So you want to run for office, but the U.S. Senate may be too big a leap for your first campaign. There won't be another mayoral race until 2013, and you actually like your state representative. That doesn't leave many other places to launch your political career.
Except for the hundreds of elections for county committee posts.
Every even-year primary election includes races for either the Democratic or Republican county committees. Democrats will elect committee members this May 18; Republicans do so in 2012.
If you win this year's primary, you'll become a member of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. Your main responsibility will be attending semi-regular confabs to endorse candidates in primary elections. Those candidates then appear on party "slate cards" handed out on Election Day.
There are 404 voting districts in the city of Pittsburgh, and each district can elect one male and one female member-- making for 808 available slots on the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. Committee members serve four-year terms.
But although all politics is local, the most local of races are among the least contested. Only 104 city races -- roughly one in eight -- had any competition in 2006. An equal number of races had nobody running at all. (In such cases, committee chairman Jim Burn can appoint a member, though in practice the seats typically remain vacant.) The vast majority -- 600 spots -- had a single candidate running uncontested.
Like those odds? As with other elections, candidates must submit nomination petitions to get on the ballot. You can begin circulating petitions today, using forms obtained from the county Elections office. You need only 10 signatures, though each signer must live in the district and be registered with the party whose committee post you're seeking.
Take care in filling out the form: A cottage industry exists in challenging the veracity of nomination petitions. You can learn all about the petition and campaign process at a forum held by the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project on Feb. 17. The forum is free to the public -- though there is a cash bar -- and begins at 6 p.m. at East Liberty's AVA Lounge, 5972 Baum Blvd.
But even if fail to file a petition, don't give up hope: A candidate can win with write-in votes. Your supporters will have to know how to spell your name, but there needn't be many of them: Back in 2006, the average committee race drew only about 70 votes.