Op/Ed: Why I’m running

Mike McGann

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

People run for office for a lot of reasons: ambition, fame, passion, lust for power and yes, a desire to do good works.

Put me in the final category.

As someone who has been around elected officials for much of my adult life — either as a media member or someone actively involved in politics — I’ve seen those reasons really drive both how that person runs for office and, ultimately, how he or she serves in office. After more than five decades on this planet, I know running for the wrong reasons is a recipe for disaster.

My decision to back away from journalism and reenter politics was a slow and careful one — borne out of two frustrations: 1. the current media landscape makes it hard to have a positive impact (I’ll explain a bit of that in a minute) and 2. I began to find it harder and harder to maintain the objectivity needed to be a good journalist.

Let’s take on the latter first.

After Donald Trump was elected, I began to sense a shift in the atmosphere, like a license had been granted to unleash dark things in our society. It became increasingly personal when covering the Board of Education in Unionville-Chadds Ford, where my own kids attended school and where I served for more than two years as president of the local Education Foundation.

A number of South Asian parents had come to speak before the board expressing concern that their kids and other ethnic minorities in the school district were seeing increased harassment in the wake of Trump’s election. From speaking with kids at Unionville High School, it seemed apparent that there was some level of this behavior happening in the school, starting during the fall, 2016 election season and continuing though the months following.

While neighboring districts had moved to make explicit statements — and restatements — that they would not tolerate any sort of bullying, UFCSD chose not to do so. It would have been simple — a brief resolution or letter stating policy and a quick vote. But it did nothing, when even a small token of action would have been seen as supportive, and dare I say it, kind.

Not long after, I stopped covering the meetings — my reporting was being impacted by my own anger, and yes, disappointment in people I knew should have been better, kinder (and normally are, I’ll note) but seemed paralyzed in not wanting to offend supporters of the then new president. I was lucky to be able to hire JP Phillips and she was able to provide objective coverage of the district.

Though all this time, oddly, it was never Trump himself that I found the most problematic, but rather other people’s responses to Trump. I saw up close and way too personally, elected officials who at one turn criticized Trump, and then on another, acted incredibly like him — thin skinned, nasty and unable to begin to relate to or even acknowledge their constituents.

It felt a bit like a forest fire made up of the ugliest parts of people’s ids had been unleashed, roaring through our discourse and public policy. And I felt a bit like I was fighting it with a garden hose.

The media should have been able to be a check on such behavior, but thanks to social media and upheavals in the marketplace — as I write folks are digesting the loss of The Weekly Standard, an erudite, thoughtful journal of conservative thought rendered useless in an era of rage tweeting — the media was left either muted or sensationalized. The former doomed to financial death, the latter doomed to becoming irrelevant.

So, going back to the spring of 2018 I began to confront a choice: continue on, fight the good fight and slowly watch it continue to erode and become less and less effective or find another way to make a difference.

Initially, I thought I’d wind down the hard-news component of The Times and move into consulting, helping political candidates find their voices, focus on my real estate ventures and probably write a novel. But a good friend and colleague of mine from the old political days pointed out the flaw in my logic:

“Candidates only listen half of the time, and then when it goes wrong, they blame you — and half the time they don’t pay, either,” he said to me over coffee. “Within a few months, you’ll be kicking yourself for not just running yourself.”

Running myself meant worse hours, worse pay — but maybe, a real chance to do good.

As I began to look into it, the Register of Wills/Clerk of the Orphans Court position became an obvious fit. I had the needed managerial experience to keep the office running efficiently and maybe even improve things. The quasi-judicial aspects of the job match years as a journalist and editor in fact-finding and rendering decisions, often on the fly and in emotionally charged situations. Lastly, I knew I could use my skills in the office to shine a light on the needs of seniors and kids in our community and be a strong advocate for them.

So that’s who I’m going to be: a fighter for segments in our community who lack a voice, some of the most vulnerable, often forgotten people. I will fight for them. I will work every day to make Chester County a better, kinder place.

But…(and there’s always a but, right?) I’m going to be honest. Sometimes, brutally honest. Look, I’ve written and said tough and critical things about policies and elected officials (in both parties), hundreds of thousands of words with something to annoy everyone at some point. Most proved to be accurate assessments and a surprisingly large number of my predictions came true. I don’t plan to scrub the Internet of my writings — they are what they are, but they also tell you who I am.

Unlike so many others, I won’t smile, tell you what you want to hear and then do exactly the opposite. If what you support or want doesn’t make sense to me — or isn’t possible — I’m going to tell you, which you might not want to hear. But, if I tell you I am going to fight for something, you can be sure I will.

I’m not going to play politics. If elected, I’m going to do the job, use ideas from the right and left — no one has a monopoly on good ideas — and work everyday for the best possible outcomes, to do as much as possible to help people and make their lives better, one person, one community at a time.

It is time to expect more. It is time to demand better from our elected officials.

I want to earn that trust and I hope I can get your support this May.

If you have questions or comments, you can always email me at mike@mikemcgann.org or check out the campaign site at mikemcgann.org

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