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City council
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How to Run for City Council

3 min read
City council
Good Party Politics Team · Apr 28, 2023

Running for a city council seat is a great way to make a difference in your local community. As the backbone of local government, city councils make decisions on issues that impact residents' daily lives.

Running for city council can be a daunting (but doable) task. It requires a clear understanding of the electoral process, the issues at hand, and your community's needs. This guide aims to provide prospective city council candidates with a step-by-step approach to running for office. It also seeks to empower individuals to shape their communities and become influential elected officials.

Understanding the Role of City Council

A city council is a group of elected officials who make decisions about local government activities in a city. They help manage the city's services, such as ensuring clean water, maintaining public parks, and funding public safety efforts like police and fire departments. City councils also create and enforce local laws, set budgets to decide how money is spent on various city projects, and address residents' concerns. Essentially, city council members help run the city and make sure it meets the needs of the people living there.

City councils typically work alongside other local government officials, such as mayors, city treasurers, and city clerks. Not all cities across the United States have the same structure of local government, so the number and types of elected officials tend to vary between cities.

Additionally, the size of city councils varies depending on the city. Smaller cities might have as few as three seats on their city councils, while larger cities can have a dozen or more city council members. In fact, the New York City Council has 51 council members.

Some of the primary roles of the city council are as follows:

  • Passing local ordinances, through a process of voting and committee meetings

  • Introducing new solutions to local issues, including short- and long-term projects

  • Responding to the needs of constituents

With these responsibilities in mind, let's dive into the key steps to launching an effective campaign for city council:

How to Run a Campaign for City Council

#1: Understand the Structure of Local Government

As you think about launching your campaign, you'll want to do your homework and make sure you understand the duties and requirements of a city council member.

First, take the time to understand the structure of your local government. Many cities have a council-manager style of government. In this system, the city is led by an elected city council, which includes the mayor, as well as by an appointed city manager. Other cities have other styles of government.

Additionally, different city councils have different numbers of district and at-large seats. At-large seats are reserved for council members who represent the entire city, while district representatives represent specific districts. This means that all registered voters in a city can vote on at-large seats, while voters can only vote for the district representative of their own district.

#2: Meet All Eligibility Requirements

Like most public offices, running for city council requires an individual to meet certain qualifications. While these qualifications vary from place to place, here are some of the most common requirements:

  • Residency Requirements: City council members typically must live within the municipality for a certain period of time.

  • Registered Voter: To run for city council, you typically have to be a registered voter (also called a registered elector) in your city and state.

  • Age Requirements: Most city councils require candidates to be at least 18 years of age.

#3: Build Your Campaign Platform

Before you can start reaching out to voters, it's essential to pin down what your main policy priorities are and how you will address the issues facing your community.

Follow these steps to build a strong campaign platform:

  • Identify Key Community Issues: Be aware of the major issues affecting your city and the needs that arise from them. Sometimes, these issues may get brought to your attention by the media or by your own observations. Other times, you may have to research your city's problems and see how they got resolved in other municipalities.

  • Formulate Your Policy Stances: People running for this seat must clearly understand what they want to achieve. How do you plan to address the problems you've identified?

  • Determine Your Messaging: Once you know which issues you want to focus on and how you plan to address those issues once in office, the next step is to put those plans and ideas into words. Decide how you will communicate your policy priorities to voters.

#4: Assemble a Strong Campaign Team

Your campaign team can be the most crucial part of your success. Choosing people who share your vision and know what you want to achieve can empower your campaign.

You can accomplish this by recruiting volunteers and, depending on the size and scale of your campaign, hiring campaign staff members.

It is essential to mobilize qualified and enthusiastic volunteers who are willing to promote your campaign. Volunteers can help with a variety of campaign activities, from door-to-door canvassing to phone banking. For many city council campaigns, volunteers can provide most or all of the support you need.

For candidates in larger or more competitive races, it may also be helpful to hire certain campaign staff members. For example, many campaigns may hire campaign treasurers, who can manage the campaign's finances.

#5: Develop a Comprehensive Campaign Strategy

A strategic plan will help you define your goals and the steps you will take to achieve them. Ensure that your plan is comprehensive, measurable, and achievable.

Identify Target Voter Segments

To win your city council election, you must identify and target specific voter segments. These can include registered voters, certain districts, and other demographics. This strategy will also help you tailor your message to specific audiences.

You can get started identifying the voters you need to reach by accessing voter data, also known as the voter file. Getting access to the voter file for your area will let you plan your voter outreach strategy effectively.

Make a Plan to Use Various Communication Channels

These channels can include social media, flyers, yard signs, door-to-door campaigns, and even word-of-mouth. Ensure that your campaign is visible and available to voters, so they can ask questions and learn about your platform.

Craft Persuasive Messaging

Your campaign message needs to be persuasive, clear, and concise. It should resonate with voters and sufficiently address their needs. Ensure you focus on the community's key issues and tailor your message to specific voter segments.

Remember, as a city council candidate, you are running for public office and should always be professional and respectful. Once you have filed your nomination papers, running a positive and respectful campaign is paramount.

#6: Curate Your Online Presence

Running for city council requires a strong online presence to attract voters and promote your campaign. A comprehensive online presence can be established by following these steps:

  • Build a Campaign Website: Design a campaign website that outlines your platform, qualifications, and vision for the community. The website should be informative, interactive, and visually appealing. It should also make it easy for community members to donate and learn how they can get involved with your campaign.

  • Set Up Social Media Accounts: Create dedicated social media accounts for your political campaign. To do this, you might choose to create new accounts, or to transition your personal accounts over to serve your campaign.

  • Create Valuable Content: As your campaign goes on, update your social media accounts and website regularly with updates on your campaign, events, and community involvement.

#7: Engage with the Community

Voter outreach is one of the most crucial parts of running for city council. There are a variety of ways you can connect with voters. Here are some of the most common:

  • Door-to-door canvassing

  • Phone banking

  • MMS/SMS messaging

  • Email marketing

  • Direct mail

  • Hosting campaign events

  • Attending local events and community meetings

  • Listening tours

  • Advertising online and in your community

  • Networking with local organizations and leaders

Want to dive into campaign messaging and voter outreach? Explore our full collection of resources related to campaign messaging here.

#8: Fundraise as Needed

Not all city council campaigns need to dedicate time and energy to fundraising, but some do. To get started with fundraising, follow these steps:

Evaluate Your Financial Resources

These can include your personal finances, campaign donations, and free resources that can help cut down costs. Calculate how much money you'll need to carry out all necessary campaign activities, and then ensure you have a solid plan to obtain the necessary funds to run a successful campaign. Developing a campaign budget (and reassessing your campaign budget over the course of your campaign) goes hand in hand with evaluating your financial resources.

Develop Fundraising Strategies

You can use various fundraising strategies to raise money for your campaign. These include campaign events, fundraising letters, and crowdfunding, among other ideas. You can also reach out to local businesses and organizations for donations.

Fundraise and Track Your Campaign's Contributions and Expenses

As you engage in fundraising events and initiatives, be sure to accurately track the campaign contributions you bring in and how you spend those donations. Remember to stay on top of any campaign finance laws that may affect your campaign. Transparency and accountability are key elements of successful campaign finance.

#9: Learn and Adapt

As you carry out your city council campaign, keep track of your learnings and continue to modify your efforts for the best result. This can mean adjusting your campaign messaging, reallocating your campaign budget, or shifting your outreach strategy.

You can also benefit from sharing insights with other candidates for local office.

#10: Get Out the Vote

Getting out the vote (GOTV) is important right before the city council election. Get-out-the-vote efforts are a way of reminding your supporters to vote on election day and encouraging as many people to get involved as possible. Your campaign team might go about this by sending out reminders to your list of supporters, hosting voter registration drives, or sharing election resources.

Keep in mind that local elections often have very low voter turnout. Because of this, encouraging just a small fraction of undecided voters to turn out to the polls can make a huge difference in the outcome of the election.

Carry Out Your City Council Campaign with Confidence

Running for city council is a great way to positively impact your community. It's also much more doable than many people realize.

Good Party provides free and low-cost campaign tools and software for independent, non-partisan, and third-party city council candidates. We also provide access to a growing community of independent candidates across the United States, so you can share learnings with other local candidates and inspire one another forward.

Want to get started with free tools and support? Book a meeting with our team today, or take a product tour and start exploring right away.


How to Run for Office
City council
By Good Party Politics Team
The politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.