Symbols of change

December 19, 1990

For 12 hours straight yesterday Roger Hayden did what few politicians could have done; he sat in the county office building patiently and listened as constituents, one-by-one, offered complaints, comments, concerns and ideas in a new forum the executive is calling "face-to-face" chats.

It is true, of course, as it has always been, that any one of the men and women who talked with Hayden Tuesday could just as well have called the executive's office with their ideas and problems, or contacted their county council member, and would probably have gotten as attentive a hearing. What Hayden is doing, however, has important symbolic meaning.

Hayden won the election in large part because of voter dissatisfaction with the aloof, cloistered style of Dennis Rasmussen, who -- despite his claims of being closest to the people -- appeared unreachable to many county residents. Hayden made virtually no policy commitments during the campaign, but he did promise to change the symbolism of the executive office which, so far, he has accomplished with a surprising degree of political agility.

The new executive started out Day One by having lunch in the county employees' cafeteria, hobnobbing with workers who had never talked with his predecessor. He also opted for a '91 Ford, not a substantially different car from Rasmussen's controversial Lincoln, but one, obviously, with a more politically palatable, down-to-earth image.

Leadership, of course, is more than symbolism. But in politics, perception is half the battle. And on that score, Hayden is off to a very good start.

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