What motivates a municipal candidate?

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This week begins the biennial changing of the guard at city halls across the state. In Utah’s 248 cities and towns, there are 1,380 mayors and council members and approximately half of those positions are on November’s ballot.  Potential mayors and council members are filing their declaration of candidacy this week.

At a time when government seems fueled by contention, you may wonder why people choose to run for office.  Even at the local level, a potential candidate enters the field knowing he or she will likely face long meetings and potentially frustrated neighbors.   

It’s an interesting question, which leads us to seek an answer.  After each municipal election, the Utah League of Cities and Towns meets with the newly elected council members to provide some of the basics they’ll need as newly elected municipal officials. After the 2017 elections, we asked more than 400 of them what motivated them to run for municipal office.  Their replies generally fell into three categories. Here’s a sampling of their responses.

Infrastructure/ General Plan

  • “I want to see safer, more walkable, and more bicycle friendly neighborhoods within the city.”
  • “Improve planning, highway safety, and infrastructure.”
  • “Adopt a trails master plan, create a public works building, and build a public park.”
  • “I realize growth and progress are inevitable and necessary for any town to thrive and prosper. I want to help ensure that we as a city control our own direction.”

Services/Communication

  • “To create a historic, recreational, and artist destination unlike any other in the state.”
  • “Foster an environment of transparency and accountability in municipal government.”
  • “Develop effective communication digital platforms.”
  • “Improve community relations with the town government and its citizens.”

Pay It Forward

  • “The town faced some challenging issues and a fresh approach would be helpful in resolving them”
  • “I’ve taken advantage of all my city has to offer for the past 60 years. It’s time for me to pay it forward.”
  • “I felt like I should stop complaining and do something.”

My personal favorites are these:

  • “Everyone should be involved in supporting the community. It was my turn.”
  • “I want to leave the town in better shape than when I started.”

99% of mayors and council members are technically part-time officials. But realistically, there is no such thing as a “part-time mayor.” Mayors and council members balance day jobs, families, and other civic and faith duties with their municipal service.  Our mayors and council members are lawyers, engineers, teachers, carpenters, ranchers, funeral planners, real estate agents, software programmers, nurses, professors, non-profit directors, mechanics, and more. Most importantly, they are spouses, parents, and neighbors.

With the desire and commitment to serve the communities in which they live, the changing of the guard means many tremendous public servants will leave their cities and towns after November stronger than they found them. Recently we interviewed several long-standing mayors and council members before they retired in 2017. Combined, they had more than 200 years of public service in communities as diverse as Draper to Delta and Millville to Moab.  They shared their words of wisdom for their successors, which will ring true to the courageous and excited candidates filing for office this week. Check out our video below:

 

We at ULCT applaud all those who seek to give back to their communities. We appreciate the opportunity to represent those who serve as mayors and council members. We thank our current mayors and council members for their service and are excited to meet our future community leaders after November’s election. Mayors and council members make decisions that affect the daily lives of their neighbors and are living proof that government closest to the people governs best. Cities work because of the passion, dedication, and service of our neighbors who we elect as mayors and council members.