Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Finally, A Political "Debate" That Worked

If you have any interest in the city of Syracuse, you might want to check out my recent Campbell Conversation program with Howie Hawkins and Khalid Bey, available on WRVO's website or through the Campbell Institute's website.

Perhaps the most intriguing local race this November is the match-up in the fourth City Council district between Democrat and Working Families Party candidate Bey and Green Party candidate Hawkins.  Hawkins has run for many seats in the past, including governor and U.S. Senator, and not come close to winning, but the last time he ran for city council he garnered about 40 percent of the vote.  This race may be his best shot.  The seat is typically held by a Democrat.  In this lively conversation, the two candidates describe the specific new initiatives they would propose to the Council, the most important differences between them, and the biggest challenges facing the city.  In individual questions, Hawkins addresses how he’d try to be effective as a third party member on a Council dominated by Democrats, and Bey explains what phrases on his personal website like “Egyptian and Taoist alchemy” mean for his own personal development, and how he’d try to work in a bi-partisan manner if elected. 

[update:  The personal website providing that information appears to have been taken down since the interview.]

It's tough to get at meaningful substance in a short debate with political candidates, but in this conversation, I think the listener can walk away with a pretty good read on what each of them would emphasize in office, and what the most important differences are between them.  You can also begin to get a more general sense of how they think and who they are. 

One thing that helped the effort is that it seemed clear to me that these two candidates had some measure of respect for each other, and may even like each other.  This seemed to contribute to their general lack of defensiveness and caution and the absence of silly caricatures of what their opponent stood for.

Give it a listen and see what you think.


Ula said...

I really enjoy your interviews. Given all the issues facing the city, I wish this interview could have been longer. I love the greatest flaw question - like when you are interviewing someone for a job, the answer is pretty telling. Something like "my inability to be selfish" reaks of b.s.

Grant Reeher said...

Ula, Thanks for those kind words. I would have liked to have gone longer with them too.

It's been interesting to hear answers to the three questions over the months that I've been doing this. You've given me the idea of compiling them and looking for themes.

One theme I think I'd find--though it's by no means limited to the following group--is that politicians often give some version of "I'm too good for my own good" as an answer. Such as, I want to see things get done quickly and lose patience when they're not, I say yes too much, I'm too generous with my time, etc.

Several have not conformed to that mold, however--Patty Ritchie in the State Senate comes to mind, and Dan Maffei's interview following his loss to Ann Marie Buerkle contained a pretty raw self-assessment as an answer to that question, as I recall. And to his credit, Eliot Spitzer's answer was dead-on: impetuousness.

Thanks for listening to the program!

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