Insider: Tired of Philly Politics As Usual? Quit Complaining and Run For Office

Rashed: To succeed in the game, you have to be in the game.


From L to R: State Reps. Donna Bullock and Joanna McClinton. They ran for office. So should you. | Photos courtesy of Bullock’s and McClinton’s Facebook pages

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

During the past few years, I’ve noticed a recurring theme in the months following municipal elections. There are two conversations that occur constantly among plugged-in Philadelphians, which creates two distinct political groups. The first is what I like to refer to as the “Inspired Camp.”

The Inspired Camp observes X, Y or Z Candidate run an upstart campaign against the odds and beat the machine/establishment/tradition. That, in turn, inspires them to do the same. Since the primary election took place in May, I’ve heard dozens of aspiring candidates say they were excited by the election process and have since thought to themselves, “Hey, why not me? Why not now?” Call it the Barack Obama effect. From the outside, it looks easy: A candidate puts together a magical campaign, everything comes together, and victory is earned.

There’s a bench of young, civic-minded leaders that are being built in Philly right now. They want change, and they see themselves as the best chance to make that change happen. Some are doing the work on their own. Some are part of traditional political camps. But make no mistake about it: There will be a solid next generation of leaders.

Sheila Armstrong is on the ballot in November as an Independent candidate for City Council. Omar Woodard is pursuing the State Senate in the 3rd District. Kellan White has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the House of Representatives in the 200th. The same has been said about Abu Edwards in the 198th, Darren Lipscomb in the 192nd, and Francis Nelms in the 179th.

A top-ranking elected official from Northwest Philadelphia told me they’re helping to prepare a highly qualified African-American female candidate to run for City Controller in 2017. As far as political support goes, Northwest weight goes far (see: Kenney, Jim).

Add newly elected state representatives Donna Bullock and Joanna McClinton to this mix, and that officially qualifies as an official movement of fresh blood in office.

This brings us to Group B, or what I like to call the “Regretful Camp.”

These are usually incumbent politicians who have long aspired to higher office, but they either decided not to run in the last election or didn’t jump into the race until it was too late. These elected officials will sometimes go as far as acting as if they de-facto won the race, using the platform of their office to flex and opine on a wide variety of issues that are traditionally not within their purview. They also tell anyone who will listen that they could have won if they had run. “Man, those chumps,” they say. “I could have beaten any of them.”

Well, no, they couldn’t have. They were never in the race, and there’s probably a reason for that. Long-shot candidates win because they actually run. That puts them in a place where they can potentially succeed if a few breaks go their way. It is rarely discussed now, but back in 2004, then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama’s opponent dropped out of the U.S. Senate race, giving Obama a clear path to victory that wasn’t there when he threw his hat in the ring. If Obama hadn’t run for the Senate, he wouldn’t be president today.

Running for public office is no easy task. Unless you’re running for reelection, you have to quit your job, because few things will inspire you and potential supporters more than showing that you are so committed that you don’t even have another option.

You must also have high levels of willful blindness and naiveté in order to see a path to victory that may or may not be there. You have to be willing to subject yourself to all matter of public scrutiny and potential embarrassment. You have to accept that you have very little to no privacy. You have to be ready to lose a lot of people who you thought were your friends.

Thankfully, they’ll be replaced by new friends and potential lifetime allies. You will never forget the people who were there for you, and you most definitely will not forget the people who weren’t.

So for those of you who aspire to public office, my advice is simple: Pursue it. If you sit on the sidelines, you forfeit your right to complain about the electoral process and outcome. To succeed in the game, you have to be in the game.

As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

In other words, join the Inspired Camp already.

Mustafa Rashed is the President & CEO of Bellevue Strategies, a government relations, advocacy and consulting firm. He is Chairman of Friends of Doug Oliver, PAC, and he was the campaign manager of Oliver’s recent mayoral run.