Candidates who want to run for City Council or mayor have a lot of information to dissect and understand and a lot of tasks to complete. A detail as small as where you place your yard sign can be dictated by city ordinances.
Getting the essential information isn’t easy. It’s not readily available online. It took The Wichita Beacon more than a month of regularly calling and emailing the Sedgwick County Election Office to get answers to basic questions such as, “How do you officially file to run in Wichita?”
What information we couldn’t get from the election office we found by talking with previous and current City Council members and campaign staffers. Their tips and advice are shared here.
This year City Council districts 2, 4, and 5 are up for election. The at-large mayoral seat is also up for election.
What is the first thing I should consider before running for mayor or City Council?
Time. The council is considered a part-time job while the mayor is full-time. The City Council holds regular meetings every first, second and third Tuesday of the month and meets for a workshop every fourth Tuesday.
City Council members are also expected to attend community meetings, meet with constituents and understand ordinance proposals and budget issues that come across their desks.
What else should I consider?
Consider your platform. What issues do you care the most about and what changes do you want to enact? Identifying your platform can help you consider which funders, supporters and mentors to connect with. Campaigning is expensive and we will talk about how to raise funds below.
What exactly does the City Council do?
It’s important to know what the City Council does and doesn’t do. The council is responsible for reviewing and approving the city’s budget, repealing or enacting city ordinances, levying taxes and appointing members to advisory boards and task forces.
The mayor is the head of the City Council and helps determine the agreed-upon stances. The council together appoints a city manager to attend to the city government’s day-to-day operations and help implement policy.
To run for City Council or mayor, you must know what policies you want to support. Issues that come up frequently are supporting small businesses, funding mental health services, reviewing police procedure and bettering city infrastructure.
You can try to run a City Council campaign on issues such as county farming infrastructure, but you may be perceived as not knowing the scope of your sought-after office.
How do I file to run for City Council or mayor?
There are two ways to declare your candidacy and become a candidate recognized by the elections office.
The first and easiest way to become a candidate is submitting a $20 filing fee and then a $50 candidate report. This is required by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.
The second way to become a candidate is to submit petition signatures and then pay the $50 candidate report filing fee. Your petition must have 100 valid signatures from registered voters in your district.
Besides saving $20, the benefit of filing by petition is to indicate that you have a supporter base.
How do City Council and Mayoral elections work?
City Council and mayoral elections are nonpartisan, meaning candidates do not declare their political party affiliation. Each district is responsible for electing its council representative while the entire city votes on the at-large mayoral position. That means this year, districts 2, 4, and 5 will vote on their district council representative and the mayor. Districts 1, 3, and 6 will only be voting on the mayor.
Council members are elected to four-year terms and can only serve for two terms.
Where can I get money to fund a campaign?
Running a campaign can be a costly venture, but usually people are willing to help. Special-interest political action committees (PACs) and local businesses often help local candidates fund their campaigns.
To find PACs or businesses willing to support you, look at previous candidates’ receipts and expenditure reports. There you can find previous candidates who ran on issues similar to yours and see who was willing to donate to their campaign.
You can also contact your local political party office. While City Council races are officially nonpartisan, the local chapter of the political party you most align with can help open connections to potential contributors.
Pay attention to how much you raise. There are limits on how much one person or entity can donate.
What do I need to know about campaign finance laws?
Money in politics is heavily regulated. In City Council races, donations from individuals are limited to $500 per candidate, and all contributions must be documented in a receipts and expenditures report.
In Kansas, businesses are treated as individual people and may donate a separate amount of up to $500. This means a business owner can donate $1,000 or even more, if they have multiple businesses.
If someone pays for their own campaign with no outside help, an affidavit of exemption must be filed with the Kansas secretary of state.
An entity can also make a donation in-kind. This means they donate goods or services and not money. However, the value of the in-kind donation cannot exceed $500 and an individual’s in-kind donation and total monetary donation together cannot exceed $500.
For more commonly asked questions about campaign finance regulations, see the FAQ page on Kansas’ ethics website.
Where can I find people to help?
You need not run your campaign alone. Most candidates we talked to recommended having at least two other people helping you — a treasurer to manage finances for your campaign and someone adept at running a website and social media presence. More people can be added to help ease the responsibilities. You can find past campaign treasurers in previous candidates’ receipts and expenditure reports.
How do I find supporters while running for City Council or mayor?
This can be done by holding events, social media campaigning and advertisements.
Several previous candidates added, “Don’t be afraid of knocking on some doors.”
You can also directly target people who you know are previous voters. Voter records (which show who voted and not how they voted) are readily available for candidates through a voter registration data request. There is a fee for this, and records cannot be shared.
What are best practices for running a successful campaign?
Each campaign can be different, but previous and current local officials shared some common tips for running a successful campaign.
- Make sure you have a professional headshot photo to be used for news stories and campaign material. Also, find a friend or hire someone who is good at graphic design to make campaign print materials.
- Find other candidates with similar platforms running in different races and hold events jointly, especially if you are running a citywide campaign. You can also go door to door together.
- And finally, ask questions. Contact the city clerk, the Sedgwick County Election Office or your local political party when you are unsure about something. It is better to ask first and not run into a problem later.
Contact information for those offices:
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