First, Larry and I want to thank WRMN and station engineer Brian Prenevost for getting us up and running this morning despite a difficult downtown Elgin electrical issue.
Next! We want to thank Elgin City Council candidate Toby Shaw for coming in for our final candidate forum. As you can tell, we treat all of our guests with the utmost respect whatever their political leanings!
And last, but certainly not least, we want to thank 2015 Elgin Image Award winner Elinor Richoz for calling in and making some excellent points about Elgin parks! Suddenly, Larry and I feel very important.
On Thursday! U-46 School Board candidate Kai Rush and D304 Geneva School Board candidate Tina Yagla. Until then…
…make your Monday morning that much better!
Today! In our final Elgin City Council candidate forum installment, incumbent Toby Shaw will join us to answer our open ended questions. It’s good to know there’s at least one conservative who isn’t terrified by the mere mention of my name!
Then, in the second half of the show we’ll provide our thoughts on the candidates that came on the show and how that race might just play out. We’d also like to hear your thoughts on the Elgin City Council contest at 847-931-1410.
That’s Left, Right and You with the Smiling Conservative, Larry Jones, and me, the Liberal Curmudgeon, Mondays from 9 to 10 a.m. and Thursdays from 3 to 4 p.m. on WRMN AM1410. Don’t miss it!
Of course, the Smiling Conservative and I want to thank Elgin City Councilman John Steffen and Mayor Dave Kaptain for coming into the studio today and answering our semi-pointed political questions. We truly enjoy having the candidates sit down with us.
Monday! City Councilman Toby Shaw – and perhaps another conservative council candidate friend – will join us in the studio for our final Elgin City Council mini-candidate forums. Until then, enjoy the show!
Today! The Smiling conservative and I continue in our current Elgin City Council candidate forum vein with a visit from Mayor David Kaptain and longest serving city councilman John Steffen.
I understand that a great part of my charm comes from coming across like a complete pain in the ass, but, trust me, there’s a method to my surly madness. And one of those Zen undercurrents is, as I frequently like to say, politics ain’t a game for sissies and simply offering platitudes like “go get ‘em!” doesn’t help anyone.
So, while I absolutely love all those non-ideologue folks willing to assume the public risk that comes along with throwing your hat into the ring, considering the massive effort required of most local campaigns, I can’t understand why the vast majority of novice candidates refuse to ask for advice.
Or they ask the wrong people for advice. And it’s so simple too! Talk to someone who’s run several successful campaigns or, better yet, talk with a candidate who’s won at least two contested elections.
DO NOT GO TO YOUR FAMILY FOR ADVICE! No matter what you say, do, or plan, like Tony the Tiger, they’ll say it’s great! This is especially true of husbands who don’t want to face four straight weeks of celibacy for saying the “wrong” thing. Going to your children is even worse.
Your family will lovingly forgive your worst transgressions, but the voters will remember the slightest mistake.
So it pains me when I have witness to yet another hardworking hopeful make the kind of avoidable basic blunders that dooms their fledgling candidacy. And I’ve seen way too much of it lately, specifically, at two recent Geneva candidate forums. Though, rest assured, this phenomenon is by no means relegated to my home town.
With the exception of one first-time candidate, the performance of the school board and aldermanic challengers was, to be blunt, a varying degree of terrible. Meanwhile, the incumbents, and one former incumbent, handily proved why they’ve all won more than one election.
The good news for the challengers is, given who tends to attend these events, it’s nothing more than preaching to the choir. Thus, the best forum performance will not win you an election. But the bad news is, these things tend to make it onto Youtube these days, and a bad performance can most certainly cost you an election.
But rather that critique any specific candidate’s performance, let’s cover some basic forum participation pointers:
1. Act like you want to be there. Show some enthusiasm. Smile. The voters can read about your positions online so they come to these events to see how well you handle yourself. And trust me! They will notice when you look completely bored or worse yet, like a deer in the headlights.
2. Be engaged! Look at your opponent(s). Pay attention to them when they speak. You’re most likely running for some sort of board and if you give the impression that only the sound of your own voice excites you, it does not bode well.
3. PROJECT!!! Especially when it comes to you ladies, there’s virtually no such thing as being too loud. If folks have to strain to hear you – either in person or on the video – they will immediately dismiss you.
4. Brevity is better than rambling. Do not try to cover up a lack of knowledge by talking in circles. There were a couple of questions at last night’s LOWV event that required a simple yes or no answer. But only the former incumbent “got that.” There’s nothing wrong with answering like this, “The short answer is ‘yes!’ But that question is too complex for a two minute time frame. I look forward to working with school/city staff and my constituents to gain a better understanding of this issue.”
5. Answer assertively. If you answer the question in the form of a question, or worse yet, with a halting and stammering delivery, it will not go over well. Again! Your friends and family will forgive you, but the voters won’t. I understand that most of us are terrified of public speaking. So pick one voter out of the crowd and speak directly to them. The dais is usually far enough away from the audience that you can get away with it.
6. No one’s interested in your life story. With the exception of your opening statement or a question requiring a personal answer, leave it to your biographer. Don’t tell stories either – no one cares. Voters want to know how you’re going to help them with their issues and whether you can play well with others. Consistently talking about yourself is a huge red flag.
7. Speed is your enemy! Talking too fast will lose people just as fast as halting answers will. For two-minute opening and closing statements, write a one minute speech and take the full two minutes to deliver it.
8. Dress appropriately. I can’t believe I have to say this, but dress like you work at a white collar office. That means a suit and tie for men.
9. Don’t read your opening and closing statements from notes. Look directly at the voters. It’s not that difficult to memorize a two minute speech.
10. Be grateful! Thank your hosts for putting on the event. Thank the voters for showing up. And thank your opponents for joining you on the dais. I’m happy to say that most of the challengers got this one right.
And here’s the most important thing!
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice – right? Would you play competitive tennis without practicing first? Would you attempt to fix your car without taking a few repair lessons? Do your children go to their music recital without running through their piece a number of times?
The night before his first candidate forum, a Geneva alderman had two astute political friends fire questions at him for two hours. They immediately critiqued those answers as too long, too short, too halting, wrong answer etc… After having to endure that gauntlet, the event itself was a piece of cake and he went on to win his first election.
If you can’t manage that, video yourself answering questions. If you don’t have a camera, do it in front of a mirror. Again, unless they’re as blunt as I am, having your family or friends critique your practice performance. WILL NOT WORK.
It wouldn’t hurt to listen to and watch candidates who nailed it during interviews and forums either. I consistently put those kind of examples up on this blog.
Look! Candidate forums and debates always come right before the voting starts. For that very reason, a good friend likes to call them “final exams” because, by that time, the signs are up, the flyers are out, and most of the doors have been knocked upon. Thus, your performance at a forum shows voters just how well you’ve campaigned up to that point.
And I can pick the winners and losers from that performance every time.
Given some of the more perplexing precedents, I can understand why bashing local politicians seems to be our national pastime. Those hilarious classic Youtube videos of former Carpentersville Mayor Bill Sarto trying to run a city council meeting immediately come to mind.
But the truth is, far more often than not, it’s actually our local reps who spend untold thankless hours faithfully serving the folks who put them in office while those very same constituents always manage to give me another migraine headache.
Doubt me? Here are three perfect examples of what I speak.
1. Last night’s Geneva City Council meeting
Though that body overruled the Historic Preservation Committee 8 to 1 in granting the County permission to demolish the old Sixth Street school building, it wasn’t before a parade of residents got up to say some of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love it when a concerned citizen gets up to plead their case, but the secret to success is not to simply spout whatever managed to pop up in your mind yesterday.
One woman compared their effort to saving the downtown Geneva Pure Oil building, but apples and oranges aren’t the same thing. One building is ten times the size of the other. A plurality of other residents believed that, despite the rehab cost being at least twice the building’s value, an 11th hour white knight developer would somehow swoop in and take a flyer on it. Never mind that no one’s made any such inquiry in the last 20 years and if they had, they’d want to tear the old school down too.
One gentleman didn’t want to have to look at the resulting “prairie” which puts him directly into a minority of one, while others thought the building could be retrofitted to be a library despite asbestos, a weak floor load capacity, and an HVAC system that’s more temperamental than Mayor Burns.
The wildly inconsistent and very disappointing Alderman Dean Kilburg didn’t help matters any by consistently chiding the County for their failure to maintain the building. Perhaps if former Chairman Karen McConnaughay were in attendance he would’ve had a point, but the current Chairman’s only been in office for just two short years.
Only one Geneva resident had the intelligence and foresight to get it right when he postulated that an unsellable and soon to be unmaintained building would be far worse than simply demolishing it. You sir, should run for office.
Led by a mattress salesman with delusions of grandeur, this group does their damndest to undermine any positive downtown Elgin effort. Their motto is, “Unless we thought of it, it can’t possibly be good.” And none of their thoughts are very good.
They attack the City Council, they attack the vastly improved Elgin Police Department, and they attack anyone who dares speak out against any of their unofficial members. Their insistent whining and bullying tactics have gotten so bad that it’s starting to have a negative effect on a generally rebounding downtown.
It’s not that they have any power, but they can make a new business’s life completely miserable. The problem is, unlike you and I, local governing bodies can’t choose to ignore any of their constituents so this cabal gets their stilted say at every turn. Then they promptly proceed to waste everyone’s time.
And, trust me, there is no force in the Universe that could possibly pierce their perceived veil of infallibility.
3. The Taxpayers Against the Longmeadow Toll Bridge
This group is the worst of all and that’s really saying something when you consider our previous example.
A mere twenty years too late, and blaming everyone but themselves for their absurd brand of obliviousness, their goal is to derail the Longmeadow Parkway project that’s been signed off on by 10 municipalities and is already well into phase two.
They have absolutely no chance of accomplishing that goal, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do their best to make every politicians’ life miserable along the rest of the way. I’ve already run into them once and they’re so rude, obnoxious, and loud that they actually make me look good.
But because a press release simply fell into the Courier-News’ lap (God forbid that paper should actually make an effort), insipid reporter Gloria Casas referred to this group of ten as a “groundswell” and County Board member Phil Lewis, who’s never been the brightest bulb in the pack, made matters so much worse by actually attending one of their gatherings.
The fact that some politicians bring it on themselves notwithstanding, this group will get their say every step of the way giving an entirely new meaning to Shakespeare’s, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
I realize I’m being a bit harsh here, but not only am I really good at it, but sometimes it’s the only way you can get through to “regular folks.” Why expend all that time and energy only to be shot down because you’re so utterly ineffective.
All I can say is, the older I get the more I realize I’d rather hang with the politicians.
Of course, the Smiling Conservative and I want to thank Elgin City Councilwomen Rose Martinez and Tish Powell for coming into the studio and answering our questions. And I would encourage anyone who harbors any local office hopes to listen to their answers because they were rife with important political insights!
On Thursday, we’ll host our final candidate forum with Mayor Dave Kaptain and Councilman John Steffen. Until then…