Opinion

Want to run for city council? Here's your chance | Roegner

Have you ever wanted to be on the Federal Way City Council? Then you may be in luck.

We wrote earlier that there may be an opening. Now there may even be two, and there is an outside chance at three.

The council positions held by Linda Kochmar, Jeanne Burbidge and Roger Freeman are up for election next year.

Kochmar and Freeman survived their primary races and are still in the running for a seat in the Legislature.

If either of them win, they would resign their seats, and the remaining city council members would appoint replacements from interested residents to complete the unexpired term. The appointees would have to run next year to retain the position. They wouldn’t have much of a head start and other citizens who are well organized might have a chance to win.

Also, we don’t know if Burbidge will run again. If she doesn’t, that becomes the third position available.

If you want to be appointed, then now is the time to update your resume in hopes of impressing the council members. City insiders are already talking about political alignments. Now is the time to start considering your options for the appointment if one becomes available, or for your campaign for public office if someone else is appointed.

And if Kochmar and Freeman are not elected to the Legislature, their council positions will still be up for election. At this point, we don’t know if they will run again.

A first-time candidate can’t afford to wait two more months to start planning. You can always stop if you don’t like your chances.

Campaigns look easy to outsiders who have never done it. Just print up some brochures and start ringing doorbells, right? Wrong. Campaigns are hard work, and they will both thrill and disappoint you. They will also teach you a lot about yourself. First-time candidates make a bundle of mistakes. So here are some basics.

Ask yourself: Why do I want to be on the council? What do I think needs to change or be improved? Is it economic development, parks, police? Do we need more attention from City Hall on downtown or in the neighborhoods? What are your ideas? What do you stand for and care about? Are you a Democrat or a Republican?

The city council is non-partisan, but in looking for support, you will need to clarify your views, and one of those groups may want to help you. Can you compromise, or is your ideology rigid? One council member alone can’t accomplish much without three other council members to agree with you. This self-reflection will start you toward developing a list of goals that will become your platform on why others should vote for you.

After your self-evaluation, go meet with others who have run for office, and also meet with city staff to learn how government actually operates. It may not be what you think it is. They will help you understand current policies.

Read the budget and the comprehensive land use plan. Find out about city services. Who does what?

As someone who was in government and now writes about it, I have learned it is difficult to take a candidate seriously when the candidate hasn’t done their homework. Prepare yourself.

Once you have defined who you are and why you want to run, then the work begins on the nuts and bolts of putting together a campaign.

First, and this is important, contact the Public Disclosure Commission and become familiar with the rules of becoming a candidate. A mistake can have embarrassing repercussions.

Then start making lists of the names and addresses of all the people you know. Start with friends, neighbors and relatives. Then look at the groups you belong to. Do you belong to the Chamber of Commerce, PTA, Rotary, Kiwanis, church or other groups? Check the public disclosure lists of others who have run for office. Look for names you know. Check your Christmas card list.

This effort will start to form your fundraising list. Unless you have a lot of money and can self-finance your election, you are going to have to raise money. Brochures, signs and newspaper ads are not cheap.

Speaking of which — those brochures that the candidates leave on your doorstep and you throw away? Look at them as samples for your own brochure. Plan to have a professional photographer take a formal picture that you can distribute to the media and other organizations. Also, take some pictures of activities you are involved with that tell the story of who you are.

Next, find about 10 friends who will help you. If you can’t find 10 friends who think you would make a great council member and are willing to work very hard putting up signs and doorbelling for you, then you should probably rethink this whole idea.

But assuming you can, then start planning with them. Start a list of well known people that you will ask to endorse you. If voters don’t know you, they will look to see who does. If they recognize names of people they know and respect, it will help you. Conversely, if they recognize the names of people they don’t like, it might hurt, so be careful who you ask.

Check the public disclosure forms of candidates from previous elections and find out what is typically spent on signs, brochures, newspaper ads and mailings. That will start your budget planning. But you should figure raising at least $10,000 to $15,000.

Get a calendar for 2013 and draw a circle around election day, then start planning backward from that date. Assign due dates and time frames for every single campaign function. Your announcement, filing, printing, mailing,sign distribution and replacement, community events to attend, and newspaper deadlines. If you are lucky enough to make it past the primary next year, remember to put on your schedule to take all your signs down before Halloween. Then put them back up and put some in different places. Also, add some extra signs. Signs tend to disappear around Halloween, and this extra work of taking them down will save money and time, since you have to replace missing ones anyway. By putting signs in new places and adding more, it will catch more attention, since after a period of time signs blend into the background.

Something you can do right now is drive around town and make a list of where candidates are placing their signs this year. It will save you time later.

Plan to doorbell the entire town at least three times. Doorbell in the spring to get residential sign locations for the fall. Voter lists by street address are available for purchase. Check the rules to become authorized to register voters, and carry the paperwork with you. If you run into someone who wants to become a voter, you can register them and they will remember you. In the fall, plan to doorbell almost every day from late afternoon until dark prior to the primary, and then again prior to the general election.

And yes, you have to stand on the corners of 320th Street and Pacific Highway and wave signs from 6 to 8 a.m. and again in the evening. In most cities, that isn’t important, but in Federal Way it is. Now you are starting to understand why you are going to need those 10 friends because you can’t be everywhere at once.

This is a 101 class in how to run for office. It is much more sophisticated, but this will give you enough to start thinking. Running for office, if done correctly, will consume a major part of your time for close to a year.

Remember, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Plan everything to maximize your time and assets.

It will become a sometimes frustrating endeavor, but enjoy the journey. Win or lose, it will be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.

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