Under normal circumstances, 20-year Wellesley resident Chris Zannetos and his team would be seeking signatures at the RDF and local supermarkets to get on the ballot for the Sept. 1 Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District seat. But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Zannetos, who announced his run for Congress on April 1, to resort to other means to stir up support.
He’s been touring the 4th district by bike, holding virtual town meetings and webinars, and mailing nomination papers to residents, which he’s urging people to sign and send in by Wednesday, April 22.
The race is shaping up to be a crowded one, with 11 candidates vying to get on the ballot. Fortunately for candidates, a judge has ruled that they need to collect fewer signatures than usual due to health crisis, but it will still be a logistical challenge for them.
We sent Zannetos, who boasts a strong IT security and business technology background, a handful of questions this week to learn more about what he hopes to bring to Congress.
If we weren’t in this COVID-19 situation, how would you be trying to collect signatures and get the word out about your campaign? How are you doing things differently as a result of the situation?
We would be standing outside the Roche Brothers, Whole Foods and at the recycling at the RDF, asking people to sign the Nomination Papers (in fact, we started that in the beginning of March) and we also started in-person Meet & Greets at people’s homes in the district. But of course, all that has changed. We have had a table out in front of my house for people to stop by and sign the papers, and we’ve mailed out Nomination Papers to many thousands of voters in the district…in fact, every household with a Democrat in Wellesley should have received this [week]! We are also trying to take advantage of the Internet to bring information and services to our district, build connections, and to get word out about the campaign – with a web series on New Paths to the American Dream and our Ask to Expert series. In addition, I’m an avid biker, and I’m cycling through every town in the district to highlight each town’s special character and small businesses.
Many in Wellesley have the resources to survive a run-of-the-mill crisis relatively unfazed. But how do you think the current health, social and economic crisis will affect the town, its residents, its businesses in the months/years to come?
First, I think we have to remember that while Wellesley is an affluent town, not everyone has the resources to be out of work. Having the experience of managing a business through the post 9/11 recession and the 2008 Great Recession, I’m afraid that the impact of this crisis will be deeper and longer lasting. It is unlikely that we will just “spring back”, and many businesses will be severely damaged by this.
Hopefully, for those who do have the resources to weather this crisis, this is a reminder to help others in our community whether it’s by giving to the food pantry, donating to nonprofits that help people meet their rent or mortgage payments in times of crisis, or just by eating out more often to help keep restaurants in business.
The reality is that we don’t know how we are going to come out of this because the disruption of so many aspects of our lives – financial, health, daily routines – is unprecedented. Regardless of the financial impact, I don’t think we’ll fully understand the emotional and mental health impact of this on our children, our elderly, really everyone, for some time to come.
I believe, though, that we have the opportunity to come out of this with greater resilience, a greater appreciation for what we have, and a greater respect for our fellow residents. We can come out with improved and more resilient education, with a focus on supporting our local, family-owned businesses. Our town, state, and federal governments can be better prepared for the next crisis, if they honestly examine how we could have prepared better. We can come out with a renewed commitment to find ways to bring us together for the common good, instead of focusing on wedge issues to divide us. We can demand that our government work as effectively and quickly in “normal” times, as it has in this time of crisis.
What have been the big tech lessons learned during the crisis so far? I mean besides, “unmute yourself.” What big changes would you expect to happen as we recover?
I think we’ve learned a few things about technology and ourselves:
1. Technology can enable very important, even deeply personal human connections. My mother was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and admitted to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. My family was able to see and speak with her because the doctors and nurses had added Facetiming with patients’ families to their already heavy responsibilities. It was not only wonderful to see my mother – who thankfully has improved enough to be discharged, but the compassion and dedication of the nurses and doctors to care for their patients and their families was truly touching.
2. Technology can enable many to work effectively from home, and that perhaps we don’t need as many people to be going to the office every day. Given the traffic we have here, perhaps we will take advantage of this to reduce traffic, to reduce pollution, to reduce aggravation, and reduce time wasted sitting in our cars in traffic jams.
3. I do think that our experience in a variety of industries, including education, will open up new opportunities for improvement. I’ve already heard from some teachers that teaching remotely has created some ideas for improved in-class teaching.
4. Finally, with all our advances, it is clear that we have not done enough to enable our seniors with technology. I’ve heard many stories from friends about unsuccessfully trying to teach their parents how to use technology to connect with family. The tech world has more work to do.
How long have you been thinking about running for public office? Did anything specific trigger your move?
I’ve always enjoyed serving the community in one form or another – whether as soccer coach for Wellesley United, as a volunteer for the Boy Scouts Food Drive or the Boston Marathon, on the board of my church and other organizations, or as the founder of a non-profit that brings companies together with schools to make STEM education more accessible to underserved people. I didn’t plan to run for Congress, and that’s probably apparent by my late entry. I went to the Wellesley Democratic Committee’s “Meet the Candidates Night” in late January, and I felt that I really had something to bring to the table that separated me from the other candidates, certain experiences that could be truly beneficial to our district and in Washington, and I started thinking about whether I needed to run.
I think our country and our democracy are at a critical point. We’ve had this booming economy, but it has benefited very few because we haven’t made the 21st century, technology-driven, economy accessible to all. Even before the pandemic, over 40% of Americans didn’t believe the American Dream of achieving a better life than the generation before was available to them. And with urgent action needed on income inequality, healthcare accessibility, climate change and other important issues, we’ve gotten only inaction, divisiveness, and hyper partisanship. Washington isn’t reflective of a division in our country, it’s a driver of division.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased our challenges dramatically, but it has also highlighted the solution. After we get through this, we can’t go back to business as usual in Washington. Now more than ever we need people in Washington who understand the science and technology that drive our world, have experience creating higher paying, more resilient 21st century jobs, and know how to bring people together for win/win solutions instead of posturing for partisan gain. If I had seen that experience or focus at that Meet the Candidates Night, I’d still be focused on running my software company instead of running for Congress.