An election is like a job search, but the bosses (voters) need to reclaim their place

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 An election campaign is a hiring process. In the boss' chair sit the voters; on the other side of the table are the hopeful applicants, the candidates. (NewsWorks file photos)

An election campaign is a hiring process. In the boss' chair sit the voters; on the other side of the table are the hopeful applicants, the candidates. (NewsWorks file photos)

It’s a simple idea … obvious, really.

But it differs so much from the mental framework we normally use to talk about elections that it can seem like a revelation.

The idea comes from my friend David Thornburgh, newly minted head of the Committee of Seventy watchdog group.

It’s this: An election campaign is a hiring process. In the boss’ chair sit the voters; on the other side of the table are the hopeful applicants, the candidates.

The obscene expense of modern campaigning aims mostly at obscuring this simple truth. Campaigns want to cast you as gullible consumers to be manipulated into buying a product, using the techniques Madison Avenue has been perfecting since Don Draper had his first martini.

We’re used to this by now. But it leaves us feeling bombarded and weary. So we tune out.

But this year’s Philadelphia mayor’s race – as weird and stumbling as it’s been so far – is yet another chance to try it David’s way – with you, the voters, as boss.

Here at WHYY and NewsWorks, working with our partners at the Seventy, Young Involved Philadelphia, Pennjerdel Council and the Philly Business Journal, we’re pursuing a coverage and events plan designed to support your work as boss.

A hiring process has several stages: First, you set the job requirements. Next you vet and interview candidates. Then you check references.

We’re doing three radio specials on the election this spring that track this sequence. The first aired last Friday, and featured interviews with past mayors of this and other cities, talking about what it takes to do run a big city.

In our second special, airing April 17, we’ll explore what the candidates have to say about issues, the interview phase.

Three election forums in April here at WHYY will do the same – a City Council “job fair” coming up this Wednesday, a set of in-depth issues with the mayoral hopefuls on April 15, and a full-dress debate on April 27.

That debate will zero in on the key issue of leadership: What in a candidate’s past suggests he or she has the leadership and managerial skills to guide this cantankerous, troubled, fabulous city.

In our final radio special, on the Friday before the May 19 primary, we’ll check references. That is, we’ll dig deeply into the backgrounds and credentials of the candidates, interviewing people who have known, worked with and clashed with them in the past.

Why do all this? Because you, the voters, are the bosses, and for this crucial hire, you deserve the best human resources staff work you can get.

If you care about the city elections, please feel invited to attend any of the events and to tune into the election specials.  This being-the-boss thing can be time-consuming at times, but rewarding as well.

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