How does an Evanston dog-lover wind up in a prickly three-way race in Cook County, that hothouse of political intrigue? In my case, certainly not by design!
People who enjoy community service and volunteerism often don’t consider themselves elective office material. It doesn’t even occur to them to run. Or, they think it would be too burdensome. But sometimes people don’t contemplate running because they think of themselves as unqualified. This isn’t necessarily so. A deep interest in a local problem combined with a sincere commitment to bring about improvement could take you a long way. Most elected officials start at the simplest level: school, park district or library board, suburban town council, etc. Getting in on the ground floor of local government, especially in smaller suburbs, can be relatively inexpensive, often “non-partisan” (you don’t run as a slated Democrat or Republican), and even uncontested — an open seat exists with only one person interested in it, in which case the “election” is just a procedural formality.
It’s true that established credentials — a particular type of college degree/major, specific technical coursework, licenses or other designations — can come into play. It’s not as though mere good intentions and the desire to help on a broader stage are enough to qualify you. However, with some inventiveness and forethought, you can parlay your civic-mindedness, knowledge of grassroots issues and having a large number of friends, colleagues and acquaintances into being a credible candidate.
Yes, running for office can be exceptionally expensive. You’ve heard the sky-high dollar amounts it takes to become a member of Congress or the statehouse. Not all first-runs for office need be that lofty, though. It does take a good deal of skillful networking, building a base to rely on for campaign volunteers and start-up donations. Enthusiasm, dedication and honest motives aren’t enough. You’ll need to shrewdly evaluate the local political landscape in choosing your initial race. But none of this is insurmountable.
Folks in our industry are especially suited for public office. Learning the electoral ropes by filling leadership roles at the Chicago Association of Realtors for instance (the Government Affairs Committee comes to mind) is a great start. I began in public life when I was appointed to a vacancy. My real estate brokerage and appraisal career marked me as a viable choice for Evanston Township Assessor, an office to which I was re-elected twice.
So, you never know when it comes to politics. Don’t rule it out. Do you like people? Problem-solving? Making a significant contribution? Then your name may be on a ballot someday.