Course lays foundation for aspiring politicians

Jerry Wheeler dreams that some day, one of his students will go on to become president of the United States.

Until then, City Council may have to do.

The president and chief executive of the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce is overseeing his organization's first-ever Candidate Institute, a four-week course in which aspiring politicians learn about campaign finance laws, fundraising, public relations and other aspects of running for office.

The program, which started Feb. 15 and runs Wednesday evenings at the chamber headquarters, aims to be a dose of reality as much as a how-to guide, according to Wheeler.

"It would either weed out the people who weren't interested, or it would lay out a foundation for the people who did want to run for office," he said.

Among those lined up as lecturers for the course are City Attorney Jennifer McGrath, City Clerk Joan Flynn, city spokeswoman Laurie Frymire and former mayors Ron Shenkman, Shirley Dettloff and Ralph Bauer. Seminar topics include "The Nuts and Bolts" (which covers the nomination process and campaign laws), "Developing and Managing a Campaign" and "Media Relations/Public Relations."

Former chamber President Joyce Riddell set up the program last year along with R.J. Mayer, the chairman of the Robert Mayer Corp. The real estate company, a member of the chamber for three decades, is the official co-sponsor of the Candidate Institute.

Mayer said one goal of the program is to stress that politics has a lot in common with business — and that politicians, like businesspeople, have to wear many hats and accommodate many needs. Candidates, he said, often go wrong by aligning themselves too closely with a single issue.

"What we're trying to do is bring forward a more well-rounded candidate," Mayer said.

The program has nearly a dozen students, several of whom are running for Huntington Beach City Council this year, Wheeler said.

If any of them reach office, he has just one wish.

"Hopefully, they'll be a business-friendly candidate, whoever they are," Wheeler said. "But if they point to this program as part of their success, that'd be great."

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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