Press Talk: Political perception class in session

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Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor emeritus. His column of personal opinion appears the first Saturday of every month. Reach him at lounews1@gmail.com.

Good morning, class. My name is Professor Brancaccio, and this semester we’ll be talking about the importance of political perception. Who would like to begin?

Steven, go ahead.

“Well, maybe it would be good to define perception first?”

Of course. Jimmy, would you like to take a shot at that?

“Sure, professor. Perception is being aware of something, not through facts but through what you feel. We all interpret what goes on around us. That’s just life.”

Very good. And since this course is titled political perception, is it relatively important in that arena? Danni?

“Well, I’d argue that money in politics is extremely vital, but perception is even more important. If voters perceive you’re wrong, all the money in the world won’t buy you a win.”

Well stated. OK, I’m looking for a good example of what we’ve been talking about here. Noodles?

“Ever since I signed up for this course, I’ve been thinking about something that has always bugged me. One of the swankiest buildings in Vancouver is the new City Hall. I mean, every time I walk by that joint, it irks me. That place is like a palace.

“But it gets worse, professor. Not only are our city officials in this super-nice building, they entered a contest to brag about it.”

OK. Fair enough. How does that play into political perception? Hannah?

“Well, I suppose because taxpayers had to pay for every penny of City Hall and virtually none of us live or work in a place half as nice… there’s a perception that elected officials are better than the rest of us. And those folks, particularly the elected officials, are supposed to be public servants. Instead, it feels like they’re lording over us.”

Well, that might be a bit strong, Hannah, but your point is well taken. Fernando, do you have something to add?

“I do. I was thinking after those elected officials had been in the new place for several years, residents were reluctantly accepting it, but entering this contest — which felt like they were bragging — dredged up all the bad karma.”

Yes, Steven?

“But what about what City Councilor Jack Burkman said? He was defending Vancouver’s gorgeous City Hall because the city got it at a bargain price after The Columbian had to give it up. And he says the city is actually saving money because it was able to give up a bunch of space it was renting to house its workers.”

Excellent point, Steven. Danni, thoughts?

“Focus, Steven, focus. This is a class about political perception. So even if it made good financial sense to purchase the new building, it made poor political sense because it’s simply too darned nice.”

Yes, Remi?

“Did you notice something else? There were two elected officials who were front-and-center promoting this best city hall contest: Burkman and Mayor Tim Leavitt. Does anyone know what they have in common?”

Go, Jimmy.

“I see what you’re getting at, Remi. Neither of them are running for re-election. Most of the other city councilors were pretty quiet.”

Great discussion, class! But how does one explain the countless residents out there who were supporting this contest? Many of them weren’t government employees. Noodles?

“I agree, that is a head-scratcher. I mean, my Facebook was filled with supporters when this contest was going on. Bright, shiny objects? I just don’t think they were thinking it through.”

The contest was supposedly all in good fun. Danni?

“It was but, again, bragging about how pretty our City Hall is, well, it’s not in good taste.”

OK, I should note Vancouver came in second in this contest. It was beat out by a classic old City Hall in Peoria, Ill. And we have just a couple of minutes before class is over. Any last thoughts? Fernando?

“You know we live in a great city. Anyone who just listened to Thursday’s State of the City address knows that. But let’s brag about great schools, great libraries, great parks, great roads and great service. Bragging about a great city hall? No thank you.”

Jimmy, ring the bell. Class dismissed.


Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor emeritus. His column appears the first Saturday of every month. Reach him at lounews1@gmail.com.