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A Pragmatist's Take

By Douglas Moran

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About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

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Supporting a candidate for Council: Not too early to start

Uploaded: Jan 6, 2014
There has been much talk about having Council members from outside the political establishment, and the policies and attitudes that that group represents. Although the election is 10 months away, this is when the serious considerations typically begin--the reporters have already started calling around.

Although the public campaigning doesn't begin until after Labor Day, putting together a campaign committee isn't trivial. Even established political figures, with their networks and experience, tend to start no latter than May or June.

Insurgent candidates need to start much earlier: Finding and shaking out the core campaign team works best when the campaign is not on deadline.

The extended campaign team is just as crucial to victory. Although it doesn't need to be organized as early, potential candidates try to get a sense of whether they have enough early support to have confidence that such a team will coalesce. What they need to hear is that people are willing to work for their election. But if people are simply telling them that they should run, or that they would vote for them, the wise choice is to not run.

Many people shy away from participating in local campaigns because of various misconceptions. They don't think that they have the skills needed because they think only of the highest profile aspects of campaigning. And they badly underestimate the total amount of work, and the number of volunteers, needed.
Aside: In the 2012 Presidential campaign, Obama's victory was widely attributed to his having a far superior "ground game"--more local volunteers and better use of their efforts.

At the simplest level of participation in a campaign is old-fashioned social/political networking. Most of the electorate decides who to vote for based on relatively little information (a fact, not for discussion here). Although information from friends-and-family is among the most influential (foot#1), many people who have become knowledgeable about the issues and candidates are understandably reluctant to pass it on until they know how it will be received. If you start now, you can gauge who is interested in what, for example, starting with an offhand comment that requires no response, and if they display interest, moving on in subsequent encounters to progressively more substantive exchanges.

The next stage up is holding a "coffee". This involves inviting friends and neighbors to your house to meet a candidate or group of candidates in an informal interactive setting. While the coffees happen in September and October, earlier commitments help.

If you want to participate on a candidate's campaign committee, but don't feel comfortable discussing the issues with strangers, that can be a real advantage: That is where there is often the biggest need, and the shortest supply. For example, there are a range of tasks needing the detail-oriented aptitudes, attitudes and skills, such as you find among people who are/were administrative assistants or engineers in their professional lives. The crucial role of Treasurer requires a major commitment, but there are others, such as managing the distribution and installation of lawn signs which have time commitments that are both lower and more flexible.

Similarly, skilled IT people are much needed: for the web site, for the various social media, for mass emails. Campaigns need people not just to manage the technical details, but to customize the content to the culture and conventions of the specific media.

And there are tasks such as distributing campaign literature to doorsteps that involve no special skills, simply a willingness to invest a couple of hours on a day or two.

Many of the campaigns I have seen are dominated by people whose experience is in smaller organizations where there is a lot of direct contact between people. They have no intuition of the problems with reaching the many thousands of voters needed to win. Consequently, their plans seem more suited to an electorate of a few hundred voters. People with experience scaling-up to this level, such as those with professional backgrounds in marketing and sales, can be valuable to campaigns. (foot#2)

A piece such as this should end with instructions of whom to contact if you are interested. But I don't have any such list (yet). Rather, this is to help people who are interested in supporting insurgent candidates to start thinking about how they could participate, and to be on the lookout for what will likely be happening in the next month or two.

---- Footnotes ----

1. Friends-and-Family as important information sources: From surveys conducted after the 2009 Council election (results) and the 2007 School Board and Council election (results).

2. "value to campaigns": Valuable, yes; appreciated, maybe. Remember that this being Palo Alto, there are people who believe that their sheer brilliance obviates the value of your experience and knowledge. If this is the case, recognize it and walk away. Life is too short.

The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 6, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Great start to start thinking and talking now.

We need to have a proper election for both CC and PAUSD. We need a good pool of candidates and some great individuals to step forward.

Thanks for starting the discussion and perhaps pushing some individuals in the right direction. Tim Gray, hope you are in the race again.

Posted by just saying, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 6, 2014 at 10:21 pm

We citizens need to change the City Charter through initiative to make council positions paid positions, representing districts across the city, and to pay for it by having the new full-time councilmembers eliminate redundant positions. This should be done PRIOR to an election, not with existing Councilmembers, in order to encourage ordinary people who aren't independently wealthy to serve.

Palo Alto is a big enough place now that having essentially volunteer Councilmembers means mostly wealthy people with their own agendas are "serving", hence the giveaway of Palo Alto to developers.

Posted by aresident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Douglas Moran,

Thank you for writing about this important topic.

Do you have any insight into how the City Charter gets changed to make councl positions paid?

I agree with @just saying, but how could this be done now? before getting into the same ole same ole elections.

People would be much more serious about selecting a paid position.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "aresident" on making Council a paid position:
I would argue that it is premature to focus on the actual mechanics of the change. Rather the early focus should be on the politics: Generating support first for the concept and then for a more detailed proposal (for example, how much pay? Is pay hourly or monthly?). Then you decide whether to push to have Council sponsor the change or have a voter petition to put it on the ballot.

Posted by BeenThere, a resident of another community,
on Jan 11, 2014 at 3:27 pm

"Remember that this being Palo Alto, there are people who believe that their sheer brilliance obviates the value of your experience and knowledge. If this is the case, recognize it and walk away. Life is too short."

AMEN to that!

Posted by YouShouldRun, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 17, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Doug - we need good candidates, this year more than most. Any chance you'll run yourself?

How about establishing a search committee to draft some strong candidates?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jan 17, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

No chance I will run for Council. I attempted to run in 2005 and didn't even get out of the starting gate. The intervening years have confirmed that I wouldn't be a good candidate.

I hope that by providing a framework on various issues that I can help others run issue-oriented campaigns (no specific candidates in mind).

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