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And now for the negative campaigning

Thu, Jan 6, 2011

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As of 11:10 a.m. this morning, there were 11 declared candidates for City Council and 10 mayoral aspirants.

For Council at Large: Merv Bennett, Tony Carpenter, Wade Exum, Tim Leigh, Dan Reifschneider and Brandy Williams.

For Council District 2: Larry Bagley, Angela Dougan, and Michael Terry.

For Council District 3: Lisa Czeladtko, Michael Merrifield.

For mayor: Steve Bach, Brian Bahr, Martin Belknap, Mitch Christiansen, Kenneth Paul Duncan, Buddy Gilmore, Phil MacDonald, Dave Munger, Kelley Pero-Luckhurst, and Richard Skorman.

Those numbers will grow, as potential candidates such as Sean Paige and Tom Gallagher declare their intentions.

As one seasoned political observer noted last night at a newly opened downtown watering hole,

“John, this is not exactly the city’s A-team.”

Maybe so. But let’s remember that city council, especially since city voters stripped away most of that body’s powers, is not the U.S. Senate. It’s the first stop on the political subway.

And where did all that power go? To the Mayor’s office. Are there any qualified candidates? Yes, but are any of them capable of uniting our fractious city, bringing fiscal order to voter-inspired chaos, and leading the city to a sustainable future?

I don’t know. I haven’t met all of the candidates, but I have great respect for Bach, Gilmore, Munger and Skorman. In a less contentious, less challenging environment any of the four could and would govern effectively and well.

City campaigns, which are non-partisan by law, have usually been fairly relaxed affairs, free of the vicious character assassination and negative campaigning that characterized last November’s election. I doubt whether such gentlemanly behavior will continue this time around, because the stakes or too high.

To be the city’s first strong mayor! That’s a prize worth fighting for, and every interest group, every power player, and every politically active resident of the community will want to be heard. And this is still politics – if you want your preferred candidate to win, give him/her money and time. And if you’re running, remember that nice guys finish last. You can have all kinds of great ideas and plans but, as former state senator/hard rock miner Ken Chlouber once said to an aspiring candidate, “You got some great ideas, but if don’t git elected then you don’t git to govern.”

The negativity has already begun. Scurrilous emails come in anonymously, accusing one candidate of abusing his spouse forty years ago, another of paying workers under the table so they could double-dip and draw government benefits. It’ll get worse.

Soon enough, we’ll get the flyers in the mail, sent by anonymous groups calling themselves “Citizens for Clean Government” or something of the sort. They’ll make smarmy allegations against whomever they’re targeting, trying to convince us that he/she ought to be in jail, not in the Mayor’s office.

And suppose there’s a runoff? Will the last two proceed decorously, or will the gloves really come off?

My guess is that it’ll be a notably tough and nasty campaign. The winner may enter office despised by a substantial minority of city voters, who will regard him with angry suspicion. That’s not exactly a recipe for moving forward, is it?
So here’s a suggestion.

Let’s ask every Mayoral candidate to refrain from negative campaigning and to sign a pledge to that effect. Let’s further ask that they accept no third-party ‘help’ from 527s or any of the shadowy special interest money conduits that made last Novembers elections so vicious. We all know that politics is a tough game, but so is boxing – so no hitting below the waist.

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