Where Have All the Candidates Gone?

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It is worrisome for City Councilmembers Keith Curry and Ed Selich to think that no one chose to run against them this year because the voters have so much confidence in their leadership.

It is also unsettling that Tony Petros, the unopposed candidate in departing Councilmember Steve Rosansky’s district, thinks that as well.

Of course the incumbent councilmembers would like to frame this in that way, and some of our citizens are indeed satisfied with the current leadership – but certainly not all.

The fact is that Curry and Selich are incumbents, and most people remember how dirty and awful their last election was, when Dolores Otting and myself ran for office. Who wants to volunteer for that kind of uphill battle?

What is concerning is that that complacent and self-serving assumption is the first that comes to their minds.

What would actually boost citizens’ confidence in them would be to hear that while they are unopposed for their final terms, they will fight to make our city a better place and pledge to the public that they will not become complacent and dismissive of public input just because they can.

There are many projects that the citizens have great interest in that will require the best thinking possible because they are expensive and they affect property values, business interests, and the enjoyment of the entire city.  Citizens’ input is crucial, and they have legitimate concerns, expertise, and ideas, which are needed in order to help craft a long-term strategy for optimal living and success of the city.  We need collaborative efforts among the city staff, the council and citizens to arrive at the best decisions on very important issues.

The perspective that there are no challengers because things are going so well shows a lack of critical thinking and grassroots understanding of the community.  We as citizens are hoping to see councilmembers who are determined to improve their leadership as they wind down in the next few years.  Many changes are coming, as the whole council will turn over in the next four years except for Councilmember Rush Hill, who was just elected in 2010 and would figure to get reelected as an incumbent.

But Mayor Nancy Gardner, and councilmember’s Mike Henn, and Leslie Daigle will be term-limited out in 2014, and Curry and Selich will finish in 2016.  There is much work to be done and much thought, planning, and assessment that needs to be conducted before final decisions are made on things like dock fees, the airport agreement, Marina Park, revitalization, enforcement of group home agreements, Sunset Ridge Park, Banning Ranch, and the use of the soon-to-be-former City Hall site – to name some but not all of the things that will affect our way of life and the future of our city.

Having been a candidate who faced off against an incumbent in ’08, I have some thoughts on why I believe that there are no challengers this time.  Elections, even at the City Council and school board levels, cost a great deal of money and they take a great amount of time and energy. They also now go ell beyond what I would call acceptable personal scrutiny – all for stepping up and giving people a choice.

Few people who run beat an incumbent.  Your life is turned upside down for a minimum of five months, as you meet the good, the bad, and sometimes the downright mean citizens on the campaign trail.  People seem to have lost a sense of democracy and civility in our community and country. You can call it politics, but not democracy.

Everyone who is qualified has a right to run and should be able to without being denigrated, have their house burglarized, be threatened, and have their signs torn down.

As far as the open seat having just one candidate, this is historic but there are plausible reasons.  Some of the things I enumerated above keep people from running even for an open seat, if there’s an establishment-backed candidate with a head start. There is also timing: the newly redrawn districts affecting who can run, and the City Council already having locked the city in to projects that are too late to stop but otherwise could have propelled some to run.

The job once won also takes a huge amount of time and commitment.  Our council members spend a great amount of their time on city issues as well as attending city events.  Citizens, if you want more choices for candidates you need to encourage, support, and treat with dignity those who step up to run, so that they have the chance to show you their leadership qualities, qualifications, and personal conduct, which is also crucial to finding and electing the best and the brightest to lead our city beyond this next four years.

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