Running for Local Office: A call for candidates
Last November, I ran for Dutchess County Legislature (in the 25th District, including Amenia, Washington, and the eastern portion of Pleasant Valley.) While I didn’t end up winning that campaign, running for office is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I’m writing to encourage anyone with an interest in improving our community to consider running for local office: be it City Council, Mayor, Town or Village Board, County Legislator or School Board.
In the present political climate, there is a temptation to focus on the latest national controversy. There are always forces who want to stoke our outrage and distract us from the important discussions that are happening much closer to home. But local issues affect our day-to-day life much more than national ones. When you commute to work every day, are there buses that serve your needs? Do you have to avoid potholes and poor road conditions when driving? Do you pay for dump tickets to get rid of your trash every week? Are those funds being spent responsibly? All of these issues are determined at the local level and they’re all important.
For those who are passionate about national issues, there are many discussions happening locally that bear on the national conversation. While the United States Department of Justice cracks down on Sanctuary Cities and Counties, the Dutchess County Sheriff sets our level of cooperation with ICE. While many of us applauded those who marched in the March for Our Lives, our local school boards dictated whether students could participate in walkouts protesting inaction on gun violence. Congress and New York State set Medicaid policy, but county taxpayers pick up a huge chunk of the costs. I believe that for every national issue that is grabbing headlines, there are important- and often much more constructive- discussions happening at the local level.
It would be naive to ignore the fact that candidates for state and federal office often come from local government; participation in local government grooms individuals for higher office. Learning how to govern and listen to constituents takes work and on-the-job training. If you are concerned about Congress, consider that the battle for Congress in ten years is happening in state legislature races TODAY. The battle for Congress in twenty years is happening in town board and County Legislature races TODAY. If you sit these elections out, your interest and concern is short-sighted at best, and disingenuous at worst.
Spirited campaigns for local elected offices also breed clean, honest government and greater accountability. When one party or clique dominates local government, it becomes too easy to ignore abuses of power or neglect in official duties. Corruption in the state and federal governments rightly spawns outrage; yet when the Pleasant Valley Town Clerk is arraigned for stealing $27,000 in public funds, many residents don’t even notice. Few ask what systemic issues may have allowed this theft to go on for so long. Local government will not be responsive and transparent unless active citizens demand it at the ballot box.
For those concerned about clean, honest government and accountability, I would recommend checking out Trailblazers PAC, a non-partisan organization that supports candidates for local office who demonstrate broad support from local voters and a commitment to honest government. I was honored to be endorsed by Trailblazers and the work that they are doing in New York gives me hope.
We all have a civic obligation to participate in local government: by attending a hearing on an issue that interests us, lobbying a town board member or county legislator, or even running for office ourselves. Dutchess deserves an active and engaged government, but it will take an active and engaged electorate to achieve it. We get the government we deserve.