Dear Prospective Candidate:
I hear you’ve been thinking about running for the Seattle City Council. If you’re new to this political game, I thought I’d give you an idea of what it means to run for an elective position in Seattle. Here are 13 tips from someone who has been there, done that.
- Deciding to run may be the easiest thing you’ll do. Next — after you’ve paid your filling fee and filed the necessary paperwork — you will need to find a treasurer for your campaign. If you don’t have a savvy friend who’s willing to volunteer, you’d best hire a pro. Keeping track of ethics and election laws and meeting financial reporting deadlines isn’t for the faint of heart.
- You will also need a campaign manager, someone to maintain your calendar, boss you around and make sure you keep appointments. You may also want to find a political consultant. They’re not free, but, if they’re good, they’ll be worth every thousand or five or ten.
- Get ready for endless public speaking. You will be asked to speak at campaign forums, to community groups, business and labor leaders, chambers of commerce, neighborhood associations, legislative district meetings, and gatherings of every special interest from more-bike-trails to no-new-taxes. You’ll need to develop a two-minute elevator speech: a concise statement of who you are and why people should vote for you.
- Be prepared for questions from reporters. Some you may not expect and you must learn the stock politician’s response: Just say “that’s a great question — but what I was hoping you’d ask was….” Then you can substitute something you prepped for.
- Is there anything embarrassing in your background? If so, you can be certain your opponents will find it. You may be better off telling it yourself rather than waiting to be publicly outed and ridden out of town.
- Dress for the job you’re seeking. All you need are two or three professional outfits (just max out your Visa card). Your new uniform should be kept in tip-top shape: no wrinkles, coffee stains or grease spots please. Invest in comfortable footgear: forget open toes or teetery heels. Remember that Kamala Harris wore sneakers with her campaign pantsuits and look where she is now.
- Prepare to spend beaucoup hours asking for money and endorsements. Campaigns don’t run on wishes and you have to get on the phone, knock on doors, and arrange meet-the-candidate nights. Forget home life and friendships. For the next few months you’re on the campaign trail during waking hours and reliving your flub-ups at night.
- Don’t shy from door knocking. It is the key to success in district races. People like the personal approach: a candidate at the door begging for votes, a candidate forced to listen to their gripes. You’ll wear out at least one pair of sneakers, but, heck, getting known is worth a few blisters.
- Stay healthy if you can. Eat right, take small portions and don’t indulge much if at all. Wash your hands until they bleed and try to stay clear of obvious germs. Nothing is worse than campaigning while dealing with a cold or sore throat, both of which are virtually guaranteed.
- Be prepared for large doses of ugliness, threats, and cheap-shot negativity. You won’t escape. Try to adopt an inner calm, a positive mantra, something profound like: “This too will pass.”
- Avoid negative campaigning or casting aspersions. Being gracious and taking the high road will win out in the long run. Or so your grandmother told you.
- If you win – and let’s hope for the best – you’re not finished with the campaign. You will have a mountain of bills to pay and chores to do: thank you notes to contributors, filing away campaign literature and collecting the right staff to help you run your office.
- The good news is that the hard work of campaigning is over, at least for a while. The bad news is that you now must learn a completely different trade: how to operate as an elected official and where to start on the heap of things that you promised voters you’d accomplish. Friend, your education is just beginning.