Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Where Are All the Candidates?

We're into the filing period for the Richardson City Council election (May 14) and the list of announced candidates is slim despite a dozen or more potential candidates having picked up packets from city hall. Where are all the candidates?

After the jump, a review of the field ... so far.

Council member Amir Omar announced his re-election bid early and he's got campaign signs up. He holds the at-large Place 7 seat. He will be tough to beat. He's got more energy than the other six council members combined. He's the face of the feel-good "Tree the Town" initiative. He has supported a pro-growth and development agenda. Richardson weathered the economic downturn better than most cities. Whatever credit the city council deserves for that, Omar will benefit from.

Council member Steve Mitchell announced his re-election bid, probably for his at-large Place 6 seat, but I haven't heard him confirm that. It's been said that he briefly intended to switch and run for the District 3 seat. A switch from an at-large seat to a district seat could have been attractive to Mitchell as it limits the number of potential candidates who can challenge him. Uncertainty about this makes it harder for new candidates to decide which seat to seek themselves. Mitchell's campaign website looks like it hasn't been updated since election day in 2009. Perhaps he believes he can be re-elected without campaigning. He was the only incumbent in 2009 not to draw a challenger in that contentious election.

Scott Dunn is running for the District 3 seat, currently held by retiring council member John Murphy. He's active on Facebook and is lining up support. Dunn could have run for one of the at-large seats. That he filed for the District 3 seat suggests that he is confident that Mitchell will stay in Place 6 so Dunn won't have to run against him. As a challenger, Dunn's chances depend almost entirely on who else chooses to run in District 3.

Mayor Gary Slagel announced his retirement and immediately endorsed Laura Maczka to replace him in District 4. Maczka made it official this week. With the support of Slagel and, presumably, Slagel's backers, she'll be tough to beat. Maczka's on Facebook (good), but her Twitter feed hasn't been updated since January (bad).

And that's it. Or at least that's all I've heard from the candidates themselves. If I missed anything, it's because the candidates are failing to get the word out. And that's not a skill a politician can afford to be poor at.

It's been rumored that incumbents Bob Townsend and Mark Solomon are considering stepping down, but I've heard nothing from the council members themselves.

Bob Townsend is notorious for dithering about running for re-election. His hesitation in 2009 drew a write-in challenger at the last minute. Hesitation won't help him this year, either. Like the case with Steve Mitchell, uncertainty about Townsend's plans makes it harder for other potential candidates to decide whether to run for Townsend's District 1 seat or, say, the open at-large Place 5 seat. Townsend does them and the city itself no favor by delaying announcing his intentions.

Mark Solomon's campaign website, like Steve Mitchell's, looks like it hasn't been updated since election day in 2009. His Twitter account has been neglected since March, 2010. Not good if he wants to keep his seat. Unlike Steve Mitchell, Solomon is likely to need an active campaign to get re-elected. His district was home to two contentious issues: expansion of the Lookout Drive Transfer Station and rezoning of the land at US 75 and the Bush Tollway. Opponents will try to paint Solomon as a council member who didn't stand up for the neighborhoods he represents. So, if he intends to run, he's best advised to get going.

"Get going" is good advice for all challengers. There are not many opportunities to build name recognition. Door-knocking and fund-raising are time-consuming. The election campaign is already short. Incumbents have the name recognition that will benefit them in a short campaign. You need to frame your image and message before the PACs with big bucks come in late in the campaign and attempt to paint their own picture of you. If the ability to run an effective election campaign is any indication of one's ability to run a city (and I think there is a correlation), delay is not helpful in impressing the voters. This voter, anyway.

With the small number of announced candidates, it's difficult to say yet what the issues will be for this campaign. In this earlier article, I said that will depend on who the candidates are. That's still true.

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