By Simon Lono
Illustration by Tara Fleming
So you want run for city council?
Once you’ve decided to run, you have to have an idea. Every campaign starts with an idea—an answer to the question, “Why do you want to be on council?”
If you have no idea why you would want to be on city council, or what you want to do when you get there, then you have no business running.
Stop wondering if you’re qualified to sit on council. If you can read this sentence then you are as qualified or more qualified than the people already elected.
All kinds of people run, all kinds of people win, and all kinds of people do a good job. Democracy is a beautiful thing that way.
Make sure your family is behind your decision. You need a frank talk with your mate and family to gauge their support. Unless they give you unqualified support, you have no business running. Nothing dooms a campaign—and family—faster than a war on two fronts.
Pick the right seat
There are 11 seats on St. John’s city council: the mayor and deputy mayor are elected separately in citywide ballots; four at-large councillors are elected citywide, where everyone votes for up to four candidates; and five other councillors are elected by ward. There are about 16,000 voters, or 12,000 households, per ward.
At-large, deputy mayor and mayor campaigns cover about 50,000 or so households.
Unless you want to make a big splash right away and can’t wait to sit in the big chair, avoid running for mayor your first time out. The cheapest and easiest campaign to mount is in a ward.
Pick a campaign manager you trust and do what they tell you. There are a minimum of two jobs in any campaign—candidate and campaign manager. You can’t do both so pick one and stick to it.
Friends, effort and money
You need at least two of the above. All three are best, but you can get away with two out of three if you play your cards right.
Friends will help spread the word, assemble and erect signs, and deliver flyers.
The effort is yours. Be ready to walk the streets knocking on doors and attend every event you can. Introduce yourself and shake hands with everyone. Anywhere there are three or more voters in one place, make sure you’re there too. (Don’t forget the hand sanitizer.)
Money is always an issue. A ward race will cost around $7-10,000. Councillor at-large is more like $15-20,000—give or take. The two top spots might run up to $50,000 or more. Take up collections, run a bake sale, organise a BBQ, send out letters, ask your family and don’t be shy.
Time it right
Timing is everything with the St. John’s municipal race. Starting early is key. The city will send out the mail-in ballots around September 11, so the voting starts September 14 when ballots arrive in the mailbox. Half of all ballots are returned in the first week, with the rest trailing in until September 29—election day. Nobody pays any attention until Labour Day, so it’s a time-compressed campaign. You need to hit hard and hit at the right time because the system has a hard tilt in favour of incumbents.
Get your name out there
The main materials you need are flyers, buttons and signs. You need a flyer to pass around, to spread your name, face and idea. Keep it simple and colourful. Also, get a couple hundred buttons for you and your friends.
The most visible part of the municipal campaigns are signs. Usual sizes are 2×2 (for lawns and medians), 4×4 (for minor intersections) and 4×8 (for major intersections). Cost depends on how elaborate the design is, and like flyers, the more you order the less they cost per unit. One-colour signs are cheapest. More colours and photos drive up the price. The smallest, simplest signs might go for as little as $2.50 each, while elaborate 4x8s might be $75 to $100 a unit. Keep them simple and colourful, so they stand out. If you can’t read a sign travelling at 60kph then it’s just another part of the landscape.
Forget radio ads, TV ads and print ads. Unless you have lots of money to burn, signs are more cost-effective.
Media will mostly ignore you because they ignore almost every municipal candidate. Don’t expect long television interviews with David Cochrane earnestly asking about your garbage policy. Your best media hit will be calling talk radio—make sure you do it to the limit.
Plan a party for election night. Don’t drink until after the media comes calling for reaction. If they do, be sober and gracious in victory. In defeat, be even more gracious; the people are always right.
Win or lose, it’s time to celebrate your induction into the select group of human beings with the heart and dedication to put your name on a ballot. Congratulations!
Simon Lono is running for councillor at-large in the upcoming September St. John’s municipal election. His favourite curse words are “shagger” and “shmoe.”