Tales from the campaign trail: part two – making a last impression first

[Note: The observations, impressions and interpretations found here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Jeff Johnson, who’s campaign this series is about. This is part two in a series. Part one can be found here.]

In early June, my next door neighbor filed to run for Lake Forest Park City Council and made me his Campaign Director.

Some quick background on Jeff – he has owned his own auto repair business nearly his entire life. He’s never run for any public office, and he probably had only an above-average understanding of the LFP city politics and budget, as he had only attended a few Council meetings after the Prop 1 vote. But he’s got a background full of unique and interesting experiences (see his site for more detail) and he’s a very dynamic guy, so I knew we had a lot to work with for the campaign.

After Jeff filed, we were immediately faced with an urgent challenge – to submit a summary of his campaign for the Voter Pamplet, that gets mailed to all Lake Forest Park voters three weeks prior to the November 8 election.

The purpose of the statement was to acquaint LFP voters to Jeff. This may have been the greatest challenge we faced.

It was the first action item in the campaign, but it wasn’t going to appear for four months. Yet it was going to have to define Jeff’s campaign and be consistent with everything that was to come before and after it – all in 150 words.

In 150 words (or less) we had to introduce Jeff, tell you something about him, explain why he’s running and tell you what he would do if elected. (Even harder than it sounds, as it turns out.)

Essentially, in less than a week and with little understanding of his opponents or general campaign dynamics, we had to map out his entire campaign three months before it would really get off the ground. I was at an even greater handicap, having only moved to the area less than two years prior (at that point) and not really understanding LFP political history.

Jeff’s opponent was Chuck Paulsen, a career pharmacist with plenty of City government experience – including serving on the budget committee that conceived of Prop. 1 – and allegiances to the three incumbents running. Because the campaign hadn’t really started, we had no idea what he was going to write. But then again, Chuck may have been at an even greater disadvantage, since Jeff was a completely unknown quantity, and may have been easy to underestimate.

We decided that we would open by establishing Jeff’s credibility by talking about his long-term residency and passion for LFP.

Second, we wanted to talk about his experience. Fortunately, in 2011, business and life experience are often more valued by voters than government experience – since government is seen by many as clearly not working. In fact, we were hoping Chuck would emphasize his City government committee and task force experience while we were establishing Jeff’s small business, volunteer and varied life experience.

In short, we wanted to make this election about the out-of-touch City government officials who thought they could pass a 38% increase in the levy rate for the City’s portion of property taxes which residents rejected 78% to 22%. We wanted to illustrate that the City government doesn’t understand its citizens but that Jeff, being just like you and me, has his finger on the pulse of the average resident and is eager to represent them. This was made easier by the fact that all of the above was absolutely true. (Always a plus in marketing efforts.)

Finally, we wanted to put a nod toward what he wanted to bring to the Council. It only received one sentence of the candidate summary because it was the easiest to summarize and it was more important to make people feel comfortable with who Jeff is and why he’s running.

Below is what we finally decided upon and what appeared in the pamphlet:

“Lake Forest Park has been my home for 28 years.

My children went to school here. I mobilized volunteers in our community when people needed help. And for over 20 years, I’ve built and grown my family-owned business that serves many of you.

I’m concerned that our City Council isn’t meeting citizen’s expectations. Last year, Proposition One was a wake-up call. Like 78% of you, I voted against it.

Instead of making tough budget decisions, the Council placed Proposition One on the ballot. They expected us to bear the burden by increasing the city’s portion of our property taxes by 38% in the first year alone.

Let’s restore fiscal responsibility, assure public safety and prevent flooding while protecting streams.

The Council needs to know what LFP citizens like you and me are thinking. So let’s put an optimistic and experienced LFP citizen on the Council.

I can be that Councilperson.”

Most people in LFP had no idea who Jeff was – or his opponent, for that matter. While we’d inevitably have a website, yard signs, handouts, etc., for many, this would be the only thing they’d look at so it was our one and only chance to make the right impression.

I think we nailed it, and looking back on it now, I still feel very good about what we were able to produce so early, on such short notice and with so little time.

Click here to go to part three…

– My name is Jon Friesch, and I saw the whole thing.

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