It’s Just A Small Town Race For Mayor

NOTE: The following is me thinking out loud, organizing my thoughts, and a journal of sorts. This disclaimer is meant to serve as notice that none of the following thoughts are set in concrete. It’s all a learning experience.

My father is running for mayor of his small town for the 2nd time. I wasn’t involved much the first time other than getting a kick out of snagging a hat and a pen with his name on them.

This time my father asked me to help him. And while he truly has nothing but the well-being and survival of the little town he lives in at heart, he was also at a bit of a loss when I asked him just exactly what it was he wanted to accomplish.

I sat across from him in his living room and said “Why do you want to be mayor? Convince me to vote for you.” I made notes of what he said then and asked lots and lots of questions. 

The first time he ran he was facing an incumbent who got enough votes to avoid a run-off. People adjust and anyone proposing to change the status quo faces an uphill battle. Thus, incumbents have an advantage.

This time, there is no incumbent running and there were four people asking the voters to give them the job. Oh wait… because I am totally biased let me rephrase that – there were three people asking for the POSITION and one asking for the job.

To be completely honest, one of those three who asked for the position is thoroughly naive, well-meaning, and would probably have performed decently, if with less competence than needed. I told my Dad several times that if he didn’t win, I hoped this man did.   

Out of the four, my Dad got the most votes – around 38% – but not enough to avoid a run-off with the guy who got around 22% of the vote.

Thus, 40% of the original vote is theoretically up for grabs.  

Let’s backtrack to my question to my Dad: why do you want to be mayor? His first answers were truly political. “I can do a better job.” “I’m more qualified than the other candidates.” “I have experience.”

But… after some not completely pleasant conversations it boiled down to “I want to, and know how to, fix the water, drainage, and street problems.”

AHA! I can work with that. Everybody in town wants those problems solved, so all the candidate has to do is convince the voters that he knows how to and can fix them. Now that we’ve identified the problem to be solved, all I’ve got to do is convince the voters that all those “political” answers are true. This candidate is more qualified, experienced, and can do a better job than the others.

Those issues are also indisputably something local government should be concerned with. 

One of the candidates that did not make the run-off presented himself as a union-affiliated progressive with some (rather unrelated) experience. The other presented himself as more or less a blank slate with limited, but possibly more leadership-related experience. The two in the run-off are more equally matched — neither are progressives or blank slates. They both have experience, though one of them (not my father) also has an easily identifiable financial interest in one aspect of city services.

The two candidates that most prominently campaigned on the city acting to change something are my father and the progressive. Obviously, the greater number of voters think basic infrastructure is the area where action is needed vs. the other’s idea of getting federal grants for beautification. (Of course, I’m not biased… what makes you think that?)

The progressive didn’t make the run-off. My father’s competition in the run-off does have some experience but is unfocused.

As one of the unofficial campaign managers for my father, I’m rather flummoxed on how to appeal to those who voted for the two candidates that didn’t make the run-off.  At the same time, I am thinking that if those who voted for my father show up again, that will be enough.

So… the run-off campaign is more complicated. How do I motivate those who originally voted for my father to turn out again? How do I motivate those who voted for the candidates who didn’t make the run-off to vote for my father instead of his opponent?

The other unofficial campaign manager got unilaterally vetoed on the issue of ever mentioning an opponent in the general election. All the campaign materials focused on the issues of water/drainage/streets and the knowledge/experience to fix those problems.

My gut instinct is to continue that focus. The other unofficial campaign manager is suggesting “politeness” in asking specifically the voters who voted for the two losing candidates for their votes, while thanking those who voted for my father and suggesting that those who voted for his run-off opponent vote “as they wish”.

Can we say “wimpy”? Of course we can. But is that right? Maybe it is gracious instead.

I should also say that I think my father’s success was mostly due to his and his supporters going door to door asking for votes. That tactic really has little to do with issues. Neither of us unofficial campaign managers had anything at all to do with that. (We’re both recluses.) Our focus was on newspaper ads and printed campaign material. AND on getting the candidate to present a coherent and easily repeated message. Oh wait… that was just me.

Bottom line for my father is that my method wins because I’m the only one of his unofficial campaign managers that will provide him with ad copy and campaign materials that he can actually use.

But… I worry that I’m wrong in my methods and way of political thinking. Perhaps my opposing (though less mechanically capable) unofficial campaign manager is right. Are appearances… politeness (in politics???) and personalities more important than issues?

The one thing both unofficial campaign managers agree on is that our candidate would serve the interests of this small town best. He has nothing to personally gain by winning. His status is secure. So is that of his family. And, since it’s a small town, it should be noted that family status is secure regardless which of the two run-off candidates win. It’s not that they are related, but it’s not that they are not unrelated either. If you don’t understand that, you are  not from a small town!

To me, that’s simply one more reason not to mention the other candidate in any campaign materials.

On a purely personal level, I wish my father had never entered this race. I figure he’s got another 10-13 years to live and I selfishly want him spending that time leisurely with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

On the other hand, he wants to do this. He asked for my help. I’ve got to give him my best… and hope that what I think is best (if he agrees) will win. Because he wants to win, I do to.

6 thoughts on “It’s Just A Small Town Race For Mayor

  1. They are equally available, just not equally experienced or capable. And no… I’m not biased! Why do you ask?

    We got it figured out, I think, and the campaign is moving ahead.

  2. Not knowing the particular town, wondering how to win over the voters who voted for the other guys? It’s like the struggle for the hearts and minds of the independent voters that both major political parties engage in at the larger national level. You have the strong regular supporters. Then those you have to woo. The basics, your dad’s issues were right. They won, after all. But might add some emotional appeal to draw in those who voted for the others so that they could say face-savingly to themselves “Oh, I would have voted for him all along, had I realized this…” Of course a lot depends on the size of the town, and how long everyone has lived there. If everyone was born there, and it’s a choice between candidates everyone has known since they were in grade school, it’s tougher. People already have a reputation, and are known. But, for example, if your dad has lived there longer than the others, and that’s why he is so adamant about the infrastructure improvements, you have an edge. Can say: “My family have weathered hurricanes, developers, yuppies, whatevers and we want to keep all our houses dry, and our street driveable and our drinking water safe (can you tell I can relate? I live in a house and a neighborhood where flooding and water etc are BIG issues and the local politicians usually want to gloss over them as not sexy). Also, where I live, it’s risky taking federal money for anything as it always comes with strings attached that local communities often don’t like. Perhaps if you get federal bucks for beautification, the town may have to do something or provide something else that people wouldn’t like.

    He’s lucky to have you to advise him.

    Around here local elections are mostly about emotions and people’s perceptions of economic self interest. So issues get pretty short shrift. This drove my spouse nuts when the richest people in our area effectively killed proposals for long term flood protection for houses, etc. Because the rich people’s houses were too expensive to have been covered, they claimed that nobody’s houses flooded so there was no need for the program. And the rich had the ear of our town movers and shakers. But my point is that if it had been decided on the basis of issues, people would have taken the Corps of Engineers’ advice and put in the measures to protect the houses.

    I hope your dad wins!

  3. Congrats for your dad! I’m sure he owes it all to you!

    So…now that it’s over…what do you think was the most important thing that helped him?

Comments are closed.