According to the usual unreliable sources, some of our self-appointed leaders are trying to construct a slate of “appropriate” candidates who, fueled with money and credentials, will sweep into office and replace our present demoralized, delegitimized, and disrespected elected officials.
A new day will dawn! A united community will stand up, as a new council heals the city’s wounds, fixes the budget, waters the parks, re-opens the community centers and exiles Douglas Bruce to Patagonia! Taxes will go down, services will multiply, and we’ll have the city of our dreams!
During every city election since the late 1970’s, community-minded coalitions of progressive business leaders, neighborhood advocates, and concerned residents have tried to create such slates. They’ve never worked, because successful candidates are driven as much by ego and ambition as by their desire to serve the community.
Serving on city council is demanding, exasperating, time-consuming and essentially unpaid. You receive a princely stipend of — hold your breath –$6,250 annually.
For that, you’re expected to attend endless meetings, smile cheerfully as you’re berated by the public and the media and spend your evenings attending events that as a private citizen you would pay to avoid.
Being civic-spirited only gets you so far with this gig — so what do you fall back on?
The ego bath of instant celebrity.
The day after I was first elected to Council a couple of decades ago, there were dozens of messages in my voice mailbox. Many were from prominent folks who, before the election, hadn’t bothered to return my calls or deign to notice my existence on the planet. And here they were — friendly, encouraging, congratulatory and ready to help me solve the problems of the day.
Unlike the callers, I had done nothing worthy of big shotdom, other than winning an election. I had started no business of note, written no substantial volume, developed no subdivision, commanded no battalion, argued no cases, led no non-profit, served on no powerful board.
There are no seats at the table of power for hopeful candidates, or opinionated nobodies — but to be an elected official is to have a reserved seat at that table. People who have real power might believe you to be a moron, but your position means that you can either thwart or advance projects that are important to them. Such folks are careful to maintain cordial relationships with councilmembers, if only to be assured that they’ll be treated fairly.
This isn’t Chicago — no one ever offered me a bribe, or intimated that my personal interests would be served if I voted their way. What they offered was respect, prestige and the illusion of leadership and power.
I had chosen to run for office for two reasons. I thought that I could do the job, and I was mad, mad, mad at the incumbents!
They had fatally disrespected me by refusing to appoint me to the park board a year earlier. There were eight applicants for seven positions, and I was the only one who didn’t make it — so I’d show ‘em!!!
Petty and small-minded? You bet.
I was faintly ashamed of myself, but after the election I shared my disreputable secret with one of my colleagues, a newbie as well.
“That’s why I ran,” she said with a satisfied smile, “I applied for the Planning Commission, and they appointed this idiotic man instead — so I decided to run for Council.”
Secure, successful people rarely run for elected office. They don’t need to have their egos massaged, and they have better things to do than sit through eight-hour meetings that accomplish nothing.
Alas, elected officials tend to fall into at least one of these categories:
Retired and bored.
Resentful about imagined slights.
Narcissistic and delusional.
Convinced that they can make a difference, despite evidence to the contrary.
It seems doubtful that well-intentioned folk such as former police chief/city manager Lorne Kramer will be able to recruit real community leaders to run for council. He’ll have to settle for wannabes, would-be elected officials who actually want the job. And once they’re elected … who let the dogs out??!!
They won’t care what their mentors say — they’re the big shots now. No more kowtowing to the powerful — they’re the powerful! And in a few months, we’ll be back where we started.
Here’s your new Council, same as the old Council: quarrelsome, egotistical, sure of its own wisdom, ready to listen to persuasive snake-oil salesmen, and always focused, as Reggie Jackson once put it, upon “the magnificence of me.”
So perhaps Kramer should persuade some aging lions to run, such as former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, Richard Skorman, Tahiti Ted Eastburn and Jim Null — the wise, the experienced, the truly civic–minded.
And I’d consent to run as well.
Because I’d really like to have my calls returned …
John Hazlehurst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 227-5861.