I had the pleasure of moderating the Syracuse Common Council candidate forum last night (Tuesday 10/25) at Nottingham High School, sponsored by Parents for Public Schools, the League of Women Voters, La Liga, and Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS). Many of the Council candidates participated--11 in all.
I was surprised at least three times during the evening.
First, I was surprised by something several of the candidates told me after the event--that there have not been any similar all-candidate, city-wide forums. Some individual district candidates have done their own events, but generally, the public has had very little opportunity to hear from the candidates directly.
Second, and made more surprising by the first surprise, it appears that this forum will not get coverage in the Post-Standard. The photographer was there, but I did not see a reporter, and an email today to one reporter suggests that it will not get covered. Hopefully I'm wrong about that.
Third, and perhaps most surprising of all, was the response I got to an extemporaneous question I posed to those candidates who had opponents.
Noting that elections were about choices for the voters, I asked them, when it comes to education policy, what the most important difference was between them and their opponents.
Most of them really struggled to answer this, and in four cases, the response was that they didn't know enough about their opponent's positions to draw a contrast. They wanted to talk about their own general qualifications instead. I have to admit, I've been in this business for 30 years and I was stunned. If you don't know enough about what you and your opponent stand for to make a distinction, how do you run? Do you leave this essential contrast to the voter to figure out without any information? On election day you can only pull one lever (or in the at-large race, two out of four).
As it turned out, the one candidate who was most eager to answer the question had no opponent and volunteered something about his recent visits with education groups. Another incumbent highlighted that she had prior experience on the council. Ok, but that's still not the contrasting information I need as a voter trying to sort this out.
The two candidates who were willing and able to talk about their differences, civilly I would add, were Howie Hawkins and Khalid Bey, the candidates for the fourth district seat. On that note, I'd encourage readers interested in city elections to check out their Campbell Conversations "debate" on WRVO, which you can find here, and where they develop these differences at greater length.
Of course, when it comes to incomplete information things can get worse, and they did not too long ago in my own voting district East of Syracuse, when, in a school board election, there were only as many candidates as spots to fill and there was ABSOLUTELY NO policy-relevant information provided about the candidates. And according to the school district, there were no public forums.
(Voters sigh here.)
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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