Why Would Anyone Be a Candidate?

It’s a hard slog. People running for municipal, provincial, or federal offices work for months to apply for a job that entails long and thankless hours. Inevitably, half the people think you’re wrong no matter what you do or say. When running and in office, many people insult you, lie about you, and assume the worst about you. Consider the sexist attacks endured by Peterborough mayor Diane Therrien or the invective lobbed at Prime Minister Trudeau when all he did was get a haircut.

Attacking politicians is as old as politics itself. The invention of social media, the erosion of public decorum, and the Trumpian destruction of a foundation of agreed upon facts have made a bad thing worse. So, again, why would anyone be a candidate?

I concede that some people run for the wrong reason. Some run for the money and some to feed their ego. Others run to build their brand for future opportunities. I sincerely believe, however, that they are the minority. I believe that most candidates and, consequently, most who serve, do so for noble reasons.

Consider what Robert Kennedy said in 1964. Months after his brother was assassinated, Kennedy resigned as Attorney General to run as a Senator for New York. He was asked during a raucous event at Columbia University why he was running. I like his answer. Kennedy said, “I don’t need the title because apparently I can be called General for the rest of my life, and I don’t need the money, and I don’t need the office space…frank as it is, I’d like to be a good United States senator, I’d like to serve.”

Robert F. Kennedy

Kennedy offers an important reminder that a public office is public service. When serious people run for the right reasons, they do not do so because they think they are smarter than others, have better vision, or are better able to make important decisions. They run because they care about their community, have thought deeply about the challenges and opportunities before it, and believe they have something to contribute to help make it a little better. The right people run because, like Kennedy, they want to serve.

I am running for Lakefield Ward councillor in my hometown. It’s certainly not as lofty an office as United States Senator and I am certainly no Robert Kennedy. But if I can paraphrase him: I don’t need the money, title, or office space. I am running because I want to serve. I know that sounds corny and perhaps even naive in our world of vicious politics and alternative facts, but it’s true.

Perhaps as we consider the municipal candidates whose signs will soon sprout on lawns around town we might temper our skepticism a little and consider that maybe most of them are running for the right reason.

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