Looking Behind the Scenes: Take a closer look at a magnificently run campaign

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Now that all of the political hoopla is dying down, and even some of the superfluous campaign signs are being removed, perhaps this is the proper time to discuss what may have been the best-run campaign of all. No, I do not refer to that run by President-elect Barack Obama. Serious students of the political game recognized early on that his was little more than a revamped Karl Rove effort, one replete with the same micro-targeting and squeezing out votes from previously ignored strongholds belonging to the other party. Of course, it greatly helped that Obama was the perfect Stepford candidate, and that his opposition ran its campaign as if it were deathly afraid it would somehow succeed. Instead, the subject of today’s thesis is the campaign waged by successful Auburn City Council candidate Bill Kirby, M.D. How good was it? Well, at the very beginning of the political season, people for whom I have a great deal of respect — both politically and personally — dismissed the Kirby effort for various reasons. Not the least of those was the supposition that Kirby would eventually implode during the rigors of trying to secure enough votes. But with near-perfect hindsight, it’s easy to see that — willfully or serendipitously — Kirby got the jump on both his critics and opposition. “I began by talking to Bob Snyder, to see if it was true he was not going to run,” Kirby said while preparing for his latest foray south to assist with the Flying Doctors. “The current council has done a great job and there was no way I’d run if Snyder was going to.” Assured that the way was clear, Kirby immediately sought and received Snyder’s blessing, then spent some quality time in picking the elder statesman’s brains. Using that vital endorsement to open some important doors, such as those belonging to Nick Willick, Wayne Manning and current and former elected officials, Kirby then hastily earned other key nods. Before long, he pretty much pre-empted other rumored candidates from materializing. Local consultant Tom Jones, one of Kirby’s key behind-the-scenes folks, at first thought it would be a slam-dunk for his client. But then Mike Holmes actively recruited candidates so that the city could have a real election. Kirby put together an excellent team of handlers, from de-facto manager Bud Richardson, treasurer Jim Merrill, and advisers George Duff, Ron Lichau and Manning. The first hint that a juggernaut was beginning to roll was the kick-off event, a $50 per ticket affair at the Auburn Airport hangar belonging to Merv Hall. Normally such events at a local level draw about eight people — counting family — but this one saw about 125 supporters reach into their own wallets and purses to back the good doctor. Jones then went about making the rest of what he calls “an old-fashioned campaign” work the same way the Governator smokes his Antojitos Cubanos — quietly, efficiently and with a minimal amount of smoke. He’d show up for any and every event in town. It didn’t matter where. It could be Meddlers, or the Rotary, or three kids opening up their own lemonade stand. Kirby was there, complete with a pretty good set of campaign literature, a ready smile and the ability to make people aware that he cared what was on their minds. “And he usually showed up with a gift-basket of local products for that group or organization to raffle,” Jones recalled. “We also had him walk precincts, such as Skyridge, Vintage Oaks and South Ridge, and we had plenty of coffees, such as the one at Kathy Sands’, where would-be voters could ask questions.” Unlike too many other candidates, Kirby not only was accessible to the public up close and personal, but also kept his phone number public. “If I were to win, the voters were going to be my bosses, so they better have a way to find me if they have something to say,” he said. “He’d get so engrossed in what a person was saying, that he would go on forever talking. Great for a candidate, but frustrating for someone trying to get him to another event,” Jones said. It went so well that afterward, Kirby was able to say “the only real surprise about the campaign is that there were no surprises.” Eventual success became apparent early on as Kirby’s list of endorsements swelled to the size of the combined egos of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. In fact, one could not help noticing that a few of those late endorsees were the same ones who whispered previous concerns just a few months previous. Truth is, Snyder will be hard to replace on the council. He always spoke his mind, there was no subterfuge to him, and as a vote came to be called, tried very hard to make the result as unanimous as possible. And what Snyder saw in the possibilities of Kirby became apparent to the bulk of the electorate. Kirby will be an asset to the next council, and Auburn will be better off in having him there. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. He can be reached at, or post a comment at Auburn