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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, August 22, 2019 1:00 am

A running start

Council candidate eager to see others take on civic responsibilities

Patti Hays

The first “political” memory I have was seeing JFK drive through our little town of Canfield, Ohio. In our family, there were more children than parents' shoulders, so it was a stranger who gave me the view of a waving man as the convertible slowly drove through town. It was likely the energy of the crowd rather than my knowledge of who he was that boosted my heart rate, but there was something that inspired me that day.

I am now running for Fort Wayne City Council 4th District.

What does it take to transform a fleeting interest in a candidate to the commitment of actually running for office oneself? I have heard “Thank you for running” equally mixed with “Why would you want to do that?” when I tell others of my candidacy.

During my 29 years in Fort Wayne, there have been too many uncontested races in local and state elections. Happily, this year there were contested races for both parties in the primary for the 4th District, and in November voters will have a choice in all but one of the nine races for Fort Wayne City Council.

Why don't more people run? There are a variety of reasons.

• People don't know what the job entails. I have been knocking on doors in the Waynedale and Aboite areas for weeks. Most people I talk with do not know which district they live in and they cannot name their City Council representative. (Tom Didier, you were named twice in one block!) When I ask voters what their issues and concerns are relative to City Council, many do not know the role of the council.

What is their job?

They are responsible for the appropriation of all money spent on behalf of city taxpayers. They approve the city budget that funds fire and police protection. They approve (or deny) the distribution of the Legacy Fund that helps support Promenade Park, The Landing and Electric Works. They approve or deny planning and zoning recommendations from staff. The budget funds sidewalks, parks, animal control and supports libraries. From the first flush in the morning to putting the trash out at night, sewer and trash are also their responsibility.

• Money.

It takes money to run a successful campaign – or even an unsuccessful one. Signs, direct-mail pieces, websites, photographs, logo designs and stationery all cost money. It takes a network to raise the $30,000 or double that for a City Council race. The mayor's race this year will see that number increased by many multiples. That need to raise money in and of itself scares away many qualified candidates.

• Campaigning is not for the faint of heart. Besides the dedicated hours of fundraising and canvassing, the candidate must be prepared for personal attack.

A successful candidate is one who can differentiate herself from the opponent and identify the issues that resonate with voters. This differentiation can come at a personal risk. Is your social media free of any photos or messages that are unflattering or divisive? Are your personal finances without a blemish? What about those of your children and spouse?

While it's important to ensure candidates are qualified and have no personal issues that would be a barrier to their ability to serve, a candidate must be prepared for the worst. Some candidates have been known to exaggerate or fabricate an opponent's background. The tighter the race, the more likely those fabrications and false attacks will be used. If we want more good people to run for office, we must call out mudslinging.

We must also get out and support those who would consider the role of public servant. For some, that means volunteering or making a campaign contribution. It can be sharing social media networks, providing introductions to other potential supporters or writing a letter to the editor. All of these are valuable, but the best support is your vote.

Early voting will start in October, just weeks away. Who is your City Councilman (yes, it is a man at this point)? What role has he played in the growth of the city? Is he an advocate for your neighborhood? Is he welcoming to new ideas and to your perspective? Did he work with others to approve the budget? Did he vote to use funds for the growth of the city and to improve the quality of life for everyone?

Failure to provide the ways and means to ensure your safety and security and failing to support or improve quality of life for the city of Fort Wayne should translate in his failing to receive your vote.

Election season is more than just turning out to watch someone waving in a passing car.

Patti Hays is CEO of AWS Foundation and a candidate for Fort Wayne City Council, 4th District.