One thing stuck with me after working on this column about the City Council race in District 3, and I finally had a chance to follow up on today.

Some say John Hartley is actually the frontrunner in the race based on a poll commissioned by the labor unions that showed him with a commanding lead based on his name recognition in the district. He’s facing some tough and ambitious opponents who are well organized and raising money a lot more effectively than Hartley. But name recognition is a big deal.

That name recognition comes largely, I would assume, from Hartley’s stint as a member of City Council for four years from 1989 through 1993.

Hartley decided not to run for reelection in 1993. Instead, he supported one of his staff members — a woman named Christine Kehoe, who obviously won his seat and has gone on to a long career in local and state politics.

So my lingering question was this: Why did Hartley not run for re-election? As an incumbent he must have had a pretty good shot at winning another term? What turned him off?

“I found that it was a world of duplicity. You have city staff, lobbyists — it’s a world where people always want to use you for some reason,” Hartley said.

Interesting.

“I had to learn how to deal with my own staff. I didn’t do a very good job of dealing with my own staff. I was trying to be my own manager and I didn’t do a very good job,” he said. “You have to have a good manager and let them deal with the staff. Then the council person can tackle problems and find solutions.”

I asked him why he would want to get back into it. If the people you deal with are obnoxiously duplicitous and he had trouble dealing with staff, what makes him think it would be better this time around?

He asked if I was married. I am. He asked how long. I said five years. Then he said, “OK, remember what you were like when you were dating? Now think about what you are like now.”

Good point, I suppose. While cool, of course, I was kind of strange five years ago. I did have more hair though. Jokes aside, I understood what he meant: Sometimes you look back on yourself only a year or two ago and wonder what you could have been thinking.

“Once I understood the system — I wasn’t used to it and ready for it. While we accomplished a lot I didn’t enjoy it — the setting,” Hartley said.

He said this time around, he would hire a strong manager to be chief of staff for him. “I’ll let him work his magic. He’ll be working with staff and they will answer to him” Hartley said.

So if he did have trouble with his management before, what has changed since, what has he done in the time away from City Hall? Hartley often mentions his accomplishments as a member of the City Council at that time: his contribution to the development of satellite police stations; the implementation of citizen patrols, etc.

What has he done since? Hartley worked professionally as a real estate broker and a substitute teacher and gravitated to neighborhood groups. He helped form Neighborhoods for Clean Elections, which is advocating for public financing of campaigns. He also led Friends of the Library until the campaign started and Partners for Safe Neighborhoods.

I think he answered the question. He got out because he had trouble managing his staff and didn’t like the people he had to deal with at City Hall.

He’s getting back in, he says, because he has to.

“I tried to get out of it. But it has me. It drew me back in,” Hartley said.

SCOTT LEWIS

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