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RISMEDIA, March 2, 2010—Real estate practitioners frequently develop a large sphere of influence, a great understanding of their community and its needs, as well as an overview of the political landscape. Too often we assume that either we are not worthy or other more competent individuals will step forward to lead.

With mid-term elections still about eight months away, candidates in communities great and small will decide whether or not to file papers in the appropriate district. Absent the focus on a presidential race, these are vital elections on the local level.

Yet, despite what is at stake and all the rhetoric about throw the bums out, in most communities, we’ll be looking at the same old faces.

I cannot shake the uneasy question: “Is that all there is?” In this great land of more than three hundred million people, surely there are many people better qualified to lead than the people who got us here.

But, they aren’t stepping forward to run for public office. It’s hard to blame them. Campaigns are challenging, the media may attack you with lies and half truths, your finances become a matter of public record, and your personal privacy is eroded. And, that’s the fun part. I know; in 2006, I ran for Mayor of Vista, CA. More on the lessons learned from that in a moment.

For democracy to work, we need to have elections; to have elections, we need to have candidates. The best way to arrive at good decisions is to have all sides of every issue vigorously debated in public. In too many communities, incumbents run again and again unchallenged. I don’t care how good a job they’ve done, we need a free exchange of ideas, and we need to rotate public service among as wide a body of the citizenry as possible.

Someone has to do it, and maybe that someone is you. To be fair, if you are reading this, you probably have no chance of becoming a Senator or a Congressperson. Statistically, given the cost of these campaigns, you’d need to start fundraising by the age of 13.

But, your community needs you. From administrative boards to your state legislature, there are numerous local opportunities for you to serve. Don’t let the campaign discourage you.

Who are you to run for office? Perfect, that’s who. Why not you? And, the all too often asked question: “If not you, then who?”

And, that was what prompted me to run for Mayor. I came to Vista in 1980 and since then the population has tripled but the standard of living has steadily deteriorated. In my opinion, the incumbent was largely responsible for that decline. He was City Manager for 19 years before being elected Mayor.

I felt that he had had enough time to screw things up. As the election drew near and the nomination deadline loomed, it appeared the incumbent would be unopposed. So, I went all in.

I took on a large, fully-entrenched, well-capitalized machine and got 20% of the vote. They spent $400,000 and I spent $2,000. I campaigned for three things: graffiti abatement, code enforcement, and equipment for the Sheriff, and I got all three. In the end, I got what I campaigned for because even those who didn’t vote for me wanted the administration to clean up the city.

Here is what I learned in my campaign for mayor:

1. Start early
I hadn’t been involved in politics before and I waited until the last minute hoping someone else would run. I hadn’t any name recognition, no campaign manager, no organization, no money, no experience, and yet, I got 20% of the vote while spending only $2,000. Had I started sooner, raised more money, built a power base and campaigned more relentlessly, I might have won; but that wasn’t why I ran. To win, you will need to do these things:

2. Prepare
Depending on the seat you are running for, you will need to do a certain amount of research. A city, for example, is more complex than a water board or the school board. You’ll need a good grasp of what the board does and what kind of information they have available. Attend meetings to see what is discussed, what issues the organization is facing, and who the players are.

3. Study the budget
Most organizations have some sort of funding. A city like Vista spends $100,000,000. A candidate needs to know where the money comes from, how much there is, and where it’s spent. This is also an excellent way to get a snapshot of all of the pieces of the organization because most will have some budgetary considerations.

4. Take the campaign to the voters
One thing I learned was that there would have been no campaign without me. With no campaign, the misdirection of the cities leadership would get no exposure from a compliant press.

If there is no one willing to hold officials’ feet to the fire in public, voters don’t know that there are alternative ways to approach things. My city wanted to increase the sales tax. But, with so many vacant storefronts, they would have raised more revenue by encouraging businesses to come, rather than taxing them further.

Now, even the “99 cent” stores are closing, and with sales tax, everything is $1.09.

5. The media will favor the incumbent.
There was a time when newspapers were the voice of the people. Today they are the voice for all of the special interests that directly and indirectly influence advertising expenditures.

If things are going well in your community at the moment, the press will argue that it would be foolish to vote for someone who might change things. If things are going badly, they’ll argue that what is needed now is experience and that it would be foolish to vote for someone untested.

6. Create and attract visitors to your website.
This is where you can tell your story. Put your website address on everything.

7. Our future depends, not on our willingness to accede to the ideas of a small and privileged class, our future depends on average citizens continually challenging those ideas.

There is a saying, “He who has a hammer, tends to see every problem as a nail.”

Now, more than ever, we need to try some different approaches. Continuing along with the same policies and expecting better results is the definition of insanity.

You need to run for office to bring your own point of view to the process. There is no reason to assume that others will make better decisions than you. Who are you to run for office? Vital!

What is going on in our country didn’t just happen. It is the result of really bad decisions, many of them illegal, often by people who had a vested interest.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision permitting unlimited campaign spending by corporations is a pretty strong indicator that even the Supreme Court is bought and paid for.

Coming on the heels of their outrageous eminent domain decision allowing any private entity to take the property of another for profit motive only, (Kelo v New London), there is no denying their bias.

The campaign finance issue isn’t the free speech issue they tried to make it out to be, but just the opposite. The only voice we will hear is that of Wall Street, “Big Oil,” and the “global Corporate Elite.” At every level, we will have the very best elections that big corporate money can buy.

I’ve been out here for months screaming “we’ve been robbed,” but I’m being drowned out by a chorus of well-placed articles which assert that American workers are paid too much, they are greedy and reckless, they bought houses they could not afford, and they brought this on themselves.

They can afford to hire flacks to place their biased articles in publications and media they already own. I’m relegated to trying to push my research past a nervous editor so that it at least makes it onto the Internet. Not exactly a level playing field.

The House and Senate will soon look like the treasury with every seat occupied by someone who used to work on Wall Street. They have all the money and their friends Tim, Ben, and Hank will just print them more if they need it.

We need average citizens to invade the government.

We allowed it to get this way through naïveté, complacency, and laziness. Government is the natural enemy of the individual, and we as individuals need to keep invading government or it will gobble up everything.

Our founding fathers knew that and they tried to tell us that. But, they never could have imagined that we would seemingly have no interest in how our tax dollars are wasted or the deterioration of our communities.

This election season should be a call to arms at the local level. Tough decisions will need to be made in almost every community as funds dry up and choices evaporate. Those decisions need to be made by those close to the community, average people who are affected by pot holes, teacher lay offs, and closed parks.

Here’s a campaign slogan that should really resonate, “I couldn’t possibly do any worse!”

Who are you to run for office? Maybe our last hope.

George W. Mantor is known as “The Real Estate Professor” for his consumer education efforts including a long-running radio program, monthly workshop series, public appearances, and frequent articles.

During a career dating back to 1978, he has amassed experience in new home and resale residential real estate, resort marketing and commercial and investment property.

Prior to starting his own real estate and mortgage brokerage in 1992, he had been Director of Training and Customer Service for Great Western Real Estate. In addition, he has served on virtually every real estate committee, including a term as a Director of the California Association of REALTORS.

George is a nationally respected authority on all areas of real estate and is frequently quoted in a wide range of publications. He is an oft invited guest of Fox Business Network and for many years, he was the host of “Keepin’ It Real…Real talk about the real thing, real estate” on KCEO radio.

The Real Estate Professional includes him in “a directory of the Nation’s outstanding authors, columnists, and speakers. His articles have also recently appeared in Real Estate Finance, The Real Estate Professional, National Real Estate Investor, Broker Agent News, and Realty Times. His blog is http://www.realtown.com/gwmantor/blog.

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