Saturday, September 04, 2010

At-Large MoCo Council Debate at the 4H in Chevy Chase

Thirteen candidates showed up in Chevy Chase tonight for the second to last candidate forum--or so I am told--of the at-large campaign season. The debate was sponsored by a panoply of municipalities and organizations from around the area. Channel 16 covered it so you should be able to watch it. Here are my impressions on how candidates struck people--less about the specifics of what they said and more about style.

As mayor, I got to introduce the candidates--a great example of a politician taking credit of the hard work of others in putting the forum together and Charles Duffy for moderating it. The candidates looked like they were ready to throw me off the stage when I suggested that elections are like reality TV in that you actually get to vote people off the island--a thought I admit was inspired by viewing of Top Chef last night and perhaps by a post on the delegate race in District 18 inspired by Project Runway four years ago. Perhaps I was on firmer ground when I spoke about all the important decisions they get to make.

George Gluck (Green) lost me when he said that the solution to the economic crisis in a nutshell is that we all need to stop shopping at Barnes and Noble in Bethesda and go to the Cricket Book Shop in Ashton instead to keep money and jobs in the County. Reinforced the impression of Greens as well-meaning but utterly impractical and a bit kooky.

Duchy Trachtenberg (D) had one really good theme that resonated well and one that sounded a little tinny to me. The good theme is making tough choices in tough times. In short, it makes a virtue out of Duchy's loss of political support from unions--a smart and sensible response to the choices she has made in office that fits the mood of the times--not to mention the Post. In contrast, Duchy recitation of Ike's endorsement and how we can only trust experienced hands now rang false as it left me wondering why one should have supported her four years ago.

Despite starting off the debate by complimenting his fellow incumbents, George Leventhal (D) quickly lost any chance of taking home the Mr. Congeniality statuette. A bull in a china shop, George is tough and argumentative rather than pleasant and controlled, and sometimes clever instead of convincing. His tone is the one I try to keep out of my classroom teaching--the one that suggests you're a real idiot if you disagree with me--reinforced with a frown and crossed arms. Folks, we even nearly had a Saturday Night Live moment brought to life when he went after Jane de Winter. But hey, I guess you can't argue with George's electoral success.

In contrast, Nancy Floreen (D) came across as an adult who has firm convictions and a grasp of the facts but keeps her head. Like George, Nancy has strong opinions and defends them armed with a quick mind and grasp of the issues.. However, she managed to make her points, and even correct people, without looking like she was berating them or being unpleasant. Not an easy balance but one Nancy carried out with conviction. Looked like a Council President.

Jane de Winter (D) benefited from being George's target and having a sense of humor about it as she turned George's attack on her fiscal sense and her advocacy for education into a family anecdote about an adult handling a child. One can debate about who won the point but the optics of standing up to a bully were good as Jane held her own as she made an impression--something challengers have to do. Seated wrongly as a "W" instead of a "D", de Winter got to sit in the center of the pack.

Raj Narayanan (D) came across as an outsider with economic knowledge but lost credibility when he urged the audience to vote for him and Marc Elrich--mainly because it looks weak and because he apparently urges support for himself and a different incumbent at each forum. Nonetheless, he was a fresh face to me and I enjoyed his contribution.

Hans Riemer (D) was the candidate who really gets that debates are not just about what you say but the impression you make. Though younger than the other Democrats, he came across as calm, likable, and knowing the notes he wanted to hit, particularly reinforcing the message of his recent mailer on seniors. Though some will ask where's the beef? his competitors did not press this point as at other forums.

Becky Wagner (D) had an ability to relate governmental problems to both her past experience and to make clear points on complex issues. As with Jane de Winter, I got the impression of someone who has worked hard in the community and earned her spot up there. Becky came across as clear-eyed even if one wondered about her stands on issues as her responses sometimes could be read a number of ways--not necessarily a bad thing when one is trying to corral voters with diverse opinions.

Marc Elrich (D) must have been good in the classroom. He has clear views but also looks like someone who is practical, knows a lot, is willing to talk calmly with others, and thinks that politics is about bringing people together to solve the community's problems. In short, another grown up. He elicited the only applause for the night when he mentioned his bus-rapid transit proposal.

Fred Evans (D) seemed like a nice enough fellow but did not leave much of a memory--bad news for any candidate, I'm afraid.

Robert Dyer (R) wanted you to know that he is the man with the fiscal plan. Very intense. I confess I don't know what to make of Republicans with pony tails. The repeated references to Fantasy Island didn't help. I resisted urges to stand up from the back of the auditorium and shout: "The plane! The plane!"

Mark Fennell (R) brags about being a tea-party candidate in his literature but oddly sounded more interested in making sure that developers pay their fair share for infrastructure in addition to standard Republican fiscal concerns. I preferred the guy on stage to his written materials. Mark is sort of an inverse Bob Ehrlich who looks great in his ads but really should never be allowed to debate.

Brandon Rippeon (R) woke me up with a resonant voice and a passionate presentation but then disappointed with his anodyne attack suggesting that increasing gang violence indicates that the county council has provided bad value for its money. Like Hans, Brandon is a young, fresh face but has a very different style.

Note: I have endorsed Marc Elrich and Jane de Winter. I apologize for any votes this loses them.