Let Me Take a Selfie: The Art of Balancing Politicians' Time With Never-Ending Photo Requests

All those snaps can take a lot of time out of an elected official's busy schedule.
by | April 26, 2017
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, center, posing for a photo with students. (Photos by David Kidd)

Elected officials almost always run late. These days, they have a new excuse.

Whenever a mayor or state legislator is spotted in the wild, everyone and his brother want to pose for a picture with her.

"It's a constant," says Margaret Brosko, senior adviser to Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer. "At every single event, you can guarantee someone is going to ask for a selfie or a photo."

For politicians like Fischer, this is mostly positive. It demonstrates a level of engagement and approval that should make anyone in office happy. It also gets their names and faces out since many, if not most, of these posed photos end up on social media.

"I view it as an honor that people want to take a picture with me," says Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko.

But there are so many pictures -- as many as a hundred in a day, Brosko says -- that the grip-and-grins inevitably slow politicians down. For big-city mayors trying to cram in 10 to 15 events a day, the sheer number of selfies can throw a wrench in their plans.

"In this day and age of iPhones and tablets, it's entirely true that wherever and whenever I move around the community, state or even sometimes elsewhere in our nation, I'm asked, 'Mayor, picture?'" says Carolyn Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas. "It's unending. Day or night; sunny, windy, raining; selfies, posed groups or just two at a time -- photo after photo."

Las Vegas Mayor Goodman, right, grinning with Elvis impersonators.

Goodman has a replica of the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign outside of her office that she uses as a backdrop for pictures. Given that she's in charge of "Sin City," she'll also honor requests to pose with Chippendales or showgirls.

Other politicians, however, have to be more careful.

Brosko says Mayor Fischer sometimes gets asked to pose in compromising positions, among people who've clearly been drinking and have cups in hand, or among others who are "half-naked." When the mayor is asked for a picture, Brosko keeps a watchful eye.

You never know where a photo is going to end up. An embarrassing pose can easily go viral or show up in a newspaper. But more than worrying about where photos will go, political aides have to figure out how to keep the picture-taking from running into overtime.

"If you go through that crowd, you're there an extra hour or hour and a half," says Brosko.

Mayor Fischer wants to be accommodating, so Brosko does her best to expedite the process. She asks people to form two lines -- one for group shots and another for individual pictures. She asks them to make sure that their phones are turned on, unlocked and have the camera app open. Anything to avoid those extra moments of delay.

Gregg Watkins, communications director for Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Jennifer Roberts, says his office now allots an extra five or 10 minutes at every event for photos.

Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto, center

"Part of my job ends up being a never-ending wedding reception," says James Hill, special assistant to Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto.

Hill takes a lot of pictures to avoid having constituents check their phones and then ask to take the photo over again. He says it's also important to keep the line moving. He tries to position the mayor fairly close to the door and then subtly inches the crowd along between each shot.

As much as aides try to expedite the process, they don't want to cut off the interactions. It's important to show the politicians being accessible to the community. A mayor's Instagram account offers proof that he gets out all over town and can come across as a regular guy, never too busy to share a smile with a voter.

"You don't want to be a politician no one wants to take a picture with," says Chris Poynter, Fischer's spokesman. "Then you've got a real problem."