Campaign tips for would-be candidates (part II)

The following is Part II of Culver City campaign strategist Jewett Walker’s campaign tips to potential contenders who are considering seeking public office, now or in the future.

The first five “helpful hints” for potential candidates was published in the Jan. 5 edition of the Culver City News.

Helpful Hint #6: Know the issues.

Culver City residents are concerned about three things: First, traffic; second, public safety and third, education.

Certain hotspots have their own issues and you should get to know what they are. When the new Expo Line was proposed, Culver City council members sprang into action to get it elevated as it passed through the major intersection of Culver City. Carol Gross, Albert Vera, Alan Corlin, Steven Rose and Gary Silbiger got out ahead of the issue and fought the city of Los Angeles and got the Expo Line elevated so it would cause the least disruption to residents. Their actions demonstrated leadership and knowing what issues are important to residents. As a candidate, one must know what’s important and what’s not.

One recent candidate (for city council) made sex offenders the centerpiece of his campaign. According to public records, there are 34 sex offenders residing in the city. Typically, only people who live near them are upset about it. To make that the centerpiece of a campaign is foolish. Can it be a tertiary issue? Yes.

Helpful Hint #7: Persevere.

Even if you lose, run again. There is an excellent chance to win the second time. This works better for city council than for school board. Roger Maxwell ran three times for school board and never could finish high enough to win a seat. But Gross and current mayor Michaél O’Leary made it work for them on the city council the second time around. Running again allows one to learn from first-time mistakes.

Start earlier, spend more time walking precincts and talking to voters. Regularly attend council meetings or school board meetings, become better acquainted with the issues and gain wider respect and support for your candidacy. Candidates who handle themselves properly in losing will gain respect and may even be invited to serve on a commission (the Planning Commission is the most powerful and allows the greatest exposure to voters).

Helpful Hint #8: Know your community.

As of 2009, Culver City’s median household income was $71,504. The median resident age is 39.1 years and females outnumber males 53.3% to 46.7%. Currently, 48.9% of residents are White, 21.4% are Hispanic, 15.2% are Asian and 10.4% are African American. Some 41.2% of residents over age 25 have college degrees and 17.3% have graduate degrees. Less than half, 48.2%, of residents are married. Residents who are affiliated with a religious congregation number 58.1%, and of those, 68.8% are Catholic.

As a candidate, understand there is a world outside of the few blocks that surround your home and what’s important to you may not be to other people. Knowing your community will help shape your message. Walking precincts and campaigning in all parts of the city will provide a feel for the city and its residents.

Helpful Hint #9: Know the “sacred cows.”

One cannot be a serious candidate and criticize the police department. Candidates who do will get press but will lose the election. It doesn’t matter what they have been guilty of; it’s not a campaign issue and campaigns should not be based on a contender’s unhappiness with them.

Also, never blame teachers for any shortcomings in the schools. Blame the budget, Sacramento or Congress – even blame the school board, but leave teachers alone. Never campaign against a school bond measure: It’s a kiss of death, politically. Never fight against open space or be considered an anti-environmentalist. Always support teachers, education, schools, police, parks and quality-of-life issues that allow Culver City to be the great city it is.

Helpful Hint #10: The earlier you start, the better.

Councilman Christopher Armenta appeared on a slate mailer during a November election cycle and announced his intention to run in the city election in April. It was a bold move and caught would-be candidates off guard. It had a lot of people talking, but it was a stroke of genius.

Many candidates wait for the filing period to open to decide to run – no organization, no money, no support and no clue. Ideally, decide at least two years (before the next election) to run. Participate in someone else’s campaign to get the feel of running and campaigning. Observe other candidates and pay attention to their mailers and their printed ads. Listen and take notes at public forums of recurring issues and themes. Make a note of strong and weak endorsers and campaign workers. Listen and learn.

Attend homeowner meetings, council meetings, planning commission meetings, redevelopment meetings and join the Culver City Democratic Club if you are a Democrat and the PTA if you have children in the schools.

Helpful Hint #11: Handle your campaign finances with great care.

Mishandling a campaign account is the best way to draw the ire of the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission), the watchdog agency for political campaigns. It’s the fastest way to go to jail, as well.

The contribution limits in Culver City are $500 or $1,000 per couple if they both sign the check. This encourages candidates not to rely on big-money donors who usually want something in return. It also keeps big developers and businesses from controlling the city council. If you get 10 $500 checks from individuals who all work for the same company, that’s a red flag. Don’t take cash of any amount from anyone. Don’t take money orders or cashiers checks. Get the donors name, address, phone number, employer and occupation. Any contribution without this information must be returned.

Also, choosing a campaign treasurer is as important as a campaign manager. There are some good ones in Culver City that will follow the rules. A certified public accountant is the best choice. Four come to mind, including a husband/wife team with great experience, knowledge of the community and integrity. Spend as much of your own money as you like, but be careful, Culver City voters are wary of big spenders and even one’s own money must still be reported and accounted for.

Well, it’s not everything, but I hope it’s helpful. I have a seven-page eGuide on “How to Run for Public Office” that’s more in-depth, but concise enough to get to the meat of the matter quickly. I will send a copy free to anyone who sends an email to

Jewett Walker, Jr. is a political consultant who has represented candidates for local and state government and is a 14-year resident of Culver City.