Saturday, October 15, 2005

Mayoral Meanness

Disclaimer: Having started the off-topic mayoral-race comments, I can't seem to stop.

Chihuahua photoBefore I bring in the papers and shake the incessant rain off their bags, I reflect on last night's debate-like radio appearance by Mayor Tom Menino and City Councilor Maura Hennigan. They were on WBZ from 8 to 9 p.m. on the Paul Sullivan show. There is no indication that BZ will stream it. You heard it or you didn't.

The hour was irritating. She did her best Chihuahua and he was pretty much Droopy the dog. If you were for one or the other, you could have reinforced your affection, but little presented would have changed minds.

Unfortunately for me, I was unaware until I got into the hour that I was still hoping that Maura would emerge as something she is not and will never be, an insightful, charismatic visionary. Expecting that of her is utterly unfair. They are both pretty good politicians who have accomplished some okay things. They have known each other politically for 22 years. They have a history as the cliché would have it.

Ever on the attack, Maura nipped Tom fairly, then unfairly. She made a good point and then offset the advantage with utter drivel and obvious B.S.

To his credit, Sullivan interjected fair better and more pointed questions than the callers. The best example was when he asked what Menino should have harped on months ago. If Maura has been in office 24 years and voted for all these aspects of the city that she claims are bad, isn't she as much to blame as Tom or anyone? Meanwhile, she was returning to the argument that she would bring in fresh ideas and a detachment that Tom cannot. Sullivan quietly noted that she had been there even longer than Tom and couldn't expect anyone to think of her as a clean outsider.

The tone of the evening was like a The Onion send-up. Maura stopped short of calling our long rainy spell Tom's fault, but everything else was laid at his feet. Anything bad with the schools, the (not-true) blip in the murder rate, realty prices, and even the police-caused death of the Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove. Anything on Menino's watch, as Hennigan put it, was his fault.

Not only did that scattershot approach make her look desperate and discursive, she disproved repeatedly what she claimed was her superior personality. While sniping and barking at Tom, she said he didn't know how to reconcile people. She (insert sniping and nagging and niggling) would bring the feminine touch that helped people get along. Huh?

Droopy cartoonShe left far too many openings for Tom. He continued his Droopy -- Wellllllllll -- reaction most time. However, he didn't have to act too fast or too strongly. She played very loose with the facts, often making them up (numbers of police academy students, whether they were from out of the area, and accusing Menino of an out-of-town playoff trip he didn't take, for example). Also, instead of picking a vulnerable area, such as schools, and following through with a reasoned argument, she took the smallest indicator and tried to jump to the general with it. Honey, it didn't work in Logic 101 and didn't play last night.

Likewise, it was Sullivan and not Menino who asked Maura (very polite that Mr. Sullivan was) how she would fund all the extra programs she proposed. Not only was she willing to spend the whole of the city's surplus, she did not seem to see a problem with committing to recurring budget increases with a fixed surplus. Likewise, a small portion of the 9 or 10-hour school days with after-school she wants would fall under a grant, but she could not point to any revenue source for the rest.

Tom's best moment unquestionably seemed to be when she dragged out the Snelgrove corpse and put it figuratively before Tom. He was quick to point out that it was cheap politics and very insensitive. Maura is likely the only person in town who might disagree. At that moment, she sounded as sleazy as any politician we have ever had.

In the main, it was torture to listen to them. The hour was certainly more like a real debate than anything so far. It also convinced us that a formal debate between them would waste everyone's time. Poor Maura wants this so badly, but picking a few isolated facts does not make a cohesive argument. She must be brighter than she sounds, but she just can't seem to translate her passions into either a program or a campaign.

Now to the papers:

The Globe had the show coverage at the bottom of the local section and as the lead editorial. The Herald seems to be distancing itself from the stumbling Hennigan. Theirs is on page 6, not featured on their Website's front page, and carries the Tommy-favorable head Menino takes the offensive.

Similarly, the Globe's editorial is MENINO REGAINS GROUND. It points out quite accurately that Maura's behavior gave one opening after another for him to highlight his administration's accomplishments, the opposite of what she wanted. No matter how Menino-ish Tom was in his presentation, he plodded back repeatedly after Hennigan's rambling, disconnected attacks. He got to say with good effect, "That's incorrect," repeatedly.

Hennigan was loose with the facts and figures, both papers note. The Globe also mentions that while Hennigan stated incorrectly that Menino, not the unions, delayed negotiations before the Democratic Convention, and she claimed that Menino gave away far too much to the unions, she was out protesting for higher wages on the union picket line. Pots and kettles.

This was Tommy's night. You really have to goof up to hand him the decision on an hour-long one-against-one. Maura managed to shoot herself more frequently than she hit Tom. Buy that woman some glasses and a scope...and rent her a campaign advisor who can provide talking points that make a pattern. Maura is throwing paint at the canvas and not making a recognizable picture. A dozen dots are not a portrait, not even a decent stick figure..

He's been mayor for 12 years and involved in hundreds of major efforts across the entire spectrum of a major city. You would think that any high-school junior could spend a day or two researching his record, and then come up with cohesive (that word again) criticisms that stand the light of day and the best counterarguments Droopy could return. Maura's had a couple of chances in public fora and failed at them.

It is probably far too late for a real vision with a program to implement it. She certainly seems to lack the debating ability and knowledge to prove Tom incompetent. Was she really the best competition available?

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