The lineup card for the August primary shows we’re fielding quite a few rookie candidates for local office this year.
Welcome to the ring. Watch out for all those hats being tossed around.
Many of you will do as well as most of the veteran pols, and some of you will do better than a few of them. Without casting aspersions on anyone’s abilities or intelligence, Spin Control each year at this time offers candidates and campaigns its eight simple rules to make it through Election Day. As my dad always said, free advice is usually worth what you pay for it, but here goes:
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1. No whining. Voters may admire winners and sympathize with losers, but they generally brook no whining, especially on things that come with the territory, like having to put an initiative on the ballot even if you don’t like it or being a resident of the place where you are seeking office. If you won’t follow the rules now, why would we trust you to follow them in office?
2. Keep good track of the money people give you. If you can’t add or subtract, hire somebody who can. Come to think of it, if you can’t add or subtract, you should be running for Congress, and that election is next year. If you don’t pay attention to your campaign finances, it’s a sure bet your opponent will call the Public Disclosure Commission (and us) to rat you out. When that happens, see No. 1.
3. Have something to say. If your campaign theme consists solely of “children are our future,” you’re going to be stumped when someone asks about your tax plan, what you’ll do to reduce crime, how you’ll fix the budget deficit – or any of a dozen other things voters logically expect you to handle. If you get caught trying to fake your way through a question on a predictable topic with a B.S. answer like “Glad you asked. I’m studying that very closely, and expect to have a white paper soon,” people might tune you out for the rest of the campaign. If so, see No. 1.
4. Know what the job entails. City Council candidates sometimes wax eloquent on stopping nuclear proliferation and some congressional candidates complain about the potholes on their street. But cities don’t negotiate the START treaty and Congress ain’t concerned about your street unless it’s a U.S highway. If you’re passionate about an issue controlled by another office, run for that office. Otherwise, stick to the job you’re seeking.
5. Don’t say “I’m not a politician,” followed by some variation of “I’m just a concerned citizen trying to do good things for the good people of this great community.” As a candidate, you are by definition a politician. Stop acting like the term is synonymous with cockroach or serial killer.
6. NFUOASND. This is a journalism acronym, which in G-rated form stands for “Never Foul Up On A Slow News Day.” Simply put, if you make a mistake the same day a plane flies into City Hall, your boo-boo is a paragraph at the bottom of page 10, if it shows up at all. If you mess up on a day when my editors have nothing interesting or salacious for the front page, you’re it. How do you know it will be a slow news day? You don’t. To be safe, don’t mess up.
7. When you mess up, ’fess up. We all make mistakes; smart politicians admit theirs, apologize without suggesting someone else is misconstruing their intent, and take their lumps. Stupid ones prolong the story by claiming they did nothing wrong or insisting everyone else is to blame for misinterpreting their remarks, which sounds like violating No. 1.
8. It’s called public office because there’s not much privacy. You’re the one asking the public to hire you for a job. Like most bosses, the public wants to check you out before putting you on the payroll and will keep checking on you afterward. If you don’t want to talk about how you make your money, don’t want to be harangued by people while standing in line at Starbucks, don’t want your Facebook page combed through by an opponent, or in general just don’t like people, that’s your right. But don’t run for office. If you do, and you run into problems – which you will – see No.1.
Good luck. By filing for office, all of you deserve it. And many of you will need it.