Smile Politely

Here’s to the Losers

Okay, this is it. The last of my post-election columns.

I’ll use it to remind everyone how fun (seriously, it was) it is to run for office. I had a great time.

I would like to say this about my mayoral competitors Durl Kruse and Rex Bradfield: They are both absolutely and completely batshit insane. The best evidence for this indictment is that they chose to run for office in Urbana as partisans, but not members of TOPU (The One Party of Urbana).

I think they are insane for other reasons, too. But I got along with them very well, and they were kind and accommodating to me.

We shared the ignominy of getting pantsed by the incumbent. We are now Brothers in Loserhood. This puts us even more in touch with the common man. Having met the common man, you know that he is a loser. Good for him. Caw Caw.


Most obviously, the losers in the 2009 mayoral campaign were Durl, Rex, and me. But apart from Rex’s $40,000, I don’t think we lost much.

The Republicans weren’t thrilled with Rex. He’s a moderate. He’s kooky. And a lot of people found his ad campaign lacking good taste. I met three people, two hard core Republicans and one anti-Prussing Democrat, who were not going to vote for Rex specifically because of the robocall which evidently left a four-minute message on the answering machines of Urbana. I met no one who enthusiastically said “Hey, I got a message from Rex Bradfield” or similar. And those billboards.. oh, lordy.

Durl is still new to town, and it showed. At our meeting with the News-Gazette editorial board he talked about canvassing a neighborhood that’s not actually within city limits. The residents were happy to see him. So he made people happy. That’s an accomplishment.

For me, being a grown-up candidate for office will be one of the great experiences of my life. There were unpleasant moments, but they weren’t all that bad. Mostly, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s interesting. It’s personal. It involves rare moments of sincerity and frankness with genuine people.

There were a few moments where I got trapped in a speech. But that’s part of the deal. I’m sure Jesus will forgive me for not joining those congregations to which I was invited. I suspect the newest religious idol, Instant Runoff Voting, will forgive me too.

There were other losers, less well known (and in their own minds, completely ignored by the city). I’d like to close my brief series of post-election columns by thanking them, and recognizing them.


I don’t have anything against Laurel Prussing, personally.

It’s been interesting even for me to watch me seethe at her. I had no beef with her until I felt that she blew me off. But as I found more and more people tell me they’d had similar experiences, I got mad.

Being an elected official can be no fun, but the best ones have a knack for making constituents feel heard. Tim Johnson, for example, had already sat on all of the couches I sat on. Almost all of them were Democratic couches. He’s our Republican Congressman, if you didn’t know. That’s pure political brilliance. (I should probably charge something for this little tip, because I spent hard hours learning it myself.)

I’m all about ego. I think it’s a great reason to run for office. (Seriously, are humble people going to put up with all the bullshit of being an elected official?) But eventually, you’re going to have to listen to constituents. You might even have to respond to them.

The worst insult I can give to those who worked assiduously to re-elect Laurel Prussing is this:  Like Bush in 2004, you’ll have to wait four years to see a new way of thinking. With Bush, I’d say there just wasn’t enough thinking. With the Prussing crowd, the problem is that the mindset was formed/is locked 30 years in the past.

I still haven’t figured out what the agenda is.


In my penultimate mayoral wrap-up column, I received the following comment from “Luke”:

I didn’t believe that the things you mentioned in that column were serious problems, and I thought that your solutions would create more problems than they would fix. I suspect that we don’t even agree on what the issues are…  I’ll be happy to discuss this in detail, if you’d like.

So I emailed him. “Sure,” I replied, “what are the issues?”

While I awaited his response, I did what most any of us might do to learn more about who I was dealing with: I googled him and learned a few things about him. For instance, I learned that he had just moved to Urbana from Virginia last year.

“Luke” is smart. It’s possible that he was able to assimilate all the nuances of local governance issues within the last few months. I don’t really believe that, of course. But I certainly wouldn’t favor disenfranchising him. (Until Dunn v. Blumstein he wouldn’t have had the right to vote in this election.) People who like to vote but don’t know about local issues vote on national issues, often personal. They have a right to do it. I’d like to welcome “Luke” to town, and invite him to discover other parts of it. For the lifers, and the people who’ve been around for a while, the issues tend to be local and often personal. It’s all NIMBY.

Intriguingly though, if “Luke” had arrived a decade earlier, he’d have known that the guy across the street already fought the same problem. Luckily for “Luke”, that campaign had a more successful outcome than mine—even though that was the era when the city council “couldn’t work together.”

Luke got back to me with his list of issues. Recycling, snow removal, and potholes fall within the purview of the mayor’s office. He said he was fairly happy with these operations. Wind power was on his list. (It’s not a city issue right now, although I campaigned to make it one. I guess he missed that part of my homepage, pamphlet and comments in the four debates.) Schools, public transit and water treatment were the other issues he cited, but none of them are actually within the purview of the mayor’s office. Like a lot of new people, Luke may believe that operations of our city government are commensurate with his previous municipal home. (Some towns do garbage collection. Some manage your tap water. Urbana does neither.)

Luke was not a targeted voter. My campaign only targeted the few thousand people who voted in 2005 and again in 2008. Because he moved here recently, he wasn’t on the list.

But I went through our files and found that Luke did get a visit. He’s so new that his house is still listed as belonging to a woman named Amy, who did vote in Urbana in 2005 and 2008. Furthermore, the note written on the canvassing list says “he planned to vote for Prussing.”

The Lesson of Luke is important. This is a transient community. Many of the people who voted this year were not here in 2005. Many of the people who voted in 2005 have finished a degree here, and moved on. Quite a few are dead.

Like Luke, a lot of the new people are likely to vote for Democrats, possibly Greens. They belong to the academic community, are younger and tend toward liberal politics. My friend, the city hall reporter (in Ohio), chided me when I told him about my campaign: “You’re not planning on getting student vote, I hope. I’ve heard that one before.” His cynicism is apt. Students don’t vote.

But my strategy was bad, too. People who are new to town do vote. Unfortunately, without the backing of a party structure, they’re much harder to locate. And then you might have to spend a long time persuading them that you’re a better than the choice wearing that familiar label. They might even believe that horseshit about 96 new businesses. (Granted, that bit did fool the entire Daily Illini editorial board, who were too busy to do any independent verification, I guess.)

So, the people who have little voted for a woman with two homes. The environmentalists voted for a woman who drives a Lincoln.


I like wind energy. I like sustainability and all that shit. I like bike lanes (where appropriate).

But while we’re writing the ordinances of the future, it’s important to abide by the ones other mayors and city councils worked to achieve in the past. Simple stuff, like maintaining law and order.

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