True Confessions of a Former Mayor: How to Keep Your Indie Street Cred Intact in the World of Politics

December 14, 2017

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
Okay. So I’ll admit it. The terms “indie street cred” and “politics” have probably never been uttered in the same sentence. There’s definitely reasons for that as indie street cred in the world of music is derived from having a connection to the street and for refusing to sell out to the highest bidder. That description wouldn’t seem to have any place in the world of politics, but, quite to the contrary, I found that a focus on maintaining your indie street cred as an elected official is a great way to achieve success and an unwavering bond with the people you serve.

The first key to maintaining your indie street cred is to maintain your independent status. Fortunately, here in Augusta, our races are non-partisan which made that easier for me to do. But what also made it easier for me to do was having been raised by a mother who was a liberal Democrat and a father who was a conservative Republican; they never voted for the same presidential candidate in over forty years of marriage. I was brokering truces at the dinner table from the time I was able to talk and the process helped me develop a habit of listening to both sides of an issue. It also made me realize that both sides had good points and that neither one was completely right or completely wrong. As I grew older I began to realize that this had helped me to develop independent views all my own and that I’d never completely fit in with one party or the other. The result? To this day I’m happily independent due in large part to my parent’s opposing political views.

The second key is to have a connection to the street, or more appropriately, to the people you serve at the grass roots level. One thing I had noticed by watching politicians is that they tended to become very insular following their election by surrounding themselves with people who often told them what they wanted to hear. After I was elected I was determined not to let this happen and to continue to interact with people while shopping for yard supplies on the weekend, while working out at the Y every morning or while participating in events throughout the city and just talking to people. I always found that sitting in the steam room at the Y or stopping by a grocery store that was nowhere near my house was a better way to stay in touch with public sentiment than any poll ever could have been.

The final and probably most important part of the equation is the cred factor. Ultimately, I found that in order to accomplish anything in office you have to have a trusting relationship with both the people you work with and those you serve. I also learned that the trust which builds your own personal credibility is not given and takes hard work and patient persistence to earn over time. I found that the best and most lasting way to develop trust and credibility was pretty simple: keep your word and don’t tell people you’re going to do something you either can’t do or have no intention of doing.

In the end, conventional wisdom may say that the terms “indie street cred” and “politics” would be mutually exclusive as they have nothing to do with each other. For me personally, maintaining a focus on keeping my indie street cred intact made all the difference, but I never was a big subscriber to conventional wisdom in the first place.

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