This is an old blog and the advice is too late for some candidates but newly electeds may find some of the tips useful as they set up their offices.
We’re in the midst of the silly season, the heartless fall festival of campaigns, consultants, pundits, endorsement battles and, oh yes, the candidates themselves, trying to find a way to survive it all. Someone recently said, a good campaign consultant should study marketing, not poli sci, so true. It’s the Gotcha Season!
Make friends with the media, that means reporters, editors, photographers and bloggers.
1)So here’s some basic advice from an old hand at local politics.Yeah, I know with 24 hour social media and in an atmosphere where a candidate for president gets excoriated for being off line for 90 minutes, it all seems local and there’s some truth to that. But, again, first off, make friends with the media, that means reporters, editors, photographers and bloggers.
If you suspect that they have already stereotyped you or taken a dislike based on your race, gender, political leaning or just your inability to smile for 2 or 3 hours straight, your instincts may be right.
In fact, they probably are-all the more reason to woo them. Pretend they are puppies or babies or your mother-in-law (okay maybe not that) just coo gently and share a not too intimate but just intimate enough anecdote so they know you’re human and that they’re in on the joke.
Do not make enemies of the press or ignore their importance now if you hope to have a political future. I have seen it happen again and again and so have you. Your grandmom was right about first impressions, you can’t make them later.
Having grown up with a mom in the biz, I happen to enjoy working with reporters. And remember, they’ve been downsized too and have to do the work of many nowadays. Make it easy for them and they will bless you.
And whatever you do once in office, don’t run complaining to a reporter you haven’t thanked twice or given at least one scoop to. Don’t demand a retraction, just give an appropriate reaction. You’ve developed a relationship so you might say-more in sorrow than in anger, why, my friend?
Do you have an elevator pitch? Are you ready with a soundbite?
2)Why are you running? Can you explain it to your teenage daughter? Ok, maybe that’s too hard but do you have an elevator pitch, a sales talk that keeps the door from being slammed in your face? If not, why do I care?
And, if you’re running against an incumbent, why should I even bother to consider you if you can’t differentiate yourself from the guy or gal I already know, and though I may dislike her, I know what he cares about, what they can do for me. So practice that 30 second, 1 or 2 minute blurb in the mirror or use your phone to record it and get ready with a soundbite or two that a voter or a reporter can take away from any meeting with you.
3)How’s your voice? Don’t talk down in your chest, no froggy throat, don’t talk softly or engage in uptalk (mostly a woman thing-always questioning ourselves). It goes without saying-cut out the ums and yaknows-or does it?
Stand up and speak with authority but warmth. As we’ve learned, all this is double edged for women, be authoritative but not a know-it-all. Smile but don’t seem flirtatious, sigh.
You’re not writing a bureaucratic how-to manual, just make it punchy and easy to take in in say, 8 seconds.
You may have a lot of knowledge of the intricacies of say, the budget or the park department, but no one wants to see the engine, they just wanna know that you can drive the machine. And, for all you helpful friends, writing campaign pieces before the consultant gets hired. No, you’re not writing a bureaucratic how-to manual, just make it punchy and easy to take in in say, 8 seconds. Yeah, I said that.
What are you going to do for me and when are you going to do it?
Here’s the thing, voters may be wowed by your knowledge and some voters will be able to glean that you know something about what your are proposing to do–BTW, I’m not one to suggest pivoting away from tough questions because that’s dishonest and I hate that-a surprising number will not be able to tell. The bottom line for voters is always-what are you going to do for me and when are you going to do it. Make sure you’ve told them, and they can go home and tell their roommate, spouse or doggie pal (elevator pitch.)
Every teacher learns how to read her classroom, so read your audience-eyes glazing over, move on or punch it up a bit.
What’s your plan for the animal shelter/rescue/dog park?
3b) So yeah, everybody loves their kids and you’re here to make it better for the little ones but remember-between the cost of rent and the cost of college these days-lots of the little ones are dogs, cats, ferrets, whatever, what’s your plan for the animal shelter/rescue/dog park. Do you have a picture with your pet?
4)Learn to delegate BUT, the first calls for endorsements are yours to make. If it’s someone you really need, absolutely don’t delegate. I thought everyone knew this but, no, they don’t. Sorry to tell you, but even a great fundraiser will order you to make the big money calls and lots of the smaller ones (Yeah, they’re the boss on that.)
5)Oh, endorsements, they’re so important. Actually, not really. Now some are very useful. In these parts, it’s Barbara Lee’s. Get to know her Advisory Committee members, nuff said. And BTW, don’t make up any endorsements you don’t have.
Door-to-door is what can win it for you. It should be on the top of your list.
6)But, all the clubs and organizations out there can’t win it for you, they won’t probably give all the time, money or volunteers they sorta promised you. If a voter is in that organization, ok, that works for them. So make the rounds but don’t freak out about it. Door-to-door is what can win it for you. It should be on the top of your list. Wait let me say it again-Door-to-door is what can win it for you. It should be on the top of your list.
Ok, now you’ve won, you’ve got a pile of debt, you’re exhausted, your family is done with you and your neighbors are wondering what they should call you.
7)First, thank everyone by name who did anything you know about in your campaign. As soon as you’re done thanking them and not before, start asking them to help you pay off your debt OR ask them to volunteer to help set up your office depending on their skill set, wallet.
8)You’ll need an advisory committee and maybe a kitchen cabinet too. While it may sound like work, it’s like making preparations for a trip and this experience is just that-trippy. So while your volunteers are still happy that they got you in office (cause they did, without them you wouldn’t have made it) ask them to join your advisory group, transitional or permanent, whatever. Get someone to head up your office volunteers now. Ask her yourself and make sure he knows how much you rely on them, etc.
You will find that once you are in office, you will be loved by some, hated by some, avoided by others, but most of your constituents will NOT hang on your every decision. They will however, hone in on your every mistake, perceived mistake (perception is reality in politics, it’s a law of nature) or faux pas. Maybe I should have mentioned this item first but you knew this wasn’t for the faint of heart, the lazy or those lacking in ego.
You, of course, want to make bold decisions, take us in a new direction, invent the cure for cancer, uh, got carried away there but you will too. Then you find out that no one knows what the problem really is and why they should care or that the solution eludes you and the 200,000 people who came before you or it is made at the county, state, federal, or cosmic level.
If you didn’t have a kitchen cabinet, you need one now.
9)So now you learn that even bold decisions that can work, can have some effect and– those that can get another 4 or however many votes needed, may piss off a lot of folks. So here’s what you do-get your advisory committee to hold neighborhood hearings-of course you’re there but you’re listening. If you didn’t have a kitchen cabinet-your most trusted advisors who love you but won’t take your shit-you need one now. Cause they have your back but will also give it to you, right between the eyes when you least want to hear it.
You’ve made that decision, moved ahead on that project, you’ve even invited your harshest critic in the press into your office for a picnic lunch with you, just you, to explain why you did it and why you need his/her/their help to get the word out there.
If you do good constituent work and your folks feel looked after, you can take practically any position you want.
10)Now, it’s time to remember that your constituent work is the most important work you can do. If you came into office as a policy wonk who was gonna reorganize the world or just your town, start with the problems in the neighborhoods that you can fix. If you do good constituent work and your folks feel looked after, you can take practically any position you want.
Here’s where your volunteer coordinator pays off as she wields the phones in your office with knowledgeable neighbors who can make sure everyone’s questions got answered, their problems got to the right person or the issues got reported to you and at least acknowledged-acknowledgement, it’s what everyone wants, what everyone needs.
If you got elected to an office with staff…
11)And one more thing. If you got elected to an office with staff, unlike, say, the school board (then see item 8) make sure to hire staff that complement you and each other. No, no, I don’t mean they say, “you must’ve lost weight, you look great,” nice though that is.
If you’re a wonky guy or gal, it’s tempting to hire a know-it-all just like you but don’t. Now you need that people person who remembers everyone’s name or at least is willing to chat folks up when you don’t feel like it. But if you’re a warm-hearted soul with no mind for details, then hire the wonky know-it-all to help you with complicated policy, don’t shy away from it because of your discomfort.
Remember not to make them mirror images of you.
Just make sure your office is well-rounded, yes the genders, ethnicities, and neighborhoods/districts should be considered first.Not only should your office reflect your constituents, it should reflect your potential constituents, but just remember not to make them mirror images of you. Too much of a good thing, etc..
Now, go out and make us all proud and don’t forget where you came from or you’ll be back there sooner than you think.