Eye On Illinois: Elected office not the only path to public service

Dear losers:

Perhaps that salutation is needlessly harsh. Today’s message is for all the candidates unsuccessful in bids for elected office Tuesday. In framing things positively, even putting oneself out there as a candidate is an act of public service.

Although my ballot always seems to include at least one person who in no way represents my personal views, I’ve covered enough local governing bodies to appreciate the investment in simply filing a nominating petition. Many candidates take this a step further by becoming temporarily public figures, knocking on doors, participating in forums and granting interviews to local reporters. This can be an uncomfortable adjustment from an otherwise private life.

Rare is the aspiring politician who holds zero disagreeable policy positions. Running for office often means alienating someone you otherwise might never considered an objector. Seeing campaign signs in yards of friends and neighbors can be inspiring if they bear your own name — and devastating if they promote a rival. Such wounds are difficult to heal.

In other words, doing all that work and losing can be a bitter pill. For some loss ushers relief: they tried and failed, but can reclaim privacy. But for others, a loss represents a learning experience. These are people who truly were motivated by a desire to be a public servant yet have missed out on their intended channel for that energy.

And so, nonwinners, in addition to gratitude for trying, I offer a few suggestions for how to direct your spirit in coming weeks and months.

The first bit of advice is to stay close to the seat you sought. City councils and school and library boards can be revolving doors. The next elections are likely two or four years away, but if there’s a vacancy for any reason, the appointment process tends to be simpler to navigate than a full election. Having already run for the office would theoretically put someone in a better position than a total novice. That said, since the remaining members usually approve the appointee, maintaining good relationships with the people who defeated you would be important.

Alternatively, get involved officially. Cities and counties have loads of appointed commissions that can help build a political resume (planning and zoning, economic development, historic preservation, parks and more), most have no real barrier for entry. School boards might have task forces in a similar vein, or there are parent-teacher associations, athletics and arts booster groups and fundraising foundations.

These jobs aren’t glamorous, but they’re important and they help build relationships and communities. Many candidates who were successful Tuesday surely came from such backgrounds. If you’re serious about public service, you’ll find a place to contribute. If so, we’re all winners.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.