University City

Get to know local candidates with voter information drives

Tip O'Neil, a speaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, once said: "All politics are local."

That's true on many levels.

Most of those elected to national office started their political careers by running for a humble local position.

On Nov. 8, Charlotte will hold an election that will decide mayor, school board members and city council members.

Unfortunately, elections without any national candidates tend to get overlooked. Voters cannot seem to rouse themselves without media screaming at them non-stop. Local elections seldom attract that much attention unless someone uncovers a salacious scandal.

So it's up to neighborhood leaders to emphasize the importance of electing responsible, level-headed officials who will determine the policies that govern how our children will be educated and how our city will grow and flourish.

This, folks, is politics as up-close and personal as it gets, so pay attention.

Now is the time to plan a voter information drive for your community. Candidates get booked solid right before the election, sometimes doing two or three appearances per night.

Neighborhood groups that book candidates for September appearances will find many more time slots available.

First, check the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections site to make sure you know which precincts are in your neighborhood. Thirteen voting places have been relocated and five precincts are now in different city council districts. The precinct changes affect more than 11,000 voters so many are now represented by someone they did not vote for.

Take this opportunity to invite the new and would-be leaders to a Neighborhood Association meeting. Here are a few pointers I learned while president of the Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association.

Schedule the candidate forum as early as possible. Invite everyone from both parties that your voters can elect. If you are lucky enough to book two or three candidates willing to speak to your neighborhood association, don't try to have a business meeting before or after the candidate forum.

Make sure to emphasize the importance of this election to your neighborhood. Tie it to issues relevant to the community (a street renovation, school, crime)

Choose a moderator and a timekeeper for the evening. While the timekeeper's role is self-evident, the moderator is there to assure every question is asked in a calm tone. They can also gently steer the candidate back to the issue if the candidate tries to dodge the question. Audience members can write questions on note cards as the candidates deliver their opening statements. In this way, reoccurring issues will get addressed, and inappropriate questions can be avoided.

The neighborhood forum is hardly a League of Women Voter's debate, but the same rules of order must guide it. Those shouting, booing, or otherwise displaying disrespectful behavior will be asked to leave.

Candidates remember neighborhoods that deliver voters, so pack your room. It is the best investment you'll ever make.