I ran for Fayetteville City Council thinking that 17 years working in the mayor’s office coupled with a half-dozen years covering local government as a newspaper reporter prepared me well for public service. It may have, but I landed smack in a four-way primary race in my council district and came out a disappointing third.
What did I learn? Looking back, I’ve got a list of things that stuck with me.
1. I learned people don’t follow the rules when it comes to campaigning. The incumbents were the first to put out signs along public roadways before they were supposed to. Now, weeks after the election, some of their signs still grace our community.
2. Candidates, especially some incumbents, make outrageous claims. My opponent listed a slew of items he personally accomplished. Others claimed that under their leadership, crime declined and jobs increased. That may have been true, but violent crime actually increased, and Fayetteville still ranks above the state average for unemployment.
Besides, any success or failure doesn’t hinge on one council member or even mayor. Anything that happens or doesn’t happen is a result of at least six votes, a simple majority.
3. A full-time job puts a crimp in campaigning. Having to go to work while your opponents can spend time contacting voters is frustrating. Newspapers, radio stations and other organizations demand your time, a lot of your time. You wonder if filling out the endless forms and surveys or attending functions that no one in your district attends helps. In most cases, they don’t. But you feel obligated because your opponent is participating.
4. Raising money is hard. Asking anyone for anything is especially hard for me. You have to swallow your pride and ask. People expect you to ask, but it’s still hard.
5. The financial reporting process imposed by the state Board of Elections is cumbersome and, in my opinion, intrusive. The deadlines to turn in financial reports come at inopportune times, mostly when you need to be out knocking on doors.
The folks at the county Board of Elections are great. They are helpful and friendly. If you have a Windows-based computer, there’s online software you can download to file your finances. If you have a Mac computer, you are out of luck. You have to download the files, print them out, fill them out and return them to the local Board of Elections. There, someone will stamp the front page and offer to make you a copy.
The report basically asks repetitious questions and intrudes into the privacy of the people who donate to your campaign. I suppose there’s a good reason for that.
Using downloadable paper version is a legal option. The newspaper tried to make an issue out of the incumbent mayor using the paper files.
6. You can’t do it by yourself. You need a team. While some who said they would help won’t be there when you need them, others step up and do a great job. Pick your supporters well.
7. Ignorant people can hurt you. In my case, a troll on social media suggested I caused the 2004 annexation of my district because I worked for the city at the time. Never mind that I never had a vote in the matter or that I was also a victim. Ironically, the only person involved in voting in favor of an annexation was my opponent.
8. Don’t assume just because you pay someone for a job that it will get done. Always check. I learned the hard way that you can’t leave important projects to someone else who has no stake in your success. I paid a local business to print and mail postcards to potential voters. They never were delivered on time and probably cost me critical votes.
9. Don’t respond to negative emails if you are tired, especially if you are reading them off a small smartphone screen. If you must respond, cool off and choose your words well.
10. Study the demographics of your voting district. People tend to vote for folks with whom they identify the most. Issues don’t come into play. But that’s obvious in this year’s election results.
There are probably more things I’ve learned, but these 10 are good for a start.