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Thinking of Running for Office?

If you’re a woman thinking about running for office, you’ve got lots of company.

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Articulate your deepest values...
if you don't know yourself, you can't sell yourself to others.

In an unprecedented wave of female political activism, more women are running for office than ever before. As TIME magazine reported in January 2018: “There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates… running for offices big and small, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards…More than 26,000 women have reached out [to Emily’s list] about launching a campaign.”

Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson knows a thing or two about successfully running for office—and then serving honorably. As a county commissioner for 16 years, Sorenson earned renown and respect for her graceful ability to effectively advocate for the causes she believed in while deftly defusing sometimes blistering antagonism. 

A few years ago, Sorenson founded the Good Government Initiative (GGI) to educate aspiring public servants in the fine art of pursuing elected office both effectively and ethically. GGI’s popular “Thinking About Running?” workshops provided attendees with tools for handling the rigors of campaigning and the challenges of governing without losing their ethical compasses along the way.

Though Sorenson has since discontinued GGI to pursue other interests, the experiences and lessons shared during the workshops remain useful for anyone considering a run for public office. Among the timely—and timeless—insights that Sorenson and fellow workshop presenters, including local elected officials, shared with participants:

Articulate your deepest values as a critical first step. Values-based leaders remain grounded. Self-knowledge comes first. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t sell yourself to others.

Be able to boil your quest down to a 30-second elevator speeches that begins: “I’m running for office because….”

Political campaigns demand a prodigious commitment of time and energy. As Sorenson bluntly puts it: “If you say you are ‘not a morning person’ or ‘not a night person,’ don’t run.”

Political campaigns are notoriously expensive, so assemble a starter bankroll from your own funds and/or contributions from your nearest and dearest, then keep going. Turning contacts into supporters demands a methodical approach coupled with dogged determination.

While digital media have had an impact on political campaigns, there is no substitute for the classic standbys of door-to-door canvassing, showing up at community meetings and events, and listening—lots of listening.  As Mark Samuelian, who on his second try became a Miami Beach City Commissioner last fall, “Make it your business to remember everything about the people you talk with—their names, their issues, the names of their dogs.”

And, once all your efforts prove successful and you are actually elected, some additional thoughts from Sorenson and her Good Government Initiative guests:

You need to represent all of your constituents, not just the vested interests, says Mayra Peña  Lindsay, mayor of Key Biscayne: “Wherever citizens may come down on issues, I want them to feel that those issues have been vetted properly and they can live with the result.”

Transparency, notes Francis Suarez, now Mayor of the City of Miami, is key: “People want to know where you stand. This is not poker.”

Take people’s positions seriously, Sorenson emphasizes: “What’s most important is that you bring a sense of responsibility, ownership, accountability to the role, rather than blame, excuses, and denial.”

If you are one of those idealistic people who are drawn to public service but hesitate because you think, “I am not a politician,” Sorenson says that you are precisely the type of person who should be in public office. “Yes, you are a politician,”  she says. “Embrace it and change the meaning of it.”