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It’s A Jungle Out There


It can be said that the ecosystem known as municipal politics is similar to that of the wild kingdom.

There are the lions. There are the snakes. There are the baboons.

And to be a journalist in this world is much like being a Discovery Channel cameraman, capturing the animals in their natural habitat as they fight for survival, whether it be alone or in a pack, and face the inevitable: attack or be attacked.

Over the past several months, I have interviewed countless species of local politicians for the election endorsements on page 25—from the pro-business fiscal conservative who quotes the city’s master plan word for word to the progressive whose platform includes creating a green, off-the-grid Utopia without streets—pulling off the pavement of parking lots and putting up paradise.

While most candidates are neither activist nor extremist, all can be considered either issue-centric—focusing on an issue or two—or community-focused—putting their name in the hat because they love the community and want to make it better…or hate the current representatives and think their community deserves better.

“Everyone on the council,” as one mayor said to me, “truly cares about this city. No matter how different our ideologies are, we all come together for the best of the residents.” For the most part, I find this true of city council and mayoral candidates in the North Metro and Boulder County area.

That’s not to say that everything is all budget surpluses and rose-colored tax-increment financing. I approached these interviews with a conversational, broad approach, offering questions like, “What are your key issues?” or “What’s your philosophy on municipal government?” or “Why are you running?” I know, not the SATs. But I was surprised by the array of opinions, of platforms and key issues, and of odd, sour or befuddled responses. I was so astonished by what I have experienced the past two months, I wanted to share. Here, a few of the more curious incidents and/or manners of conduct:

1. When asked about their platforms, a few candidates read directly from their promotional pamphlets.

2. When asked a question about their thoughts on an ordinance, one candidate replied, “Didn’t you read my website?”

3. One candidate continually answered questions with questions. It may have worked in The 40 Year Old Virgin, but in politics, you sound flakey.

4. “What was the question?”

5. The curse of the angry candidate: a person fueled by anger over a particular issue who will complain but offer no better solution. One angry candidate complained about how council had scorned him, but could not offer a suggestion of how he would change the system or improve the process. As a friend of mine says, don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.

6. A little something I have labeled “giving the count:” Some candidates would go through the current council members on their “side” and those “against me.”

7. Following up any sentence with, “That’s off the record.”

8. Name dropping. That one’s just a personal annoyance.

9. There were actually several people who spoke negatively about themselves.

10. Not many—but a few—candidates failed to show passion and/or knowledge about one issue, many issues or, in fact, any issues.

It may not be tax fraud but little things do matter. Candidates need to show their constituents they are knowledgeable, passionate and serious. If there is anything that recent history has taught us, it’s that civil servants should not just be selected with eyes closed. Their ambitions, skills and foresight matter to our quality of life and our basic services.

Remember, it’s a jungle out there. Who do you want to be king?


email no info send march17th/09

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