If you want to lose friends and make enemies, hear personal insults unburdened with factual basis, enjoy others doubting your intelligence, desire less time for fun in your life, appreciate being heckled at the grocery store when buying tampons and all of this earning less than the hardened criminals at the local prison, then city council is a good choice for you!
Of all levels of government, municipal (local) government is the most intrusive on its citizens and as policy makers, you will be the ones often required to deliver the bad message. YOU become the messenger. And they will want to shoot you. Chances are they won’t though. Probably not. “Definitely not” feels more like what I should be saying, for liability purposes. Definitely not. I digress…
By running, you’re saying, or what you should be saying, is that you are willing to make the hard, unpopular decisions that are best for your community, in spite of any negative repercussions you may face, as a result. Run to serve well, not to be reelected. Run ONLY if you have the political courage to tell the hard truth and do the right thing. Frankly, there are far too many Political Pansies already serving on city councils across the nation, so I can’t, in good faith, encourage any more of you to run… Any resemblance of the previous sentence to any members of my present/previous councils is purely coincidental. Liability protection again.
As elected officials, we tell our residents what they can build, when to put out their garbage, how soon they’ll be able to exit their street in a snow storm, whether or not their streets warrant traffic calming, when they need to have their yard done and how many police officers we deem adequate for safety. The common thread in every decision you will make is that it directly impacts those you serve. Local government, is the “In Your Face, There’s More of This Where That Came From” Government.
And it is exactly that level of intrusiveness that makes local government the most fascinating. As a city councilmember I am touched by the lives of those I serve and I’m allowed to touch their lives, as well. I have seen the whites of their eyes as they hug me in thanks, shout at me during a meeting, cry together for a community loss or work side by side on a day of service.
So, if you want to truly make a difference in lives, set policy that can positively alter the course of a community for generations, connect personally with those you serve and know you’ve made a definable impact, then city council is a good choice for you!
You’re still here? OK, you’re persistent…or you have a lot of time on your hands. Both are good characteristics for city council. If I can’t talk you out of it, here’s some words of advice from a woman who still has two years of her four-year-sentence, pardon me, service, I meant to say service.
Be Prepared to Jump Down the Rabbit Hole. It’s as if the Cheshire Cat was speaking about municipal elections when he uttered the ominous phrase, “We’re all mad here.” Elections are a whole lot of nonsense that I assure you, eventually ends, but not until someone has lost their head…or their marbles…or their tempers. Or all of the above.
Your campaign will start with the necessary narcissistic bang that makes you certain everyone in your city is now highly interested in being visually assaulted by your face multiple times a day, on signs all over town. Then the madness begins. The best advice I can give is to keep your head, and your wits about you.
Just Do You. What’s your message? Why are you running? How can you make a difference? Find the answers to those questions and market your message. Pitch YOU. Don’t worry about what the “Mad Hatter” opponent is saying and doing. And because you’re not paying attention to it anymore, I’ll tell you what’s happening. People are talking about you. And it’s a weird feeling. Some like what you have to say. Others think you’re lying, yes lying and they’re saying mean, untrue, harsh, outright lies about you. But you don’t care, because you truly want to serve.
Take the high road on any negativity and stay on your message. This attitude will always serve you well. Despite the temptation, and you will be tempted, don’t wrestle with the pigs in the mud. As they say, you’ll just get dirty and the pigs will enjoy the play time.
You are out of your comfort zone, without a doubt, but in this rabbit hole, you will see the fascinating, frustrating, crazy, beautiful world of service and you’ll find yourself drawn into talk of “shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings”. The mundane with the lofty, all for the betterment of your community with the cautionary truth that those who jump down the political rabbit hole often find the service so rewarding, they’re reluctant to leave. We call them “Orrin Hatch”.
Social Media: Friend, Foe and the Reason You Will Consider Taking Up Drinking … Or Become More of a Lush Than You Already Are. By day, I’m a communicator. By night, I’m a councilmember. My daytime personality LOVES social media for its ability to communicate quickly, show transparency, create a multi-sensory experience and be so cost-effective. My nighttime personality has to be censored for its view that social media is the “beep beeping beepingest problem, beep beep beeping beep so much misinformation, beep beep.” I truly apologize for my written tirade, but I have a doctor’s note for my PESD, Post-Election Stress Disorder. That’s right, PESD. Cause: Social media.
As a communicator, I felt foolishly confident in my ability to handle negativity on social media. That’s my day job, for crying out loud. I was woefully thin-skinned when people I didn’t know made false statements about me, called me names, mocked me; told lies about my family. I was “in developer’s pockets,” “on the take”, “building a vacation home from my developer bribes”, “is dishonest” and on and on and on.
One of the biggest helps to me, without a doubt, was the supportive team I had around me. Choose your Sane Squad wisely and then rely on them to be your dose of reality. One friend, in particular, was my much-needed voice of reason. A provider of hugs, advice, listening; laughing, ice cream, whatever was needed. I still smile today when I remember his consistent one-word advice to me: Ignore.
He would text it to me when I shared a screenshot of the meanie who said mean things in a mean way, meaner than the usual mean though. He would listen to my rant and rave about an injustice I had gracefully endured, with dignity deserving of a plaque, and then simply say “Ignore.”
Wise advice for me that I now pass on to you. So little of what happens in life, and even more so during a campaign, deserves our attention. I can’t stress this enough with social media.
- Definitely use it creatively to push your message out.
- Respectfully respond when engaged.
- Never virtually brawl with anyone, as it’s not worth it, no one wins and chances are high, you’ll look foolish. Help me help you. Namaste, until you’re elected, then go all West Side Story. I’m in no way encouraging said behavior, simply providing a nostalgic movie moment.
- There will be trolls, plants and “fake people” luring you into the social media abyss. I utter the wisdom of Poltergeist, “Stay away from the light”. These are people dedicated to misunderstanding you. Make your point and run away from the “light” of the screen.
- The challenging social media interaction will no doubt cause you to develop a negative Pavlovian response to all after-election social media engagement with dry heaves, profuse sweating and incoherent muttering. Or maybe that’s just me.
- Some People, Won’t like You, And That’s OK. During the hellish depths of my election, I lamented to a fellow elected official the fact that people hated me for no reason. He gave me the knowing gaze of a man who also has haters, known as voters…do we call them, “vaters?” With his knowing gaze, he shared a great truth.
In his race, his opponent chose to dress like one of the Founding Fathers for an election event. While an A for effort, an R for looking more closely resembling a pirate, albeit a patriotic one. So perhaps I meant ARRRRR, not R. Just a little pirate humor for you. I digress… Yes, the opponent succeeded in looking more a pirate, but sadly for the purposes of this story, with no talking parrot, eye patch or booty to steal.
Here’s the lesson. Despite this costume catastrophe, a complete lack of campaigning, no fundraising and barely breathing, Captain Jack Sparrow ultimately won 1/3 of the vote. My friend was the well-regarded incumbent who earned respect for his conservative views, had an admirable voting record, was known for impressive transparency with the constituents and was always well-prepared on all issues. And he never dressed like a Founding Father, that he told me about anyway.
What he found out and now you and I know to be certified truth in elections:
1/3 of the voters will vote for a pirate. These aren’t your people, and they never will be, move on.
Takeaway Tip: No costumes.
We have too many politicians and too few public servants; too much grandstanding to calm uninformed public clamor and too little political courage to make the unpopular, but correct decisions for the city they’ve sworn to serve. We have too many of the wrong people running for the wrong reasons. If that’s you, don’t run—you’re doing more harm than good. If that’s NOT you, grow a few extra layers of skin and run the hell out of that city council race.
And remember, for all of the mental abuse, dings in your self-confidence, required therapy to deal with the flashbacks and night terrors, no one will remember your name after your term ends.
Unless you spend some taxpayer funds on a plaque of some sort. That’s what I did.
So, yes, serving on city council probably means they know where you live. But despite my ominous warning, you’ve recognized that is exactly what makes it so meaningful. Your service will matter and will shape your community for decades. And that, my friends, is not a bad way to spend your Wednesday nights.