Tradition and manners, the glue that binds the South. So it should surprise no one that Yanks and Canucks praised the southern hospitality showered upon the NHL and its Allstars last weekend (though a Hostess Eating Contest (come again?) is much too New South for Old Guard like me).
Saturday night four neighboring families, five adults and nine kids, piled into two minivans and made a beeline for Fayetteville Street Mall (what I still call it, since it seems the City is always closing it so folks can take nostalgic walks down the center of the road, like they used to do…go figure). As the van whipped out the drive, I whipped out my official Nancy McFarlane City Councilor Music Food Skating Puppets Art Fireworks Big Hockey Game NHL All-Star Wide Open Schedule of Events.
The neighbors roared. Everybody got one in the mail, but apparently I was the only one not to immediately toss it into the recycle bin.
Hey, I say, the morning paper said that McFarlane was surprised at how few people knew what was going on.
More howling. It seems that everyone who hasn’t been napping for the last year or so knows that you get your schedule in real time, on Fayetteville Street Mall, on your smart phone. The hitch for me is that I’m not smart enough to operate a smart phone. “Mee-dee-yuh-sah-chu-ray-shun,” my neighbor the ad-man with the thick slow southern drawl declares. He says that in his house there’s a minimum of two televisions, three computers, and three smart phones operating at all times, except when everyone is sleeping, when just one computer whirrs, just in case (of what he didn’t say). And every family member is plugged into a Droid phone whenever they leave the confines of the home. (Truth be told, I think his youngest might be an actual Android).
For what seemed like an eternity before the big game, you couldn’t turn on local news or pick up the paper without seeing something All-Star. Google NHL All-Star Raleigh, about 1.5 million hits. A 7-story tall sign on the side of the RBC Tower since last summer.
Yet the folks McFarlane chats with had no idea what was going on?
I told you at the start of the year that McFarlane is running for Mayor. Now the proof is in the postcard (as if I would tell you something that I didn’t know to be true).
You don’t launch your official campaign by implying that the local news rags, the TV and radio stations, the National Hockey League, the Carolina Hurricanes Communications Department, and especially the City of Raleigh Public Affairs Department are so incompetent that you, a pol who represents only about 1/5th of the City, have to take it upon yourself to handle the publicity for the local sporting event of the decade.
I’ve not yet made up my mind on the merits of this postcard strategy for introducing a candidate to the public. But I do know that it is an amateur’s mistake to insult institutions that have done their job well, particularly when they are holding the microphone. McFarlane probably talked to an N&O reporter for ten minutes at least, probably had lots to say about why she sent out that postcard. But she should have known that only one or two sentences would actually make it to print, and that those would undoubtedly be the most provocative sentences she uttered.
All of this leads to two obvious questions.
Numero Uno: Where did McFarlane get the money to send out a City-wide mailing?
District Councilors usually don’t scrape together much money. Best I can tell (because campaign disclosure reports are so darned hard to read and interpret), McFarlane has raised just shy of $75,000 since she first ran for office, which is verging on big money. At the start of this year, she had just over $6,000 in cash on hand, not near enough to cover her All-Star postcard. A closer look reveals that $47,000 (about 65%) of what she has raised is actually a personal loan from herself, reported on her campaign disclosures as a debt still outstanding.
McFarlane has dough – a pharmacist by training, she built a very successful medical services company. This allows her to bankroll various political causes including her own campaigns. We won’t know for some time yet how this latest mailer was paid for, but dollars to donuts it came out of her own deep pockets.
Pregunta Dos: Does McFarlane have a kitchen cabinet?
Cuz if she does, it ain’t a very good one. I’m not talking about hired political hacks like Perry Woods, to whom McFarlane has given a boatload of money. Those pros have their place (maybe, I have my doubts about their value in local elections, just ask Ted Van Dyk), what I am talking about is three to six supersmart, preferably politically savvy, very trusted close personal associates who have good ears and good eyes and good critical thinking skills and most importantly an abundance of common sense. Folks who at first glance discriminate between hubris and humility, theory and reality, folly and force. These are the people who scrutinize your every campaign move.
“Guys, the political consultant says I should announce my candidacy by sending out a postcard that looks like it came from the Chamber of Commerce – how will real people react to that?”
“When the reporters call (as they inevitably will), what is my message?”
“What can I say, and more importantly what must I not say under any circumstance?“
You practice your schtick in front of them, over and over again until you can get it right every time without even thinking about it.
No kitchen cabinet worth the coffee and cake it consumes would ever let its candidate tell the news media that it was failing to inform the public about what happens to be the most publicized event of the last five or ten years.
Political memory is short, the campaign season is months away – by the time it really gets rolling no one in Raleigh will remember McFarlane’s postcard or her slighting remarks. That is good. Well, good if she learns from this mistake. McFarlane is smart enough; slouches don’t get through pharmacy schools to become CEOs.
Likely she will quickly figure out that slapshots are notoriously inaccurate and difficult to execute, and when the clock strikes noon on July 25, amateur hour is over and every missed goal is going to sting, bad.