people will see through that you want to do this and that you’re good at this. And people will stand behind you.
WilsonsGuide: People can learn more about your platform at your website, but can you talk a little bit about what would be the first thing if elected, that you would do in office?
Candace: One is, I want to thank every single person that helped me, and that’s going to take some time. That helped me, that trusted me, that took a chance on me, because that really means a lot.
And the second thing I’d probably do is continue to collaborate with residents to ensure that we are doing exactly what they want. I think that there’s been a little bit of history in this city where people [council members] kind of act on what they think is popular—what they themselves think is popular—without going to the residents to actually see what they want. So the huge benefit of going door-to-door, and knocking on doors, talking to people every day, is you understand exactly what they want. So I think that we have to get better collaboration with future projects, with residents and proposals. So my first goal would be to have greater collaborations between residents and projects. And get their input, make sure that they feel part of the process.
WilsonsGuide: My blog is about where to eat, drink and be merry in Los Angeles, so I’m just curious if you have a favorite restaurant, lounge, bar or social destination in Redondo Beach?
Candace: Yes. I want to say R/10 Social House. It’s where we had the fundraiser. Really great spot, really great food, really great people who own it. Everything about it is great. I like R/10 Social House.
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* Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for reading ease.