COLUMN: Incumbents already had their chance

Name recognition - rather than past accomplishments - goes a long way when voters head to the polls.

In the battle to see who will lead our cities, name recognition goes a long way.

Irrespective of the incumbents’ previous accomplishments in office – regardless of real achievements or missteps along the way – name recognition is the main reason many lead the only poll that counts at election time.

Regrettably, it comes down to marketing, the same reason you’re McLoving your prefab lunch, the same reason your fizzy beverage tastes like the real thing.

It must be frustrating for newcomers to the political scene to recognize that they have to work much harder for each vote, while the incumbents – barring, just perhaps, the most scandal-plagued – seem to always get a healthy showing.

In Surrey, this time around, the name-recognition factor actually makes things harder than normal to predict, as the seven-person race for the mayor’s chair includes two sitting councillors and one former mayor. (You likely know who they are; I won’t name-check them here.)

Yet I get the feeling they’re relying on name recognition far too much.

Here we are, nearly two weeks past nomination day – and months into their campaign strategies – and I have yet to hear convincing reasons to vote for any of them over their opponents.

Instead, we’re treated to nondescript goals and platitudes, and references to too many things beyond the purview of civic politics.

Crime prevention, of course, is well within the mandate of leaders at all three levels of government. But as far as I’ve heard, none of our candidates – civic or otherwise – is pro-crime. And until I hear of a detailed, funding-specified plan with quantifiable crime-reduction goals, I consider this all-too-serious subject a bit of a wash.

Instead of specifics on other issues, we’re treated to news releases criticizing their opponents’ positions, and sometimes their opponents themselves.

We also get poll after poll – each one showing a contradictory outcome for election day. Surely I can’t be the only one who feels my intelligence is being insulted by our would-be leaders’ reliance on their own commissioned-poll results. “Gee, Lance, all the cool kids are supporting candidate X. You should too.” Yeah, right after I jump off a bridge. Right, mom?

What’s missing from the road signs and tweets and Facebook posts is what they’ve actually accomplished so far.

If I was advising any of the mayoral campaigns, I’d be asking the previously elected politicians what they’ve been up to these past few terms while on the public dime. Surely they – as individuals – have accomplished something… anything…

And no, riding another politician’s coattails is hardly an accomplishment in itself. Don’t forget, the only tangible difference between mayor and councillor, on paper at least, is more face time. The mayor has exactly one vote on a council, and, in Surrey’s case, uses it only to break ties.

And if your outgoing leader happened to accept credit for all your team accomplishments, that just might have to be your loss now.

You wanted to make our streets safer, lobby for more public transit or build a ferris wheel? You had your chance.

Same goes for their fellow incumbents – in Surrey, White Rock and any other city one might have an interest in. We voted you in last time, so your name’s a little more recognizable. Please don’t make that the primary reason why we should vote for you this time.

And a word to the fledgling council politicians, at least three of whom will be elected in Surrey and two in White Rock on Nov. 15:

This doesn’t have to be a popularity contest. Make it about the issues.

By simply filing nomination papers, you’ve got our attention. Now hold it.

We’ll assume you’re “trustworthy” and “hardworking.” Now tell us why our city will be different under your leadership, so we’ll have something to judge you on next time, when you’re the incumbent.

Lance Peverley is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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