Folsom’s newest councilman relied on social media campaign to stun longtime incumbent

By Ellen Garrison

egarrison@sacbee.com

December 06, 2016 12:46 PM

Folsom Councilman-elect Roger Gaylord credits his social media efforts for his upset win over longtime incumbent Jeff Starsky. Facebook
Folsom Councilman-elect Roger Gaylord credits his social media efforts for his upset win over longtime incumbent Jeff Starsky. Facebook

The last time Folsom elected a new council member was eight years ago, and that candidate, Ernie Sheldon, was so well-known he already had a city park named after him.

This year, Roger Gaylord broke through in his third try for a council seat by defeating 16-year Councilman Jeff Starsky by 591 votes, just over 1 percentage point. He will join Sheldon, who won re-election with the most votes among five candidates in the citywide race for two seats, based on final results certified by Sacramento County on Tuesday.

Gaylord, 33, attributed his win to a strong social media presence and grass-roots campaigning. He grew up in Folsom after moving from Texas, works as a retail security consultant and serves on the city’s utilities commission. He and his wife have two children.

Gaylord’s Facebook page has been liked 4,770 times, nearly 10 times what any of his opponents has. He’s been posting a string of updates on the vote tally, and a Nov. 22 post announcing he pulled ahead of Starsky garnered 819 “reactions” and 124 comments.

He said the typical City Council member access – a city phone line and email address – wouldn’t have gotten him into office.

“If I’m not on your phone while you’re in the kitchen making dinner, then I’m not going to be in your head when you go vote,” he said.

It can be difficult for local candidates to get traction in mainstream media because outlets have so many races to cover, said Sacramento political consultant Steve Maviglio. Mail fliers and brochures might get tossed in the junk pile, but shares in someone’s Facebook feed have a personal touch.

“The best recommendation you can get for a candidate is from a friend,” Maviglio said. “Social media makes that a lot more available as a tool for people to use.”

Gaylord also used social media to go negative. In the midst of the campaign, he posted in a Facebook forum for Folsom residents about his opponent Rob Ross’ no-contest plea to two misdemeanor false imprisonment charges from 2004. The post included Ross’ Social Security number from a document Gaylord obtained and posted. Gaylord later said he did not realize that information was in the document.

The post disappeared after commenters pointed out the personal information included.

“Social media played a big part in the campaign race in Folsom, although it also brought out the worst in people,” said Ross, who acknowledged the misdemeanor at the time the information was posted and invited voters to ask him about it. He said the charges stemmed from a verbal argument with an ex-girlfriend.

The simple message Gaylord promoted online and on his yard signs was “fresh face, new ideas.” He is not registered with a political party.

Gaylord is Folsom’s first council member to have grown up in the internet era. He was featured in a 2001 Sacramento Bee story for starting an online store selling in-line skates as a senior at Folsom High school.

He wants to upgrade Folsom’s online presence so residents can access City Council information easily on their phones. He said he wants to see more transparency in city government and he said he intends to introduce an amendment to the city charter imposing term limits on City Council members.

“It’s time for some new ideas to come through,” he said. “This is kind of the spark of that change, getting what we call the ‘good old boys’ out and start rotating in some fresh faces.”

Over the past few election cycles, challengers have attacked incumbents’ support for the development project south of Highway 50 that is expected to produce more than 10,000 new homes and millions of square feet of office and commercial space.

“People want Folsom to stay small,” Gaylord said. “They’re looking at people who are making it big right now and they’re saying, ‘How do we get back to our roots?’ 

Gaylord styled himself as the homegrown, outsider candidate willing to buck developers in a city that has long embraced housing growth. He loaned his campaign $23,655 of the $26,451 he raised, several thousand of which went to Facebook ads. He’s been critical of incumbents accepting money from developers and BIZPAC, the Folsom Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee.

BIZPAC donated $150 to Starsky and Ross and spent $3,024 each in independent expenditures on their behalf. Sheldon and Starsky also received support from the North State Building Industry Association’s political action committee, which spent $18,574 each on mailers.

Longtime Councilwoman Kerri Howell, about to enter her 18th year on the council, said it will be interesting to have a new member.

“I'm looking forward to seeing how quickly Mr. Gaylord can get up to speed,” Howell said.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison