With a dozen candidates vying for five seats on the City Council, the choices are particularly difficult. Voters have told me various strategies they use, from spreading out all the campaign literature on the dining room table to assess each candidate or attending forums and deciding who not to support to see who’s left at the end. Having served on many different types of “boards,” here are my three suggestions:
- Consider both the individual and the team. Too often, voters select the best individuals but don’t consider the team as well. But that doesn’t make sense–for a baseball team, you don’t want five great pitchers. Instead, look for a diversity of skills and perspectives that complement each other, rather than duplicate. Everyone measures diversity in different ways, but in city elections it’s often based on age, sex, ethnicity, and neighborhood–and usually not political party or along conservative/liberal lines.
- Be sure they get along and play well together, both in good times and bad. It’s easy to work as a team when you agree, but what happens when you don’t? Do they think they’re the smartest person in the room, thus are unwilling to listen to others? Or does he or she consider others’ ideas and are even willing to change his or her mind? Do they help or hinder decision-making? Do they insult others, show disrespect, make unfounded accusations, refuse to participate, ignore others, make speeches rather than discuss, harbor grudges, or keep beating a dead horse? If they are having difficulty working with others, is it because they are truly creative or are a thoughtful advocate for a justified cause, or are they just a pain in the neck?
- Match the skills with the job. Every board faces a different set of issues, which will eventually change with time. All the candidates may be qualified and experienced, but do they have the right ones for the issues facing the city today? For the next few years, it’s going to be about finances, so choose a majority of candidates who really understand the budget and financial management. In the next election, it may be about zoning or affordable housing or traffic.
If there’s any consolation, remember it is a team of five people that makes decisions on City Council, not just one person (which is among the reasons I’m opposed to the “strong mayor” form of government). It takes three people to make a decision and they can override the others if they’re crazy or uncooperative (but it’s not fun or easy).
The choices will be difficult, and the candidates will all disagree on the best Mayor and Council. But they all agree that it’s crucial that we vote–it’s a right that many people in other countries do not have. Best wishes for marking your ballots on Tuesday (and remember, you can register to vote AND vote the same day at City Hall!).