Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Donald's Take on the Mayoral Debate

Griff is live-blogging the mayor's debate. I don't want to provide as much running commentary as Griff, but I thought I'd weigh in with some thoughts.

After the first third: I'm not sure who prepared Brad Wenstrup for this debate, but they shouldn't ever prepare any other candidate. Both Wenstrup and Mark Mallory are pivoting to pre-prepped answers to questions, but it's much more obvious for Wenstrup. He keeps looking down at his notes, reading responses. It's obvious his goal isn't to answer a particular question, but instead to get part of his stump speech.

Wenstrup's opening statement was ineffective at best. He raised some good points about the mayor. For instance, if all the travel is good for Cincinnati's economy, why do we have a deficit? His delivery really stepped on the line, and it would have been a much more effective attack in a two-minute response. It would have been an awesome answer in response to the question later about fixing the deficit.

Mallory isn't quite on his "A-game," but he's doing quite well in comparison. He's touting what he views to be his accomplishments without really talking about his opponent. It's the typical game plan for a relatively popular incumbent.

Neither candidate offered useful responses to a question about how to bridge next year's deficit. Wenstrup's response was essentially "I'll cut anything but police and fire." Mallory simply told us that the city manager is working on it.

Near the end of the first twenty minutes, Wenstrup raised the issue of criminal justice reform and making sure that people in jail aren't simply warehoused there. An excellent idea, but it's not clear how that fits into his agenda for the city. After all, the administration of the jail is a county issue.

After 40 minutes: I'm reading through Griff's thoughts, and I disagree a bit. For instance, when Wenstrup answered the question about how to increase the awarding of contracts to minority-owned businesses, he did have a specific: break large projects down into smaller parcels so that small contractors can successfully bid. What Wenstrup didn't say--and perhaps he doesn't know--is that this was the model for the Freedom Center construction; it successfully increased MBE participation in the project.

Mallory said something interesting about the streetcar. I thought we've been told that the streetcar isn't about transportation, it's about development. But tonight, he says it's about transportation. Specifically, he said it's about giving people in a neighborhood where somewhere over forty percent of people (I forget the precise number) don't have a car access to transportation. This is a smart pivot for streetcar proponents. It's not about "economic development" (often perceived as more money for rich people) anymore; now it's about transportation options for poor people. Will people buy this?

Wenstrup shows again a lack of knowledge on criminal justice issues. He repeats a campaign promise to consolidate the City and County prosecutor. That's been discussed for decades, without results. And besides, the City's office couldn't be entirely eliminated (since the County wouldn't prosecute offenses arising entirely under Cincinnati's municipal code). I may have a full post on this proposed consolidation later this week.

A pretty useless question near the end of this period: "What's the worst thing that could happen if your opponent is elected?" Both opponents missed the opportunity to display some grace and class and to note that the city certainly won't shut down if the other guy wins. Mallory had the best answer, I thought: the city loses a lot of experience. The answer (which probably wasn't prepared ahead of time) gave Mallory the opportunity to extol his own virtues without really putting his opponent down.

After 40 minutes: again, I disagree with some of Griff's takes. He didn't like the question as to whether Cincinnati should adopt an executive mayor system. It's a good question; I've long advocated for a decrease in the role of the city manager with a corresponding increase in the mayor's power. While I disagree with Mallory's conclusion, he answered the question quite well.

Asked about under-served neighborhoods, Wenstrup pivots back to his proposal for a liaison between the mayor and the community councils. He's not made it clear why a special staff position needs to be created for this. And wouldn't a better answer be a commitment to try to attend community council meetings? Mallory had a better answer to this, citing a specific neighborhood (Walnut Hills) that will change significantly (for the better) next year.

Closing statements: Mallory had a good closing statement. Frankly, though, Wenstrup's closing may have been his strongest moment tonight. He didn't talk specifics, but he didn't intend to. A very nice call for service.

Parting thoughts from me: Overall, the mayor had the upper hand in the debate. When the two candidates talked about crime numbers, they were talking past each other. Mallory talked about decreasing crime, and he did so by going back to 2000. Wenstrup talking about a trend towards increase, and he did that by comparing this year to last year. Generally, though, Mallory seemed in better command of the facts and had a better handle on the nuts and bolts of city administration.

And a word on the candidates' ties: they were likely symbolic of the evening. I think Wenstrup's tie hadn't been "camera tested," as it's one of those patterns that doesn't look good on TV. Mallory, though, wore a great shade of powder blue that really stood out on his white shirt.

It's pretty clear that Mallory will be re-elected. Wenstrup showed that he needs some seasoning before he's ready for a one-on-one race with the city's most powerful and most respected political family. But we should thank him for coming forward to run and giving an alternative viewpoint.

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