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Wong, others spell out how to run for office; Workshop reveals what makes a candidate.

Byline: Matthew Bruun

FITCHBURG - Passion and perseverance are keys to success on the campaign trail, prospective office-holders were told yesterday.

"It's never too early and it's never too late to get involved," Mayor Lisa A. Wong told more than two dozen people who attended the candidate development workshop at Fitchburg public library.

The event was hosted by new School Committee member Sally H. Cragin and former City Council candidate Shaun Cormier.

Ms. Wong, who made a dramatic entrance into city politics last year with landslide victories in the preliminary and general elections, encouraged people to become active in their communities.

Recounting her successful strategy, Ms. Wong - the former director of the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority - said she was inspired to enter the mayor's race after being troubled by the city's financial condition.

"I didn't see the results I wanted to see," she said. After reviewing the personal commitments it would take to mount a viable campaign, Ms. Wong said, she decided in the spring to make an effort.

"It's a lifestyle," she said. "There was a lot of thought and detail and methodology to how I ran. I was running to win."

Ms. Wong ran a grass-roots campaign that targeted thousands of voters who had cast ballots for at least the last six elections. She said knocking on doors was her greatest focus, with traditional campaign signs and literature a small part of her effort.

"Your face is better than any logo you could come up with," she said.

Former Mayor Dan H. Mylott and state Rep. Stephen L. DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, also said door-to-door was the best way to make an impact on voters.

"People want to be very clear why you think you're the best person for the job," Mr. Mylott said. "You don't have to have an enormous, intricate plan. You want people to know you for what you believe. You can't be everything to everybody."

"The message people want is, `You came to my door.' They're going to remember that," said Mr. DiNatale said, who estimated he has knocked three times on every voter's door in the city in his political career. "There's no magic to it. It's a lot of hard work."

The forum covered such topics as how to get one's name on the ballot to the mechanics of starting a campaign committee and the importance of keeping track of campaign dollars.

Ms. Wong, who smiled as she described the "nerdy" number-crunching she did for her campaign, said it was a carefully plotted strategy that she used to win in November. Knowing not everyone who answered their door would be keen to hear details of her vision for the mayor's office, she had worked out a 9-second version of her plan. She also had 30-second and 90-second versions for those who appeared interested in hearing more detail.

By the end of the campaign, she said, she was tracking how many hours of volunteer effort would be needed to place last-minute reminders on voters' doors.

After all the talk about the work involved in mounting a campaign, Mr. Mylott reminded the attendees that public service can also be enjoyable.

"You have to have fun doing this job or it will drive you crazy," he said. "As the candidate, it's your job to keep morale up in the people that are working for you."

Some attendees asked about the value of having Web sites, which all the panelists said they used in their campaigns. They said Web sites allow a venue to offer more depth into a candidate's vision. Lunenburg Selectman Thomas A. Alonzo said in this information-heavy era, it is better to have a site that gets some attention, than to not have a site when someone is looking for one.

Both Ms. Cragin and Mr. Cormier described their experiences from the campaign trail and encouraged attendees to find avenues to get involved, from serving on appointed city boards and commissions to mounting bids for elected office.

David Driscoll of Leominster said he has pondered a run for office in his city.

"It was nice to have some insight into how the process works," Mr. Driscoll said.

David Thibault-Munoz, a community organizer with the Twin Cities Community Development Corporation, said public office is something he has pondered as well. He said he attended the workshop to get a sense of what was entailed in running.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Ms. Wong
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 20, 2008
Words:733
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