Fayetteville municipal candidates and voters have recently slogged through another election cycle, an odd one because it was pushed back from fall 2021 by delayed U.S. Census data.
The incumbent mayor was handily re-elected, and an incumbent council member posted an astounding almost 70-percentage point win over his challenger. With the election over, Fayetteville’s elected officials can now settle into the business of guiding the city. Election peculiarities and individual candidates aside, it is worth remembering running for any elective office is a leap of faith.
It takes courage to put yourself into the public arena to be publicly evaluated and openly criticized.
Cynics might also say it takes a large ego to believe you are not only capable but should make decisions regarding the lives and fortunes of your fellow citizens.
Cynics might add that being in the political spotlight attracts some candidates, and not always for the right reasons.
It is not easy to run for elective office. It requires a great deal of time, often taking candidates away from their careers and their families.
People who have run for office and those who serve in elective positions at all levels of government tell stories of special occasions missed and personal relationships strained.
Running for office and serving in one can also be financially difficult as it takes time away from careers and businesses.
Candidates and elected officials often find themselves torn between campaigning and the responsibilities of their offices and their own work and personal obligations.
Running for elective office is also expensive. Candidates for office in a city the size of Fayetteville will almost inevitably use paid media to get their messages across to the thousands of registered voters eligible to cast ballots in municipal contests. These expenditures run from relatively modest sums for palm cards to be given to voters to vastly more expensive mailers, radio and television spots, and, increasingly, various social media ads.
A few lucky candidates have both the means and the will to fund their own campaigns, but the majority will raise campaign dollars from family, friends and supporters.
Significant time and effort are required to make campaign fundraising successful enough to run a competitive campaign, and the financial ask itself can be a humbling experience for candidates who cannot promise the donor any return other than “representing you with integrity.”
So, why do some people decide to “stand for election” when the road is clearly arduous and the elective work itself held in such low public esteem.
A zillion years ago when I first ran for public office, a friend asked me “why on earth I wanted to be ‘with those people?’”
The answer for me was that I genuinely believed that I could represent my community more responsibly than the incumbent and that the opportunity arose at a point in my life when I was able to mount a campaign.
I suspect most of the candidates in Fayetteville’s municipal elections last month would tell us much the same.
That said, voters themselves merit some attention and some criticism. Only about 12 in every 100 voters registered in Fayetteville bestirred themselves to vote in July’s municipal elections, a humiliating reflection on the city’s electorate.
If some of our fellow citizens are willing to serve in elective office and put themselves out for months, if not years, of public scrutiny and occasionally apocalyptic public criticism, the least we can do is give them a thumbs up — or down.