This past Saturday evening, a bomb ripped through New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, sending a scare through the city and across America. Fortunately, while 29 people were injured in the blast, no one was killed, and as of this writing on Monday morning, the FBI is in the process of hunting down a suspect.
Watching the procession of elected officials (and candidates) offering their thoughts and reassurances in the hours following the incident, it made me do some in-depth thinking about the responsibilities of elected office. Throughout the entire Campaign Coach program, we talk extensively about defining your purpose for running for office in the first place – the importance of outlining what you’re going in to accomplish, and how to put yourself in the best position to deliver. But it’s important to remember that you’re also signing up for a leadership role when things happen that are out of your control, and the people who elected you need answers.
I raise this point during a time when all of our thoughts are focused on the people in New York because being in office is not always about proposing policy changes, fixing roads and cutting ribbons. There is an intangible responsibility that you take on when elected to public office that you can’t define on a palm card or mail piece. But you must be ready to lead when leadership is called for. No matter what the circumstance, you will be the one who members of your community turn to. It’s not a responsibility to take lightly, and is one for which you should be prepared.
It doesn’t necessarily happen overnight, and present itself in an easy-to-identify challenge such as, say, a damaging hurricane or a string of burglaries would. In recent years, we worked on a local campaign where the new town supervisor (for which our candidate was running for an open seat) would have to deal with the impending closure of the town’s coal plant, which not only would bring the elimination of jobs, but millions in property tax revenues to the town. We spent many a campaign meeting talking not just about how to tell the story of the closure, but what to actually do about it if and when elected.
As we see in the aftermath of the Chelsea bombing, leaders’ responses will be scrutinized, misinterpreted (intentionally or unintentionally), and bashed on Twitter. But when someone walks into the voting booth on Election Day, and chooses you to be their representative, whether they realize it or not at the time, they are putting their trust in you to know what to do when something out of the ordinary happens. Make sure you have the stomach for doing whatever it takes to honor that trust.