Quiz: Should You Run for Public Office?
Has all the election coverage got you thinking about running for public office? Whether it's the school board, city council or state legislature, campaigning for and holding public office is a transforming experience.
Win or lose, those who have run say the campaign helped them develop skills, build confidence, expand their networks and raise their stature in the community and at work.
Karen Williams was an administrative assistant before running -- and winning -- a seat on her local school council. "The cliche is true; one really does grow in office," Williams says.
"Up until then, I tended to fade into the background and defer to others who had more authority. But on the council we were all equals -- no matter what our day jobs were. I began to think of myself as a leader."
Others began seeing her as a leader, too. During her term on the council, the bank where she worked promoted her to supervisor and two years later named her a manager.
Larry Krause, a CPA, ran for mayor of his borough and lost. But he has no regrets. "Every aspect of the campaign was a learning experience as the campaign progressed I got better at expressing myself and selling my ideas, and I became much more comfortable speaking in front of groups and securing help and funding from others," he says.
If the idea of running for office intrigues you, here are six questions to consider before throwing your hat in the ring:
1. Do you have the time?
A village trustee or county commission job requires more than just a few hours a week in a meeting. You can wind up spending more than 20 hours a week on public hearings, forums, issue preparations, briefings and constituent work. Will you be able to handle this workload yet still have enough time to fulfill your work and family responsibilities?
2. Do you have a support network?
Does your company encourage community involvement and see benefit in their employees holding public office? Is your family excited by the prospect and comfortable with the time commitment it will entail?
3. Would you enjoy campaigning?
Are you comfortable being the center of attention? Do you like to meet people and speak in public? Are you willing to go before community groups to discuss your views?
4. Is your closet skeleton-free?
If you've ever filed for bankruptcy or divorce, been arrested or sued, had an affair or a DUI conviction, be prepared for it to become public knowledge. While this is more of a factor in high-stakes races (think U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan or New Jersey Governor James McGreevy), even city council candidates have had their health problems, romantic entanglements and failure to pay income taxes or club dues exposed to the entire community.
5. Are you flexible?
Elected officials rarely control their agenda. You may have been elected to deal with financial issues, but you'll wind up voting on land use, waste removal, public safety and other issues. Are you interested in immersing yourself in a broad range of subjects and comfortable making decisions based on limited information?
6. Are you mentally and emotionally prepared?
You won't make everyone happy. And those who criticize you will often do so in the media. Could you live with these public rebukes?
If you had four or more "nos," you should probably run away from public office.
If you answered "yes" to four or more questions, a political future is possible once you work out the issues that are holding you back.
If you answered "yes" to all six questions, you, in all likelihood, would make a fine political candidate and a happy public servant.
See you on the campaign trail!
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