Councilwoman’s discussion about seeking public office shares legal advice, election logistics, warnings

Political consultant Traci Kittinger, Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, political/financial consultant David Gould, and Long Beach City Clerk Larry Herrera presented information on the legal matters, financial necessities, family issues, personal aspects and technicalities associated with running for public office in Long Beach.

Story and Photo by Cory Bilicko
Staff Writer

In response to the numerous questions people ask her about if, how and why they themselves should run for public office, Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske hosted a breakfast Wednesday that offered a panel discussion to address the requirements and obstacles that Long Beach candidates face.
Amidst the early-morning linksmen and women at El Dorado Golf Course Restaurant, Schipske introduced her topic and the format through which it would be discussed as she presented her panel, which consisted of: Long Beach City Clerk Larry Herrera; David Gould of David L. Gould Company, a Los Angeles-based political, finance, reporting and consulting firm; and Traci Kittinger, a local political consultant. Of the 28 attendees, about half raised hands when asked if they are planning to seek public office.
Schipske said she has been approached by many who are considering running for public office, and they ask her questions about whether or not they should run, to whom they should speak and how to raise money. “It is a daunting task, but it is not something that I would say to people not to do,” Schipske said. “I think this is really important in our democracy. Campaigns allow us to have full public discussion of what the issues are, hopefully in a very, I think, civil manner.”
Schipske then emphasized the importance of running a positive campaign. “You are asking citizens to make a choice– who’s going to represent them– and I think the way that you do that speaks for how you are going to represent them.”
After her introductory remarks, Schipske cited a document named Thinking of Running for Office? A Guide for Democratic Women Candidates that is published by EMILY’s List, a political action committee that aims to help elect progressive female candidates. She mentioned that the organization’s name is an acronym for “Early Money is Like Yeast,” meaning that it helps to raise dough, and that, although the information is targeted to women, it can apply to anyone.
Referencing the guide, Schipske said: “The first thing is you’ve got to decide why you want to run, and a good consultant will ask you that too.” She indicated that some of the reasons people consider running include having served as student body president in high school, having many friends, encouragement from others to run, disenchantment with the status quo and because they think it will be enjoyable. On that last point, she said: “I will tell you, it is not a fun exercise because it does take an inordinate amount of your personal time.” She stressed the importance of discussing the matter with family and listening to their input.
Another consideration is one’s past and deciding if an invasion of privacy is worth the effort. “You need to know not only your limitations but you need to know if there’s something out there that people are going to know about that you don’t want them to know about,” she said. “You’d better deal with that before you put your name on the ballot.”
She said that, after determining the motivation for running, getting family support, and coming to terms with any privacy issues, next comes the challenge that many in politics dislike the most– raising money. “The thing I hate the most is ‘dial for dollars’–to sit down and call somebody and ask them if they can contribute to a political campaign,” she said. “It’s not that I think I shouldn’t be supported, but it’s hard asking people for money. That’s why I don’t do sales. But if you don’t raise the money, you can’t get the consultant, you can’t pay a professional treasurer, you can’t get your campaign materials out, and you won’t get your message out.” She added that the press often asks candidates how much money they have raised because, unfortunately, those funds are deemed an indicator of how serious candidates are.
Schipske pointed out that ideal candidates are those who have been active in the community in the years leading up to campaigns. “I was out there doing things other than being political,” she said, mentioning her cable show, writing an op-ed piece, organizing a community baby shower and serving on the board of health for nine years. Her reference to community involvement segued into her emphasizing the necessity of obtaining volunteers, without whom, she said, she would not have been successful.
“Last, but not least, you’ve got to get people out to the polls,” she said, mentioning that there are consultants who specialize in that task and that, in the event of a runoff election, candidates must start the cycle all over again.
Herrera, who has been city clerk since 2002, said his main mission has been to improve the transparency, accuracy, timeliness and involvement in the city’s electoral process. He indicated that there are more than 30 public offices in Long Beach which people can seek. “One of the big things people get confused about is when is the election,” he said. “Primary and general statewide elections are conducted in even-numbered calendar years, and they take place in June and November. The other elections you may hear about– let’s say Signal Hill or Downey, or someplace like that– those are odd-year elections, and those are usually called ‘uniform district elections.’” He explained that, during the even-numbered calendar years, the primary election is in April and the run-off is in June, which is the same time as the state primary. Those instances require more planning and voter education.
Herrera said a question often posed to him is “What is necessary to run for public office?” He alluded to former President Clinton’s response to that question, which was that one must be a United States citizen, 18 years or older, registered to vote, and residing in the district in which he or she is running. “But the important thing about that is there’s no job description,” Herrera said. “It’s up to you to fill in what that vision, what that job description is. It could be based on what the issues are in the community. It could be on your personal views on these issues. It could be on a number of things.”
He also explained that there will be some city offices on the ballot next April that require special qualifications, that jurisdictional boundaries are expanded to include Lakewood during citywide elections, and how candidates need to familiarize themselves with timetables for submitting campaign finance reports.
Gould said one of the first steps to take in seeking office is to consult someone like himself to learn about all the different forms that need to be filed in order to be in compliance from the beginning. “In addition, just learn the whole process of whose money you can take, money you can’t take, the limitations.” He said there is a host of campaign finance considerations of which many people are unaware. “If you look at, over the course of the years, people who have been indicted or drummed out of office, if you will, over violations, there’s a lot,” he said.
Gould warned that those seeking or serving in public office should never use campaign funds for any type of personal use. Using the example of a car, he said it would be acceptable to be reimbursed for money spent on gasoline for the job, but buying new tires would actually be criminal because it’s considered an improvement. He also indicated that audits can be hard to predict. “I have some candidates that have never been audited, and I have candidates who are audited every two years,” he said.
He also cautioned that there is a limited number of those working in his field. “You run out of people in campaign finance because there aren’t that many,” he said. “Start early.”
Kittinger shared the question and comment that she bestows on anyone seeking to run for office. “The first question that I ask them, obviously, is why do they want to run, and the second thing I say to them is they’re crazy. The reason I say that is because it’s a lot more than any of you can possibly imagine,” she said. “The pitfalls are many. If you don’t have the right advice, you’re going to waste your time, your money, possibly hurt your family. So it isn’t worth it to run unless you sincerely have all the reasons to run.”
Kittinger discussed how important it is for candidates to get their names out in the public and make contact, but also how timing is a factor. “Name recognition is extremely important in that ‘does the voter know your name?’ But it doesn’t have to be that they know it today. It has to be that they know it the day of election,” she said. “That’s when it becomes expensive or extremely time-consuming.” She suggested that candidates need to either get out and walk the entire district to get to know everyone or have enough money to send out mailers to get their names known.
In addition to name recognition, the two essentials that Kittinger underscored are financial stability and people to provide the support. “If you don’t have the courage to ask for money, don’t run,” she said.
Concluding the panel discourse, Kittinger gave a final warning that echoed Schipske’s earlier statements. “Don’t tell your secret,” she said. “Do not confide in people with any of your private stuff.”
During the question-and-answer segment of the event, an audience member asked the panelists how they view the “new media,” such as Facebook and Twitter. Schipske mentioned that she was the first council member in the city to write a blog and that she sends email alerts, but not everyone in her district uses the Internet and not all who do use it are forthcoming with their email addresses. “Candidates must embrace the new media but still use mail,” she said. “But because people are inundated by mail, peer-to-peer contact is essential.”

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