The overused expression “There is no I in team” is trotted out when people want to point out that a lone wolf is being a lone wolf. It is also used as an admonition to suggest it is time for the lone wolf to join the pack and be a team player. While it is true there is no letter I in the word team, there is in fact a letter I in the word election, a big I, as in “I want to win.”
We are exactly five months from the next municipal election, five months less a day if you are reading this in print. Though not all members of Council have announced their intentions to run again or move up to the big chair, it is pretty evident they are all looking for another term on Council, this one a four-year term.
For many politicians the next campaign starts the day after they are sworn in to office. There is nothing wrong or unethical about that so long as Council packages are read and the interests and needs of the community are the guiding light by which the politician finds their way through the darkness of agendas, meetings, boards and weekend phone calls from upset residents. Indeed, it is through a consistent and traceable work ethic that the next campaign is built on a solid record of accomplishment.
Sadly, not all politicians work that way. If a grocer puts the old bruised apples on top of the new arrivals, we figure that out pretty quick and dig past the surface. We’ve all bypassed the milk jug in the front of the cooler for the one sitting three jugs back, the one that is less likely to curdle under pressure. This close to election season, voters need to treat politicians like produce, squeezing the fruit to see if what’s prominent on the surface is solid to the core or bruised beyond the edges.
Those of us who cover or attend Council meetings regularly are usually the first to spot the signs of campaigning during meetings. Five months away from an election and we find the meetings could start getting a little longer because five campaigning tactics could come into play.
1/ Councillors, who once kept their comments brief and to the point, might begin turning their thoughts into great droning orations that ebb and flow like a tide of bare knuckles flowing over a cheese grater, and making about as much sense.
2/ Councillors might begin to criticize processes and criticize the faultiness and longevity of the processes they made no efforts to right over the past 31 months but suddenly find appalling and untenable.
3/ A general snarky tone may begin to surface as the Council colleague of two months previous is suddenly seen as the competing candidate of the next five months.
4/ In extreme cases of pre-campaign campaigning, Council members may opt to put forth projects and policies to ensure they have something under their belt that reads nice on a campaign brochure and makes an equally nice talking point in their five-minute candidate speech this fall.
5/ In equally extreme cases, a Council member campaigning from their Council seat may put a motion forth to support a project or policy they know will get shot down. In such cases, the proposer knows they can then throw the opposing voters under the bus for not supporting it and still receive the praise of the residents they went to bat for.
Over the next five months we may see all of these techniques used or we may see none of these techniques used. That will depend entirely on how each member of Council falls into patterns that are common at election time.
While we watch for these signs, we need to also watch for those members of Council (and they are there) who read their agenda package and come to Council ready to advocate for the interests of those who elected them. They will continue to make their decisions based on the information in the package and their understanding of what is best for the community on the long road ahead, not just what makes them look good on the road to Election Day 2013.
Council has done some important work this term and still has more important work left to do. It would be a shame for that work to be derailed or side tracked by any member who wants to set themselves up for the next roll of the dice this October.