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posted: 2/10/2013 5:00 AM

No. 1 key issue: 'To get elected'(and other pearls)

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First let me say this: It's my observation that the vast majority of candidates running for the hundreds of local governments that fall within the Daily Herald's circulation area take their candidacies seriously. Most provide thoughtful answers to the questions we ask them.

When filing for local municipal, school, park and library boards concluded in late December, our staff began its traditional mad scramble to corral the email addresses of all candidates so we could send them the questionnaires, the answers to which we plan to publish online in the upcoming weeks. I don't know of any other media that invests as much time as we do trying to provide readers/voters with information about the people hoping to run governments as high-profile as mayor of the second-largest town in the state, Aurora (he's unopposed, by the way) to the tiniest of library boards.

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This past week, we went through the process of "approving" the questionnaires of 2,133 candidates who completed (or, in some cases, semi-completed) them. The approval process means we check to make sure a candidate didn't try to slip in any inappropriate language or, more likely, hurl an unsubstantiated claim against an opponent or potentially libel someone.

In my role as an officially sanctioned approver, I had a chance to review questionnaires from candidates from Antioch to Naperville. Again, most of the answers were thoughtful, but there were more than a few quirky ones. Here are some of my faves:

• A number of candidates opted not to answer all the questions. Their right, of course, but one candidate answered only a single question: The one in which we ask whether a candidate has ever been arrested, an outgrowth from a several elections ago when the media got caught napping and failed to note the domestic violence history of a lieutenant governor candidate.

• One candidate said our asking for his age and religious affiliation were "inappropriate." He also declined our invitation to list family members. He was not, by the way, the first candidate to refuse to give his age. Hey, how else are the voters going to be able to age discriminate?

• One candidate began every essay question with the response, "I want to join this winning team ..."

• Here's one question we asked of school board candidates: "If your district had a superintendent or other administrator nearing retirement, would you support a substantial increase in his or her pay to help boost pension benefits? Why or why not?" One candidate replied: "Is this question for real? I can't envision anyone saying yes." Ah, but the very reason for this question is that it became a not-uncommon practice among some school boards to give top administrators end-of-career raises that easily beat the rate of inflation and fattened their pensions.

• On our questionnaires, we started off with these open-ended questions: What is your No. 1 key issue? What is your No. 2 key issue? What is your No. 3 key issue? In most cases, candidates told us what they thought were the most important issues facing the boards they sought to serve on. But one candidate said her main issue was "To be elected."

• But my favorite reply came from this candidate: "I'm running unopposed, but I'd still like to earn your vote." I found that inspirational.

And speaking of unopposed candidates, we invited them, too, to respond to the questionnaire. Many did, but the high volume of uncontested races -- historically about 50 percent in local elections -- led to a candidate return rate of about 75 percent.

Stay tuned for their answers on dailyherald.com

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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