Camden: 8 simple rules for candidates for public office
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Last week marked the official start of campaign season. Would-be officeholders filed the paperwork and plunked down the fees for the political position of their choice, or perhaps their dreams.
Some of you know what you’re doing, some think you know what you’re doing and some haven’t a clue. Without placing any candidate into any category, each year at this time I offer candidates and their campaign staffs eight simple rules for survival through Election Day.
No whining. We congratulate winners and console losers, but we brook no whining, especially on things that come with the territory. That includes filing your Public Disclosure Commission reports on time, and online if that’s required. No lame excuses like “I’m not good with computers.” Shut up and join the 21st century.
Keep track of the money people give you. If you can’t add or subtract, hire somebody who can. Come to think of it, if you can’t add or subtract, what are you doing running for any office besides Congress? Watch deadlines, because your opponent will be calling us to rat you out if you don’t file on time. When that happens, see No. 1.
Have something to say. If your grand campaign plan consists of “children are our future,” don’t be surprised if someone stumps you with a question about your plans for taxes or budget deficits or highways or health care or crime or anything else voters expect you to handle, if elected. Don’t try to fake your way out of it with a line like “Great question. I’m studying it very closely, and expect to have a white paper soon.” If people then treat you like a doofus, see No. 1.
Know what the job entails. Candidates occasionally run for city council with a plan to swap the sales tax for an income tax, or for the Legislature with a call to bring home the troops. Cities don’t set state tax policy, and the Legislature can’t invoke the War Powers Act. If you’re passionate about an issue controlled by another office, run for that office. Otherwise, stick to the job you’re seeking.
Don’t say “I’m not a politician,” followed by some variation of “I’m just a concerned citizen who wants to do good things for the good people of this great community.” If you’re a candidate, you are by definition a politician. The term isn’t synonymous with terrorist or child molester.
NFUOASND. This is an old acronym in journalism; the G-rated version stands for “Never Foul Up On A Slow News Day.” Simply put, if you make a mistake in the morning and the MLK Day bomber is arrested in the afternoon, it’ll get a lot less coverage than if you mess up on a day when my editors have nothing interesting or salacious for the front page. How do you know it will be a slow news day? You don’t; to be safe, don’t mess up.
When you mess up, ’fess up. Everyone makes a mistake sometime, so admit yours and take your lumps. You prolong the story by insisting you did nothing wrong and unnamed somebodies out to get you hacked your Twitter account or misrouted your paperwork or mounted an elaborate conspiracy. (See No. 1.)
It’s called public office because there’s not much privacy. You ask the public to hire you for a job. Like most bosses, the public wants to know about you before putting you on the payroll and will check up on you afterward. If you don’t want to talk about how you make your money, don’t want to be harangued by people while standing in line at the supermarket, don’t want your divorce records combed through by an opponent, or in general don’t like people, that’s not a crime. Just don’t run for office. If you do, and you run into problems -- which you will -- see No. 1.