What's a minor candidate?
Mayoral hopeful Christal Wood wants to know. She's outraged that Seattle reporters keep writing about the campaigns of Greg Nickels, Paul Schell, and Mark Sidran, while ignoring folks like herself who are also running for the city's top job. The press has a duty to cover all candidates equally, she asserts.
I disagree. The media's duty is to cover candidates fairly. When a candidate has no political experience, has never worked in government, and lacks a significant group of supporters, the media shouldn't pay much attention. If this is discrimination, it's the same kind of discrimination that businesses practice against unqualified job seekers and that Ivy League colleges inflict on applicants with C averages.
On election night 1997, when it was clear Charlie Chong would lose the mayor's race, a friend said that Charlie's presence in the final election proved he had done the hard work to get people interested in his ideas. He was right: The West Seattle community activist attended scores of meetings, delivered hours of testimony, and worked with dozens of people before he got any newspaper coverage. Consequently, by the time he decided to run for office, he was someone people knew—not just a name in the paper.
Wood says the media's coverage seems based on how much money each candidate has raised. It's obviously a huge factor—money makes a good measuring stick for support. The Schell, Nickels, and Sidran campaigns have solid support—more than 1,000 donors each.
Of course, the money count is also about money, plain and simple. Expensive direct-mail flyers have been the weapon of choice in citywide campaigns for years. Our last mayoral election proved that television advertising will be a key factor in which candidates survive the primary.
This column isn't meant to disparage Wood. She has compiled an interesting platform, with such planks as ending drug-related property seizures within city limits, imposing peak-hour tolls on freeways, and pulling city support from Sound Transit (join the club). But a platform without a campaign won't get you into office.
I've found that people interested in finding out more about a candidate always ask the same question first: "Does he (or she) have a chance?" Even for nonpoliticos, that seems like an obvious place to start.
Our laws wisely allow any voter to register for public office. Candidates get a place on the ballot and a spot in the voters' pamphlet. Everything beyond that, they have to earn.