The City of Rockville will hold its elections for its Mayor and Council on November 3, 2015. Not only is every seat up for grabs, but terms double from two to four years. Although this City Council has been less divisive than in previous years, there is tension and disagreement both over style and substance, roles and responsibilities. This year will draw new and familiar candidates, including several incumbents, to the election but we won’t know exactly who’s in or out until Friday, September 4, when the petitions for candidacy are due to City Hall.
Nevertheless, things are already heating up now that the election is three months away. Brigitta Mullican has regularly mentioned she’s a candidate at City Council meetings during Citizens Forum, Beryl Feinberg announced in July, Richard Gottfried held a campaign kickoff last week, and Julie Palakovich Carr has been walking neighborhoods (although she’s not officially announced). August is typically very quiet but here are some suggestions if you’re considering a run:
1. Attend the City Council meeting on Monday, August 3. It’s the last one before summer recess and you need to see what it’s like (the next meeting is September 21). Watching it on tv is nice, but it’s not the same as being in the Council Chambers. Not only does it give you a better sense of what it’s like to sit attentively for 3-6 hours working on government business (this job requires endurance), but you can also observe how council members treat each other, staff, and the public (used to be lots of eye-rolling and harumphing that’s not caught on camera) as well as a sense of some of the community leaders. I predict there will be fireworks because of Mayor Newton made a recommendation on the Confederate statue to County Executive Leggett without discussing it with the full Council, so it may be an atypical meeting (for more details, see “Civil War Skirmish in Rockville” at TheSeventhState.com). If you intend to run, it’s often a tradition that you introduce yourself during Citizens’ Forum and announce your candidacy. It’s also an opportunity to test yourself to see how well you handle yourself in public and in front of potential opponents and colleagues.
2. Assemble your petition for candidacy. Carefully read all of the instructions and regulations regarding elections in Rockville. They apply not only to you, but your campaign volunteers and supporters. You can easily embarrass yourself by not placing campaign identification on your literature or posting yard signs in the wrong place. Your opponents will publicly point out your mistakes, especially as November approaches, so don’t take chances. The big hurdle for August is collecting 100 signatures of registered voters and there are several ways to do it, some better than others:
- Collect signatures from friends and supporters. This is very comfortable because you’re talking with people you know and they will sign your petition without hesitation. You can collect signatures by driving all around town to collect signatures at their home or have them all come to a party at your house. But are they all registered to vote? Do you know 100 people? You may quickly discover you have to take another route.
- Collect signatures where there are a lot of people in Rockville, such as Metro station or a grocery store. This is one of the least effective ways because many of the people who are willing to sign are NOT registered to vote in Rockville. You will have to collect two to three times the minimum to ensure you have 100 signatures. Don’t use this method; it’s a waste of time.
- Go to the homes of registered voters in your neighborhood. This is the fastest and most effective way to collect signatures, plus you get meet voters who don’t know you (if you hate doing this, running for office may not be the right job for you). Every time you meet a voter, you significantly increase your chances of obtaining their vote. Get a list of registered voters from the Montgomery County Board of Elections and ask them to include voting records for the last three Rockville City Council elections (2009, 2011, 2013) (more about this later). You’ll have to pay a processing fee for this list (save your receipt for your campaign finance reports!). The list will be a spreadsheet with lots of information about each registered voter. Sort it by street address and locate the homes near you. Walk or drive to those homes only and ask for the registered voter by name (you don’t want to get a signature from whomever answers the door–they may not be a registered voter). Remember, you’re asking for their help to get on the ballot, not support you as a candidate, although they may ask why you’re running. After they sign, doublecheck to be sure the name on your petition matches the list of registered voters, otherwise they have a chance of getting disqualified.
No matter what, collect at least 10 percent more than you need because some names will be disqualified or may not be sufficiently legible to be qualified. If you’re worried, turn in your petition several days before the deadline so that you have time to collect additional signatures in case you run short.
3. Develop your knowledge about the City and identify 2-3 issues that matter. You’ll want to become familiar with the structure of the city (it’s a City Manager form of government; the mayor is not the chief executive and only three employees report to the City Council), the budget and finances, and major boards and commissions. The City provides all candidates with a one-day orientation in September, but you’ll want to prepare far ahead. Secondly, you’ll want to become familiar with the hot button issues. You can learn about them by watching City Council meetings; reading local newspapers, magazines, and blogs (especially the comments); joining listservs for various neighborhoods; and talking with voters (that’s where walking precincts is helpful). Be aware that issues are unpredictable, can be manipulated (especially as the election pressure gauge rises), and quickly evaporate. Remember the big debates about trash pickup, Red Gate golf course, or chickens? A few people kept up the beat on these issues but then they quickly disappeared once the decision was made or a solution determined. That’s why you’ll want two or three issues in case one of them fails to engage voters. And I hate to say this, most voters have very short memories and know very little about local government (you’ll encounter this when you walk precincts and people get the roles of national, state, county, and city governments confused)–but that’s because most of the time, local government operates pretty well and there’s very little news about it.
4. Develop a web site for your campaign. It’s free and easy if you use WordPress and you’ll quickly learn that you need to be concise and clear. Keep it free of clutter and test it with some friends. You can keep it private until you’re ready to launch your campaign. Don’t view it as a recruiting tool but a place where people can get more information about you and your values. A blog? Facebook? Twitter? Don’t do it unless you have the capacity to maintain it and keep it current. There’s nothing worse than a blog that’s visited in November whose last posting was in September. A website doesn’t have to be static–you can update the home page or add pages as needed. Advertising on social media is a different issue.
Why am I sharing these tips? After managing several local campaigns and running for office, I discovered how difficult it is to attract good candidates to run for office and how the campaigning process can be a greater deterrent to good candidates than bad ones. I’m trying to level the playing field. Because I can’t work on every campaign that deserves to win, I can at least share some of the things I learned. More postings coming up as the election date nears.