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Jeff Ward: Don't Just Throw the Rascals Out! Replace Them!

Here are six steps to winning a local elected office.

In April, we discussed the most effective ways of . Those strategies included coming prepared, following Robert’s Rules, and sticking to your game plan as well as the facts. The gotcha game, which is most certainly in vogue, almost never works.

In May, we discussed the city hall that truly needed fighting: . Between Sheriff John Zaruba’s ride alongs, County Board Chair Dan Cronin’s sister’s patronage plum, and a judge who thinks it’s appropriate to aim an SUV at a 13-year-old jogger, one could certainly argue that it’s a target-rich environment.

But now it’s June, and inspired by a Downers Grove Patch Dan F. post-column comment, we’re gonna talk about what might well be the most effective way of changing local government: running for office yourself!

Because you can go ahead and align yourself with congressional nitwits like Joe Walsh until you’re blue in the face, but the truth is, unless you’re one of the 1 percent, those local taxing bodies will always take a far bigger chunk of your change than Washington ever will.

So while the scary black president has actually cut government spending and federal taxes, that recent bi-annual bill made you painfully aware that your are headed to the stratosphere. And as long as you insist upon re-electing those same old folks, that steep ascent ain’t about to change anytime soon.

To be clear, we’re only talking about anything below county chair, because reader Dan was right. Once you aspire to those loftier heights or higher, you either have to be a dynamic fundraiser or have the benefit of a healthy bank account.

But when it comes to the positions of precinct committeeman through county commissioner, I’ve seen a plethora of enterprising contenders rack up impressive victories without spending a penny of their own money.

And here’s how they did it:

1. Attend those township party meeting(s). Most candidates lose the race before they even start because they have no idea how important political infrastructure is. In these nascent days of abject voter apathy, you have to have troops who are willing to knock on doors, and that process always starts with the precinct committeemen.

No matter how small your campaign, you need an organization!

Local races often come down to a two-figure vote difference, so just one enterprising PC can mean the difference between a victory party and a concession speech.

Even if you’re facing off against the most dyed-in-the-wool incumbent, I guarantee you, there will be PCs who are looking for a change. Funny thing about incumbents—they tend to take those all-important worker bees for granted, which only opens the door for you to step right in.

2. Get your nominating petitions right. Rest assured, a savvy challenger will go over your nominating petitions with a fine-toothed comb. Since disqualifying your opponent is the easiest way to win, it happens all the time.

Most local elected offices don’t require many signatures, but no matter what the number is, your best defense against a challenge is to come in with four times that amount. For example, a Republican DuPage County Board candidate must currently come up with 189 valid voter signatures. The smart ones turned in 750.

As far as other petition particulars, it is the mission of each and every county clerk’s office to encourage folks to run and keep them on the ballot. If you have doubts, ask for help.

Honestly, if you can’t get your nominating petitions right, why the heck would anyone want to vote for you anyway?

3. Ya gotta have a message. If your favorite line is “I’m not the other guy,” then you will lose. Character assassination may work on the big stage, but it falls flat locally. Carefully craft your message and stick to it.

When state. Sen. Chris Lauzen in the Kane County GOP chairman primary, ; “Freeze the county property tax levy, treat people with respect, and honest, competent administration through innovation and austerity.”

With that amazing instrument we call the Internet, getting your message out has never been easier.

4. If you don’t have the money, then you better have the time. To quote a good political friend of mine, “Your time is more valuable than your money, because you can never get it back!”

Does having heavy campaign coffers help? You bet it does. But it isn’t everything. Perennial has spent well over $6 million to finally get a shot at the Illinois State Senate.

Talk about a lousy return on your investment.

You really don’t need cash to cover the basics. Knock on doors. Attend a VFW fish fry. Host a fundraiser for another candidate. Knock on doors. Attend every political function you can think of. Knock on doors. Challenge your opponent to a debate. Engage the community. Go to every township meeting.

Oh! And did I say knock on doors?

5. Engage the press. From personal experience, I can tell that very few local candidates ever figure this one out. Understaffed newspapers are dying for the stories to come to them.

Forget the press releases! We just make fun of them. Considering our email addresses accompany every piece of prose, coming up with a master reporter/columnist list is a piece of cake. Keep them just as informed as you would a business colleague. Make it personal. A little humor never hurts, either.

Call a reporter! Make time to talk to a columnist. Like anything else in this life, developing good press relationships takes time, but, trust me, the effort will turn out to be well worth your while.

Conversely, check your ego at the door. Do not make the mistake of getting into in a spitting match with someone who buys ink by the barrel. It will not end well for you.

6. It’s a process. Politics is always a marathon and never a sprint. Even if you lose the first round, the experience and ensuing name recognition will be worth their weight in gold when it comes time for round two.

If you do lose, do it with grace. Bitter doesn’t sell very well.

And don’t forget, these smaller gigs just might lead to bigger and better things.

So, there you have it! Money is not necessarily the key to local elections. Whether you’re thinking alderman, mayor or school board, sweat equity is much more important than cash. And if you’re willing to follow these six simple steps, who knows! Someday I may be writing about you!

Jeff Ward June 01, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Hey Dan! Thanks for the idea for this column! Jeff
James June 01, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Good stuff. What would be your Message Jeff?
ken loebel June 01, 2012 at 01:57 PM
I disagree with one point ... you do not need just a message... you need a plan... the person that comes out, lays out the plan clearly, and articulately, and demonstrates the crisi level that we are in nationally and brings it down to the local level - they will have the best chance. Watch Greece, Spain Italy, and now Germany. Woe to those who feel we are not effected or impacted. Double woe to those who think it can't happen to us. Look at the balance sheets, the income statements, and the trends. I think the messages are discounted as hogwash from anyone running these days, because there is such a lack of integrity in the process.Messages are glorified bait and switch lessons. The other thing you need is adeptness at social media and a willingness to take the plan straight to the people and bypass the deep-rooted elected officials. The people need to be engaged from day 1, and the other elected officials need to react to your ability to bring the people together in action packs- Working in committees to develop a horse always ends up developing a three legged cow that meows. We need action-oriented change agents, and thinking that is outside the box. And an engaged public that will be part of the action team for the duration, until the job gets done.
Jeff Ward June 01, 2012 at 02:05 PM
James, If I ever run it would be, "I will treat every last penny of your tax dollars as if it were my own." Thanks for asking! Jeff
Bob McQuillan June 01, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Jeff Great article and we do need good people willing to work hard and listen to taxpayers to run for local offices. The local offices control your property taxes. I would disagree with one point you make on #2. You don't need to file 4 times the required signatures. That is a game that is being played because candidates either don't get the signatures on their own or their "people" don't take the time to speak with registered voters and make sure their signature is valid. As one who has had their petitions challenged, if you do the work yourself, speak with the people actually signing your petitions and verify their information, you will defeat any challenge. You will be challenged though and it is a great learning process that you only want to go through once. To run for committee person you only need 10 signatures. If you can't find 10 people to sign your petition then you shouldn't be running. You are right in saying that the boots on the street are the committee people. Geneva has some excellent committee people are working hard to get the right people elected both locally and at the higher level. The bottom line though is that people need to take the time to do their research and then actually vote. Less than 20% of the registered voters are speaking for all of Kane County. Get out and vote, it only takes 15 minutes but makes the world of difference at the local level.
Jeff Ward June 01, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Bob, Thanks for the compliment. To clarify the four times the signature thing, if you come in with that massive overage, your opponent will take one look at your petition and walk away. It's a deterrent for them digging even further. And talking to the folks is not guarantee. Sometimes they don't even know their voter status. Jeff
James June 01, 2012 at 02:30 PM
How do you engage people that don't want to be engaged? Look at how many people vote... Or don't. When it comes to politics it seems to me most people are lazy followers. They don't want someone who is going to buck the trend and point out what's wrong. They want someone like Kevin burns who makes them feel good about voting for him and then gets drunk, cheats on his wife, runs people off the road and does nothing to solve the real issues.
Jeff Ward June 01, 2012 at 02:35 PM
James, That's where the PCs come in. They're the workers bees that knock on doors on election day and get people out to the polls. Or you can do it yourself. Take Aurora Kane County Board Member Ron Ford. Last election day - the primary - he went to every apartment building in his district, knocked on the doors and asked those folks to get out and vote for him, Considering he won by about 50 votes, that effort probably put him over the top. Jeff
Dan F. June 01, 2012 at 03:03 PM
You are welcome! It's amazing how stuck up, condescending, and self-righteous two bit tin horn politicians are. They should be made the butt of jokes and derision whenever possible, and run out of office as quickly as possible. Right now everything and everyone in the known universe says a Walgreen's Drug Store moving two blocks in Downers Grove is stupid and unwanted. Except for a couple of those two bit puffed up local politicians. Dan
Bob McQuillan June 01, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Jeff The petition signing thing is a big joke. I've watched people lay their petitions on an unmanned table at a large gathering and let everybody and anybody sign them. Then come back 2 hours later and pick the sheets up. That is a clear violation of the rules yet it happens everyday. If somebody does that, what do you think they are going to do when they get into office. They won't have a clue on the right way to run things and will owe everyone who had a sheet of petitions signed for them. Do it yourself or change the system. Throwing 1,000 signatures against the wall and seeing how many will stick doesn't mean you have any real support. It means you are too lazy to do it the right way.
Dennis C. Ryan June 02, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Jeff, great column. And Bob McQuillan's comments makes it even better because Bob writes from personal experience. Consolidated elections are coming in 2013. There are the so-called "non-partisan elections," where candidates run for positions on city councils, library boards and township governments. I say "so-called non-partisan'" because if everyone was truly non-partisan, they wouldn't have issues and wouldn't run for office. This is the time to begin searching for good candidates, and to lay the groundwork for their elections. Griping about your increasing property taxes but refusing to "get involved" only guarantees continued high taxes and no improvement in how your taxes are spent. Our governmental system is designed to be a participatory system, so JUMP IN !

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