Friday, February 18, 2011

Breaking down the mayoral forum

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 1:41 PM

If you’ve seen one candidate forum, you’ve seen ’em all.

Yesterday evening’s mayor-a-thon at The Broadmoor’s Colorado Hall carefully followed the unvarying script for such events. Start with a large, windowless, and deeply depressing room, the kind of space that has virally self-replicated for decades, spawning hundreds of thousands of clones worldwide. Pack in a few dozen — or, in this case, a few hundred — political junkies, and sit them down for a couple of hours in uncomfortable chairs. Line up the candidates on a long table with a couple of mikes and a moderator, toss inane questions at ’em, and hope for sensible replies.

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Observation #1: Is this actually 2011? Or have we regressed to 1935, when columnist Drew Pearson famously called the Supreme Court the “Nine Old Men”? Of the nine mayoral candidates, all are white, male, and somewhere between middle age and geezerdom. It was dismaying to see County Commissioner Sallie Clark sitting quietly in the audience instead of up on the dais, giving the boys a good whuppin’.

Observation #2: None of the hoped-for meltdowns materialized. All of the candidates performed adequately, although Tom Gallagher, as is his wont, veered unpredictably between eloquence and incoherence.

Observation #3: Only Steve Bach seemed to understand that the format favors those who are brief and articulate, and who refrain from mumbling. The rest of the pack fought for the mike, appearing to believe that he who bloviates most gains the most.

Observation #4: Brian Bahr’s new TV commercial is as engaging and funny as anything John Hickenlooper created during the last election. We’ll see how effective it is, but it should go a long way toward creating a favorable image for the once-unknown Bahr.

Most richly comic moment: Katie Lally asked the candidates to name their role models and/or mentors. I turned to my seatmate and bet her that at least three would name Ronald Reagan. Saint Ronald the Great was indeed named by three, followed by George Washington and Hickenlooper, each with two votes, trailed by “my dad” and “my granddad," each with one.

Surprise #1: The invariably soft-spoken Richard Skorman, who may have been advised by his handlers to be more assertive, displayed a notably hard edge. He sharply criticized the judgment of the six candidates who had signed Jeff Crank’s no-tax pledge, and punctured Gallagher’s boast that he’d spent the last eight years on the wrong side of 8-1 votes. “I guess that’s your legacy, Tom,” said Skorman, contrasting Gallagher’s negativity to his own record of cooperative accomplishment.

Surprise #2: Of the 22 candidates vying for seven seats on City Council, only three showed up for the forum — Lisa Czelatdko, Sean Paige and Val Snider. What were the rest of them thinking? There were at least 300 politically active voters in the room, and the evening ended with free food and drink at the Carriage House — a perfect opportunity to work the crowd.

Now, some actual quotes from candidates:

• “[I’ll build] a smarter, leaner city government.” — Bach

Steve, no one expected you to call for a dumber, fatter city government.

• “A conglomeration of things you can’t understand.” — Ken Duncan, referring to the city budget

• “I’m an old farm boy.” — Mitch Christiansen, who also noted that, despite his deep, gravelly voice, “I’m not dying of pneumonia.”

• “[We need to] start treating the city budget as a business plan.” — Dave Munger, who, like Skorman, was sensible and informed rather than dogmatic and opinionated during the debate.

Also, a correction: A week ago I wrote that Munger’s campaign had repaid him more than $7,000 for expenses he had incurred on the campaign’s behalf. I was completely wrong — the dough remains in the campaign, and Munger has taken no such reimbursements. My apologies — I simply misread a campaign filing.

• “I know how to motivate minimum-wage people.” — Gallagher on his qualifications for office

And a couple of remarks from People in the Know:

• “If Skorman is elected, I wouldn’t leave town, but some of these guys … well, I don’t want to go there.” — Developer Steve Schuck, who ardently supports Bach

• “He’s got to get outside of the downtown bubble.” — Democratic activist Christy LeLait on Skorman’s chances

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