The first question is the most important one because it is the one candidates should ask themselves and the one which will be the first that others ask. And it is this: Why are you running for mayor? And while “I want to make my community a better place” is the stock answer, and which is undoubtedly true, the prospective candidate should delve deeper into their real motivation.
In 1987, a man decided to run for mayor after he attempted to open a restaurant and became frustrated with City Hall and its red tape. He felt that business entrepreneurs deserved better treatment and that the best way to solve that situation was to take it upon himself to run for office. The city was Palm Springs, California and the candidate was Sonny Bono, best known for being the male half of singers Sonny and Cher. After serving as mayor he ran for Congress and was elected. He ran for mayor because he was frustrated with City Hall. Indeed, many people run for mayor because they believe that they can do better than the current mayor or because they can do a better job than has been done.
Do you have business experience? If so, you have an advantage because the mayor must understand budgets, balance sheets and financial information. However, don’t fall into the trap that you can run a city just like a business. The tradeoffs are greater and there is more compromise. Your board of directors is comprised of the voters and even citizens who are not voters. There are more people to keep satisfied.
Do you have leadership experience? Most business at City Hall is conducted through boards and committees. The mayor needs to be a team builder and an excellent communicator. Dictatorship won’t get you very far.
Are you entrepreneurial? Mayors need to be creative and willing to try new ways of doing things nowadays. Traditional funding sources are not keeping up with expenses and the demands of constituents in many cities. The good news is that most citizens are willing to try news ways of days things such as privatization of services, private funding of public projects and cities doing more enterprise-type activities.
How are your social skills? You will not be effective if you cannot get along with other people. Even your political enemies and those who did not support you when you ran for office. Also, the public despises a city hall where the elected officials cannot get along with each other. You don’t need to agree with everyone, but you must respect everyone. You may be able to learn something from the people you disagree with.
Are you willing to be available any time of night or day? Being mayor is not a nine-to-five job, even though in most Mississippi cities it is a part-time job. Constituents will be calling at all hours, especially when it rains and water backs up on their street or property. They will call when dogs won’t stop barking. Many a mayor has confided to this writer that they ran for mayor on some great issue only to get in office and learn that it was all about water and sewer.
Are you a visionary? Can you assess your community’s strengths and weakness and imagine a potential for the city and understand the baby steps needed to get there?
Are you willing to initiate projects that will not be completed during your term of office? Economic and community development is long term and incremental.
Are you open-minded? Some of the best ideas may come from someone else.
Do you have at least some understanding of planning, city building or urban design. If you are not educated in these areas, you should at least be well read. Planning is the nuts and bolts of your work at City Hall.
Do you understand diversity? While it is tempting to only employ only people you know and trust (and who look like you), it does not work that way in government. Although no one should be hired who is unqualified, city government seems to work best when it is a reflection of the community.
Are you willing to sacrifice some of your personal life? There will be meetings during the evening, crises to manage on the weekend, out-of-town events that must be attended and situations that must be dealt with that are unplanned.
Finally, are you willing to ask people to support you financially and otherwise? Can you stand rejection? It is an enticing thing to hear friends and acquaintances urge a run for mayor. It is exciting to make the public announcement of your candidacy and see your name in the news. It is not so enjoyable to learn that fundraising is difficult, that some of the ones you are counting on for support are supporting your opponent and that some people are spreading around information about you that is not true.
Whatever the reason to consider running for mayor, now is the time to make a decision. The deadline is right around the corner. Here’s wishing you the best.
» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.
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