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Zaleski: Local public office is not an entitlement

Jack Zaleski, The Forum Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The writer of a letter to the editor published Sept. 11 tried to make the case that The Forum's candidate interview and endorsement practice discourages people from running for office. Frank Anderson of Fargo could write a first-person primer on how to lose a local election. He's run unsuccessfully several times. His letter was a gripe-filled cover for his own failures. He had his facts wrong. His shoddy analysis of election outcomes, as influenced by The Forum, was twaddle.

I was editorial page editor of the newspaper for 30 years. I was charged by two publishers with editing content for the opinion pages and with managing an editorial board made up of Forum journalists and non-journalists. Among our responsibilities was interviewing candidates during election cycles. We put time and resources into interviews, which subsequently influenced our endorsements, and helped inform readers about the qualifications of candidates.

Anderson complained that The Forum hurt candidates who did not get the newspaper's endorsement. The record shows otherwise. I am qualified by experience and historical knowledge to correct Anderson's inanities.

The claim that candidates were discouraged from running does not comport with the reality of elections in Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead for the last 25 years. If candidates were discouraged, how is it that ballots were routinely crowded with more than 10 hopefuls seeking to fill two or three openings on school boards, city councils and park boards? How is it that determined candidates who didn't win the first time out, came back, worked hard, and then won?

Got that, Frank. They worked hard. They stuck with it. They expanded their base of support. Then they won. The best recent example of such doggedness is former Fargo commissioner Mike Williams, who ran unsuccessfully several times, eventually won, was re-elected, and was recognized as one of the city's best leaders during his tenure. Oh, by the way, he won his first term without a Forum endorsement.

It's brainless to preach that a Forum endorsement means a win on Election Day, or that no endorsement means a loss. A couple of cycles ago, The Forum endorsed former parks and city commissioner Brad Wimmer over Mayor Dennis Walaker. Walaker won re-election. In the last city commission election, the newspaper endorsed former legislator Tony Grindberg and former school board member Robin Nelson, and did not endorse former school board member John Strand. Grindberg won. Nelson lost. Strand won. In other recent city elections, The Forum did not endorse newcomer Tony Gehrig or former commissioner Dave Piepkorn. Both won handily without the newspaper's support, further confirming the absurdity of Anderson's whiny screed.

Anderson wrote with vacuous authority about newspapers that do not endorse candidates. He said his "due diligence" found that "most papers did not think it was the duty of the local paper to endorse candidates." Most newspapers? Which ones? Diligent Frank failed to identify a single one. I know from my experience with a national editorial writers' association that the majority of daily newspapers endorse candidates. There are very few that do not. Anderson's "due diligence" is spurious.

Running for office requires work. A name on a ballot is a start, not an automatic entree. Anderson seems to believe public office is an entitlement, granted by name recognition, family history or longevity of residence. It's not. Candidates who work at it win. Delusional scapegoaters lose.

Zaleski retired in February after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He will continue to write a Sunday column. Contact him at or (701) 241-5521