Beyond the Popular Vote: Leadership Required to Carry Detroit Forward

Downtown Detroit, 2017.

“There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two. ” -Bertolt Brecht

With the candidate filing and withdrawal deadline for city elections now passed, 2017 is shaping to be a pivotal year for the city of Detroit. We have an incumbent mayor facing perhaps his toughest challenge yet in a legacy candidate with instant name recognition, and a slew of faces new and old vying for all council seats. Additionally, the race for city clerk has sparked a new interest and become a coveted, vulnerable seat following the fiasco of the 2016 election in Detroit.

Yet, as with every election cycle, we are sure to hear familiar campaign messages and promises of why the particular candidate is best for the office desired. However, given the active and intense political climate following the 2016 election, the expectations to deliver on the campaign rhetoric are higher than ever. In this light, even more necessary than delivering on those promises  is the way in which the delivery will be implemented- through leadership.

Candidates must be aware that Detroit is hungry for a different style of leadership in public office. Therefore, to be successful in this election cycle and beyond, candidates must think past the ballot box, not only presenting plans for the city’s continuing success, but demonstrating leadership qualities necessary for delivering their vision for the city. In turn, this begs the question: what styles and qualities of leadership will emerge to avoid empty promises and move the city forward for all of its residents and stakeholders alike?

Ironically, despite needing the popular vote to win the election, candidates must be comfortable with being unpopular. “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd (Max Lucado).” This requires being unpopular not in the sense that no one will like you, but an understanding that you are not out to please everyone. Candidates must know that everyone will not agree with them or like them, and that is okay so long as they are doing what is best for their constituents- the people whom they lead and will follow when their interests and needs are first priority.

Candidates must be brave, and in the realm of politics, this means willing to be subject to public scrutiny in all facets of professional and personal life. In particular, for first time candidates without a familiar body of work to put forth, personal records matter, as it may be all one can be judged by. Nevertheless, candidates must be able to withstand the criticism because not everyone will agree with all their policies, even their staunchest supporters. Without criticism, potential leaders are destined to fail due to lack of diverse input and challenge. At the same time, candidates must be brave enough to own their record and unafraid to challenge others to do the same.

In relation, life is nothing without adversity. As a public official, adversity is magnified on center stage, but candidates must be unwavering in the face of adversity and able to rise above all obstacles. Significantly, as desired leaders, candidates must also be bold enough to speak up for those without a voice, use their platforms to influence change, and stand firmly in spite of challenges from opponents who would seek to tear them down. Nothing will convince others to follow more than one who stands strong and refuses to give up during the toughest times.

Perhaps most of all, candidates must be honest- be real about what’s real. People are looking to you for answers- tell them what you know. And if you don’t know- say so. Not only is it okay to admit you don’t know, but you are only human and will never be perfect, so by necessity, you will never know everything. This is just fine, and people will understand so long as you are honest. They see through dishonesty and can be completely put off when the truth is revealed. Once trust is broken, it is hard to mend, but people are generally more willing to forgive a sincere apology than an intentional coverup.

In case of a breach of honesty, and let’s be truthful, it happens- be accountable. Be able to accept your mistakes and shortcomings. Don’t hide behind them, blame others, or worse- stay quiet and say nothing. Again, as a leader, people are looking to you for answers. Be as honest in your faults as you are in your triumphs. Furthermore, don’t allow your faults to derail or stall you along your path. Accept the consequences of your actions and move forward. Life continues in spite of your downfalls. Don’t get swept away with it, particularly if you are in  a position to advance others. Provide solutions, not excuses, and forge ahead.

Finally, and most importantly, a leader must always look to the future. “Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation (Simon Sinek).” Whomever is elected to office come November must think today what his or her legacy will be once their term has ended. If it does not include a plan for the future leadership of Detroit, their work is a failed mission, and we will again be left seeking the leadership that we yearn for today.

 

Candidate Beware: Recognizing Ethical Obligations of Elected Office

Attorneys sworn in to the State Bar of Michigan. Detroit, MI.

“The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.” -Frederick Douglass

Since the 2016 election, there has been a significant uptick of interest in running for office. Nationally, people are fed up with politics as is and are determined to run themselves to create the changes they want to see in their communities, which is a necessary component of a healthy democracy. From the highs of inspiration and planning your campaign strategy, to the lows of performing less than thrilling tasks (phone-banking, anyone?), and everything in between, your campaign is sure to be the experience of a lifetime. However, win or lose, in deciding to run, you must not only consider the necessities of the campaign, but the obligations of elected office, especially the ethical obligations, which have seemingly been forgotten in the political landscape.

No doubt before you decided to run for office, you thought long and hard about what office you wanted to run for and why, as well as skills you bring to the table and what makes you unique among the pool of candidates. If you haven’t considered these preliminary questions, you should rethink your plan, or risk losing not only the race, but precious time, money, and resources expended in your efforts. Envisioning the office you want to occupy will give you greater clarity and understanding of what your role will be as an elected official, what authority is vested in your position, and the ethical obligations of that particular office.

Chief amongst the ethical obligations of virtually every elected office is a duty to maintain public trust in government. Every level of government is dependent upon its electors- everyday citizens like you and me- to not only vote for leaders, but fund those offices through tax payer dollars, in addition to funding public welfare and safety programs such as roads, police, schools, and other infrastructure. As such, elected offices require officials to take an oath to uphold the laws and duties of the office to ensure responsibility and trust over our dollars and our well being.

Without public trust, government is dysfunctional at best and doomed at worst. As stated by a publication from the Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, “The public is willing to delegate authority and sacrifice some freedoms in exchange for an orderly and civilized society, but only if it believes that government is acting in the public’s best interest. When the public loses trust in government, public cooperation suffers, compliance with laws fail, and investors and consumers lose confidence.”

And right now, there is no question that public trust in government is lacking. According to a Pew Research study, public trust is at historically low levels, with only 19% of Americans saying they trust the federal government to do what is right. Closer to home, here in Detroit we are reminded of the 2016 election fiasco at the City Clerk’s Office, where numerous reports emerged regarding faulty machines resulting in erroneous tabulations of votes and over half of Detroit votes ineligible for a recount. Naturally, as the chief elections official, the City Clerk came under fire, with one news outlet even calling for her resignation. However, a recent poll suggests that the City Clerk may be able to atone for these errors, as she leads three known challengers by a wide margin, gaining 34% of the vote in the poll, compared to a range of 3-9 % for her challengers, respectively.

Yet given the grim data regarding public trust in government, candidates and potential candidates alike must consider what is at stake for their own work and reputation. Have you considered the effects of publicity? Are you willing to put your name and reputation out for the public to know and pick apart when they feel you have betrayed their interests? Worst of all, any mistakes in office, especially a breach in public trust, can have negative long term consequences in your career, impacting your chances for successful reelection as well as your endeavors outside of politics. Envision yourself in the office you desire, not only as a winner and  a hero, but also the outcomes should you find yourself as the villain.

In closing, consider this quote by essayist John Gardner: “The citizen can bring our political and governmental institutions back to life, make them responsive and accountable, and keep them honest. No one else can.” Think big picture. Think long term, and strive for best case scenario. In spite of the gloomy outlook, hope springs eternal. Armed with sufficient knowledge and a good team of supporters, you can achieve ethical success as an elected official by upholding your obligations through accountability, thereby building the restoration of public trust.

The Future of the Vote in Detroit

Sprit of Detroit Monument. Detroit, MI.

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” Malcom X.

What is the future of the vote in Detroit? After last year’s infamous election, the same question can be asked throughout the country. However, with controversy surrounding the vote count in the 2016 election, Detroit is ground zero for the future of the vote.

For Detroit, the future is now. 2017 marks the citywide elections for offices ranging from the mayor to the board of police commissioners, and perhaps most notably, the city clerk. As alluded to earlier, following the 2016 election, numerous reports emerged regarding faulty machines resulting in erroneous tabulations of votes. Although a recount was in effect, due to faulty vote report machines, over half of Detroit votes were ineligible for the recount. Naturally, as the chief elections official, the City Clerk came under fire, with one news outlet even calling for the Clerk’s resignation.

However, the City Clerk remains in office for now, and while outdated technology accounted for much of the blame, the Clerk also identified human error as a significant source of the problem. Specifically, the city has struggled to recruit and retain elections inspectors and precinct workers, with this work mostly falling to senior citizens. The average age of city poll workers is 68, and poll worker training occurs only once before the primary and general elections.

While the City Clerk has advocated for quarterly poll trainings and appeal to younger Detroiters, the debacle of the 2016 Election has compromised the integrity of the clerk’s office, as well as the vote itself. This is troubling for younger voters, who along with Baby Boomers constitute the largest electorate in the United States. Yet, the youth vote is notorious for low turnout during elections, with 2016 being no exception.

For the future of the vote in Detroit to not only grow, but remain intact, we must simply refer to history, our greatest teacher in life. By following the words of the late, great, Malcolm X, we must educate our young people on the importance of voting, and engage them in the political process early and often. Expanding poll trainings and targeting young voters is a good start, but the efforts must not end there. With voting rights under attack nationwide, here in Detroit, we can act now by reaffirming the vote and growing our power by investing in the youth, effectively setting the standard for the rest of the country moving forward.

Not Unqualified, Uniquely Qualified: Why More Women Must Run for Office

Eleanor Roosevelt Monument. Washington, DC

“At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.”

Although the Honorable Shirley Chisholm spoke these words over forty years ago as the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress, her words ring as loudly and true today as they did when she was elected in 1968.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University, as of 2017, only 19% of members of the US Congress are women, and women comprise just roughly one quarter of State legislatures across the nation, at 24.8%. While these numbers are notably higher than in Shirley’s time in Congress, which was less than 10%,  the number is still abysmally low in comparison to the number of women in the US, who comprise half the population.

So what keeps more women from running for office? While there are various factors, the most common reasons include perceived lack of experience, women thinking  they are unqualified, motherhood, and societal expectations of a woman’s place in the home. In fact, despite rising levels of educational and professional achievement, women are still responsible for the majority of home and family care. A portion of women even leave the workplace altogether, despite educational and professional attainment, to take care of home. Further, for young women, the fear of lack of experience due to young age and entry level work experience can be a deterrent for seeking public office or even higher career advancement.

However, these challenges do not make women unqualified or even underqualified to run for office, but rather uniquely qualified, as women regularly exercise some of the most critical skills necessary for holding public office. These include communication skills, project management skills, and team building skills.

As primary caregivers, women must constantly communicate to their children, often using words and tones to effectively relay the message to fit their audience, which is critical when talking with diverse groups of constituents and even adverse legislators. The same holds true for working women who may need to tailor their words to explain their thoughts and ideas in the workplace in ways that men are not asked to do. Women also possess important project management skills in both the home and office, balancing family budgets and errands along with work tasks and deadlines, and even school schedules and assignments for their kids and themselves as well. Additionally, women possess key team building skills, often delegating tasks to family members and friends, effectively enlisting help with work and household chores as needed, which is critical in building strong coalitions to increase success in implementing solutions to problems.

With no political experience, voters judge candidates based on their personal records. Women use these skills as an everyday necessity of their lives, making up for any lack of experience, which doesn’t guarantee attaining or using these skills in practice. Furthermore, even with lack of political experience, women are more educated than men, recently surpassing them in earning college degrees, in spite of persistent lack of equal pay for equal work. This holds particularly true for black women, who earned  bachelors degrees at a 60% completion rate as of 2013, higher than any other group.

Women have the education, skills, and population necessary to run for and win public office, and there is no better time than now to put those resources to use. Not only are the current numbers an inadequate representation of the population, but legislatures across the nation, as well as the current presidential administration, have implemented bills and orders negatively affecting women, with little to no input from women. Think of our now president signing an executive order affecting women worldwide, only three days into his administration, surrounded by men. Finally, some of the most hot button political issues such as defunding planned parenthood and repealing the Affordable Care Act directly impact women and children more than others, so it is up to us to protect ourselves and our families by getting involved in our politics at every level.

As the Honorable Ms. Chisholm reminded us, “We must reject not only the stereotypes that others have of us but also those that we have of ourselves.” We must be the catalysts for change in our communities and our nation by embracing what makes us uniquely qualified to run for office and be a powerful force in our political process.

Run for The Resistance!

Michigan Supreme Court. Lansing, MI.

“If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.”

Spoken by President Barack Obama in Chicago during his farewell speech on January 10, 2017, these words resonate loudly given the political mood across the country in reaction to the recent inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.

Following the results of the 2016 presidential election, protests and marches have occurred nationwide in demonstration against Trump’s campaign message of sexism and racism, culminating in the historic Women’s March in Washington DC this past weekend, with sister marches not only around the country, but around the world. Yet, while protests and marches are fundamental rights and expressions in our democracy, they are only a starting point in this new era, now labeled “The Resistance.”

Since the election, political interest and involvement has increased, with advocacy groups focused on training people to run for office experiencing a spike in applications, particularly by women. This includes the Michigan chapter of Emerge America, a national organization dedicated to training democratic women to run for office, of which I am an alumna. The interest in Emerge Michigan was so strong after the election that the organization extended its deadline from November 14 to December 31 to accommodate the increase in applications. Further, during the Women’s March in DC, some participants interviewed by Time Magazine identified this moment in time as a wake up call to run for office as a way to seek the change they wish to see in their communities.

However strong your desire to run, to increase your chances of success, you must have a strong team behind you. Core members of a campaign include a campaign manager to organize all elements of the campaign, a treasurer responsible for campaign finances, a fundraiser to raise dollars to support the campaign, and a field coordinator to implement voter outreach strategies. These positions are responsible for critical components of the campaign, which frees the candidate to do the most important job of contacting and delivering their message to voters. Significantly, do not discount the value of having a lawyer on your team, as we are most effective in ensuring key requirements, including compliance with campaign finance laws, reviewing contracts for campaign work, and most importantly of all, ensuring ballot access so that the candidate is not left off the ballot for election.

Furthermore, with the political energy and focus created by the 2016 presidential election, it is imperative to remember that all politics is local. 2017 and 2018 are big election years here in Michigan, meaning  you can run for office to effect change right in your own community. With the political climate ripe for change, now is the perfect time to take advantage of the opportunity.

2017 marks the City of Detroit election for all city officials, including mayor, city council, and city clerk. Additionally, it is not too early to explore the opportunity to run for a race in 2018, as the election will feature crucial state seats up for grab in the Michigan House, as well as the governorship. Finally, 2018 is also a critical national midterm election, with congressional seats up for grab in what is sure to be a competitive race to flip the majority red seats blue.

No matter your prior political experience, as our now former President Barack Obama perfectly stated in his farewell speech, “…change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.” Now is your time to run for the resistance. Assemble your team, and get to work.