Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Debate - Opinion, Observation, Conclusion

Brandon Robinson of Inner City Alliance emailed me for advice on the prospect of sponsoring a mayors debate. 
I reminded him that in 2007, I had tried to get the mayors to debate but at the last minute the Republicans refused to participate. Coincidently, President Dr. Harris of Widener had offered me (the Chester Spotlight) the Alumni Auditorium to stage the debate. 
Thankfully, Brandon and crew were persistent in their effort to have a debate which shows you how critical the young people of Chester are to the future of our city. They want to see change and will not be denied.
There was a lot of hype leading up to the debate but I have not heard much discussion about the debate since it has ended. 
Since so few Chester voters attended or viewed the event on USTREAM, I’m surprised no one has provided a transcript of debate. I was disappointed when moderator Dray Clark announced that one of the rules was that recording of the event was prohibited. 
I would think that if the purpose of the event was to be the only forum for voters to hear the candidates speak on the issues, than the transcript should be made available for all of us to review and study.
In an earlier post, I captured some of the responses to all of the questions asked during the debate that I could gather while watching the live USTREAM broadcast.
Here, I will offer my observations, opinions, and conclusions of the debate.

The Organizers
Much credit goes out to the Inner City Alliance, Widener students, the sponsors, and all those involved in putting the debate together. 
The Venue
I’m still amazed how many people have commented on this blog how they don’t like Widener. Yet, Widener has won national recognition for what they do in the Chester community. 
In hindsight, there may have been other spaces on campus that could hold more people, but until the days leading up to the debate, no one could guess how many people would come out. And, the University donated the space so there was no burden on anyone’s budget. 
The Format
The debate format was consistent with most political debates. There were a few questions that were prepared ahead of time to allow time for the audience to submit their questions which worked out smoothly. It was unusual to see candidates sit during the debate but I guess that’s what both sides must have agreed to. 
The Audience
It seemed like most of the audience members were not as interested in hearing a debate on the issues. Most seemed like they were there to support their candidate. I wonder how many people in the audience were undecided and came to the debate to determine who they would vote for based on what they heard.
The Mayors Debate
As expected, there were questions on crime, education, jobs, Harrah’s & PPL Park, and the billboard. There were a few off-brand questions like county funding to Chester, the end to Act 47, and taxes. 
Mayor Butler, who is normally not a man of many words, provided direct answers to most of the questions and was never stopped for going over his time limit. 
Councilman Linder provided background and opinion before answering questions and had to be stopped more than a few times for exceeding his time limit. 
Here’s a couple questions and answers I found interesting. 
The question of ending Act 47 was interesting because I’m willing to bet that 99% of Chester voters don’t have a clue what Act 47 is. Since both candidates agreed with one another, it became a non-issue anyway. However, when it comes to hiring police, Linder has been quoted as saying that he’d hire more, where Butler reminds folks that the city has as many police as Act 47 allows. 
The question of whether taxes would be raised was well delivered by Dray Clark. Essentially, he read into the question the fact that Chester is distressed and asked if raising taxes will help us recover. Both candidates said no. I expected Butler to say no but I thought Linder would bake in some wiggle room.
The question of county funds to the city brought out some interesting responses. Butler explained that the game has changed from the past and money that once came to Chester is now being split among municipalities. Linder said that the county needs to be more accountable and have better representation. In my opinion, a Republican county council will likely be less receptive to a Democratic Chester administration since they are not represented well. Is that what Linder meant?
The question of education reveled that city government has no oversight over the school district. Both candidates hope the school district finds better leaders. Linder says he knows how to get the kids to learn. Butler, while admitting he has no say in the schools, should have said how much city resources goes into protecting the kids, with crossing guards, police force, and truancy involvement. He should have mentioned the banquet he gives to students and their parents who score a 3.0. He should have mentioned the jackets and trophies he purchased for the state champion basketball team. And he can always mention the tons of recreation money the city spends on school aged children to give them things to do after school. But he didn’t.
Harrah’s & PPL Park
Butler explained how they both were built on tax free KOZ land which will end in 2013 bringing much more tax revenue to the city, while LInder says that Harrah’s puts $200 million on a barge and sends it down the river. Come on John...even Harrah’s wants to know what you’re talking about. 
Overall, the mayors debate had very little energy. It could have something to do with them sitting down or maybe John Linder was sucked into Mayor Butler’s cool and calm demeanor. In my opinion, it was the time for Linder to bring the spark and fire-up his base, but he was rather subdued and professorial. 
The City Council Debate
Although not the main attraction, I enjoyed the council debate much more than the mayors debate and this portion of the debate actually helped me make my decision on who I will vote for. 
Overall, I was still disappointed that most of the candidates didn’t answer the questions staring with ‘What would you do...” with ‘what would you do’ answers. They all shared some background and opinion before telling us what they would do, if they told us at all. 
But, my favorite of the night was Shep Garner for bringing some fire, conflict, passion, and confrontation. As the only finance person on the panel, I wish he would have told folks a little more why that’s important, but I think he made his point.
Nolan Woodland was impressive when he got to his answers. Like most others, he talked a tad too much about the questions than answering the question. 
Nafis Nichols was very good. He obviously excites the younger crowd which will bring a younger voter to the polls. His youth and lack of business experience is a concern but I believe, if given a chance, he’d be a quick study and become a force around here. 
Liz Williams seemed overwhelmed. With all her years of corporate experience, she did not appear comfortable in front of the crowd. That is very concerning for a public official who is responsible for running a department. 
The debate is over and I don’t hear anyone talking about it. In a city that thrives on emotion and excitement, the debate brought neither. 
Hopefully, someone may have learned something about the candidates and their issues. 


  1. As you know I read your blog daily. I think you raise some good issues and make some very keen observations. You also bring positive attention to the causes, events, and individuals who are otherwise ignored by mainstream media. I dont always agree with your assertions but I damn sure respect what you have to say.
    As for the debate, the Inner City Alliance worked hard and Im sure they would do some things differently but overall they should feel proud. I was grateful to be brought on as moderator.
    Just remember Stef, neither candidate is bombastic so I never expected high emotion or excitement. It was important to me that the candidates could speak in their own words versus some of these fools that have been running around town like crazy. Ok I'm done...Lol!!!

  2. Thanks Dray,

    Honestly, I don't always agree on some of the things I write. Unlike in your profession where you who have to report facts, I have the luxury to take some liberties for effect in hopes of generating some dialogue. I do try to bring up the topics we need to be talking about. If only I can find a way to get more folks talking and not 'running around town like crazy'.

    I'll see you soon.

  3. Let's go one step past the debate. I am pretty much exhausted from all the mail coming in from the parties reminding me of who to vote for. The one that really put me over the edge was the mailing received yesterday. You open it up, unfold it into one large poster. You see pictures and events of the present mayor. As you look through the other phtos in the panels, there is one glaring issue...a line at the bottom of the mailing spoke of diversity. DIVERSITY???? REALLY??? You mean to show all those people the mayor is standing with and not one caucasion person could be found??? What diversity? Well, you can see who is neglected, who is not being represented by the local government, and the lack of programs provided for a segment of the tax-paying population.

  4. I like the mailers. I like seeing photos of candidates and reading their platforms.

    Diversity, huh? I haven't received that mailer. I'll comment if I do.

    i will admit that the one with the Marie Johns letter stuck in it was a total waste.

  5. I haven't received the mailer about Diversity either, I attended the Mayoral Debate and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed...I am undecided and thought like any rational person that going t the debate I could hear both candidates points and stances and plans for the city and the people(voters. I found Mr. Linder to be more inciting as in llike Thad, he did more metioning of Harrah's not hiring many people frm Chester and the stadium the same...which got the people on his side of the room incited to be rude and ignorant and make uncivilized statements...he answered 1 or 2 questions, but in my opinion he was more interested in keeping the angry people angry and applauding...I respect Mr. Linder and all of his accomplishments (he listed them as he should have from a question) but I walked away unsatisfied with him. Mr. Butler to my surprise spoke rather eloquently...then he usually does, he didn't fumble over his words bravo...to me his answers were more of a list of his accomplishments, as opposed to directly answering the questions...though both candidates did eventually answer some questions...I must admit I will not know who I am voting for until I get to the polls next week...as I am still undecided...Dray Clark Good choice in a moderator, he did a subperb job in getting the questions asked and in crowd control...kuddo's to Dray Clark.
    Stefan I llike how you wrote this article and got the main points across, I'm glad you are no longer undecided...maybe you can share your secret for how you came to your dicsion...anyway I on't be signing my name today for good reasons....lol