A how-to on throwing your hat into the ring
Would-be candidates for local offices get pointers on running.
by David Mekeel
For Gary Hadden, it was a new world.
He’s never held political office, but said he’s been thinking about running for his local board of supervisors. Figuring out everything that entails - well, that’s why he showed up Monday night.
"I was just interested in trying to get some more information," said Hadden, who lives in the Leesport area.
Hadden was one of about 30 local residents who attended Monday’s "Toss Your Hat in the Ring" seminar at the Berks County Agricultural Center in Bern Township. The event, which was sponsored by the Penn State Extension and Berks County Elections Services, was designed to give political newcomers an overview of what running for office is all about.
For the most part, the two-hour session focused on local government, which by far makes up the vast majority of political offices.
"We have a lot of local government," said Liesel Dreisbach, of the Northampton County Penn State Extension office. Dreisbach provided the small crowd with a rundown of the local offices, explaining the ins and outs of county and municipal political positions.
She talked about qualifications, the differences between first- and second-class townships and the lengths of terms. But perhaps more importantly she talked about some of the skills candidates need and how they’ll have to operate if elected.
For example, school board members, she said, need to make sure they give their administrations leeway to run their districts.
"It’s not your job to micromanage the school district," she said. "That’s why you hired a superintendent."
For municipal and county seats, she said, leadership skills and a willingness to work as part of a team are far more important than being an expert on every issue.
But no matter what office you’re running for, Dreisbach added, it’s vital to know what you’re getting into.
"If you’re planning to run, I really hope you do your homework," she said.
That means going to meetings, asking the current members questions, reviewing the budget and reading newsletters.
Deborah M. Olivieri, Berks County director of election services, followed Dreisbach with a look at the nuts and bolts of running for office, walking those in the crowd through everything needed to get on the ballot and campaign.
She said anyone interested in running will get a detailed guidebook that should provide everything he or she needs to know: filing dates, rules about getting petitions notarized, who can run for what, etc.
The event concluded with three local officials - Michael S. Malinowski, Muhlenberg Township commissioner; Robert H. Quinter Jr., Exeter School Board; and Frederick C. Levering, Wyomissing Borough Council - sharing their experiences in public office. They described the budgeting, decision making, negotiating and compromising that goes into holding office.
Contact David Mekeel: 610-371-5014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.