Thursday, September 03, 2009

Pig Pile on Da Mare

Sorry, but I can't help it. There's lots of commentary on last night's Boston mayoral debate. Check UniversalHub for citizen/blogger comments, the Globe for lots of debate and analysis (plus three op-ed mini-columns straining to declare each challenger the winner — here, here and here.), and the Herald for analysis pretending to be straight news.

Overall, I found agreement with Richard Weir at the Herald. The challengers relentlessly attacked the mayor, to blunted effect.
Note to WBZ: Unfortunately, you are still too 20th Century.You should make the whole debate, plus clips of each question available on demand on your site. Uncool. And now a follow-up, BZ has posted vids on their 38 site. They make you look and work for it, but its there. In addition to hiding the important, they don't allow embedding.
ExcelsiorJ'accuse!I Know Better
Tom Menino
Kevin McCreaMichael FlahertySam Yoon

As usual, I wasn't going to comment on this overly anticipated debate, but I can't help myself. I have little bits to add.

It is neither melodramatic nor an oversimplification to say a challenger needed a knockout yesterday to advance beyond the primary. With only one more debate among the four contenders on the way, voters need compelling proof they should take a chance on a replacement.

Granted, one of them will get a shot at Menino in the November general election after this month's primary. That realistically means a whole new one-on-one race. Yet, the challengers have been remarkably consistent in message and the one standing for the general is likely to remain so.

For more trivial and shallower comments, consider appearance. You know many voters factor that in. Left to right facing the audience:
  • Flaherty looked dazed from the start, like he was roused from a nap on the commuter rail. He seems to have trimmed down a bit in the campaign and looks healthy, but he didn't jump in with answers, more straggled. Next debate, he needs to come in showing he's decisive.
  • McCrea shows he's a self-made man. He stood with a Larry-Craig-ish wide stance, more like cowboy. He could also use some serious hair styling and sideburns (this from a bald guy). He seemed rough and tumble in appearance and delivery.
  • Menino managed to pull off wearing a flesh-colored (for some people) tie with his tan. He actually won the Healthy Glow award of the evening, even though he seems to continue to put on the pounds. (I do have to get him to ride bikes with me regularly.) He stayed calm in the sound of non-stop accusations from the other candidates.
  • Yoon looks more pointed than ever, more like a fox than a person. That's not necessarily bad, as his message is sharp in the other sense. He was waving his fingers for attention to the moderator constantly and seemed the most competent of the four.
One of my Left Ahead! co-hosts, Ryan Adams, disagrees with me on voter attentiveness to debates and campaigning. We had the four on our podcast (Yoon, Flaherty, McCrea, and Menino). We also talked on several shows about what influenced voters in the mayoral and City Council contests. I contend that most people don't get newspapers and pay only a little attention to the fluff on radio and TV. Few even watch such heavily promoted events as last night's debate. Ryan trusts and respects the average voter more and thinks such displays are huge.

Either way, I don't think many brains and hearts point to different candidates this morning.

Another of my contentions has long been that Yoon is the smartest person in the race and likely in City Hall. Yet, as one city councilor told me, that doesn't necessarily translate into political savvy.

Flaherty is the little bit smarmy and very charming old-style pol. He surely could play the mayor role as well as the incumbent. That's important in gaining trust and votes.

McCrea is prickly and likely shocks many voters with his serious and specific calls for reform. He's the revolutionary candidate and may leave the biggest footprint in this race. His charges of incompetence, dishonesty and corruption have gotten a much wider coverage than when he presented them at committee meetings and public hearings over the years. Many voters and officials will want them addressed after the election. It is very unlikely that he will win the office, but he has the greatest chance of changing our government.

Yoon is hopelessly wonky. My wife likes what he says as well, but she was distressed to hear him using i.e. and antithetical in his arguments (losing many average voters). Likewise, he called for studies of this or that rather than coming to the debate with enough claims and specific proposals to solve existing problems. Government by research is what is done behind the scenes, but it is not the stuff of policy magic in a stump speech.

Menino disappointed, but only a little. He digressed into talking points, many not germane to the questions at hand. He just had to bring up this recognition of the city (of him) by this or that group to prove all was well, even swell. His handlers need to prepare him with more focused and meaningful statistics and evidence. He can deliver them and handles index cards far better than most pols.

Overall, we did see the strength of each candidate. I didn't sense that anyone hobbled Da Mare.

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