GREENFIELD — Cheryl Dukes, a panelist at Sunday’s League of Women Voters meeting, had a clear explanation of what it’s like to be in local government: She once left her house at 9 a.m. for a 10-minute walk to the bank and didn’t get home until 4 p.m. She never even made it to the bank.
Dukes is a former Buckland Selectboard member and said that’s how small town politics work. One of her recommendations for those interested in running for office is that it’s important to be visible to your constituents, who are often also your neighbors.
She was one of four panelists at the League’s event “So you want to run for office ... Now what?” on Sunday afternoon. The event offered tips and information about running for local offices and what to do once you’re elected.
Dukes was joined on the panel by Joe Judd, Shelburne Selectboard Chairman and Town Clerk, Rudy Renaud, Greenfield Town Councilor at Large, and Francia Wisnewski, a former Greenfield School Committee member.
The speakers discussed everything from why they decided to run for office and campaigning to tips for dealing with angry constituents once elected.
The panel went from 1 to 2:30 p.m. with questions from the audience of about 30 after.
Judd and Dukes were able to give more of a small town perspective while Wisnewski and Renaud were able to explain how campaigning works in a larger area like Greenfield.
Wisnewski and Renaud both had to handle public, televised debates and candidate nights. Renaud said she watched Meet the Press to learn body language and debate tricks and also view old Greenfield debates.
The televised forums were something Wisnewski said were terrifying at first, but she learned to embrace them to help her reach more people.
“This is another opportunity for me to tell my story to a wider audience,” she said.
She recommended people learn about the issues and connect with voters before and during the race. She went to the senior center, youth programs, playgrounds and the supermarket to talk to voters and met with government officials to get a sense of the job.
“Sometimes you think you know the issues and then you start talking to people and it’s a different story,” she said.
Panelists said public service can be rewarding, and being able to help solve problems for people, no matter how small they seem, can have a big impact.Building relationships
All four panelists encouraged audience members to run for office. Three of the four speakers lost their first local election and said it may take more than one run to get elected.
The group spoke to the way small towns operate. School committees and selectboards require a time commitment and in the smallest towns, few positions are full time.
The panelists said these jobs can often involve hard decisions and public votes that can receive criticism.
“Your mistakes are very public,” Renaud said.
But the panelists all felt that even if you make a mistake or constituents disagree with your vote on an issue, people tend to be forgiving as long as they know their elected officials are in it for the right reasons.
Dukes said public officials dealt with a host of problems after Hurricane Irene, but that she and others had built relationships before the storm hit, which gave them more public trust to handle the situation.
The League of Women Voters of Franklin County, which is a new branch of the national organization, hosted the event at Temple Israel in Greenfield.
The league has also created an e-book that lists every open position in 25 of the 26 towns in Franklin County. It also includes contact information and hours for the town clerk and important dates for running. The e-book can be found at the group’s website, lwvma-franklincounty.org.
The Franklin County League was formed after the election as a way to create opportunities for political action for local women.
The speakers at the event cautioned against using hate against President Donald Trump as the only reasoning for running in a local race.
Dukes said that works for about five minutes, but for someone to be a successful public servant, they have to have a genuine interest in helping people where they live.
“You can’t govern from a place of anger,” she said.
Reach Miranda Davis
at 413-772-0261, ext. 280