I did real good last night.
You shoulda seen me.
— “Rocky,” by Sylvester Stallone
That’s what I was thinking to myself after last night’s mayoral candidate debate at Eastminster Presbyterian Church. I had been kind of nervous about it because keeping things moving with seven candidates on the stage is like herding cats, but it went all right, which was a great relief. My one regret is that I didn’t get to more audience questions. Other than that, it went well, which increases my confidence for the gubernatorial debate I’m going to moderate next week…
And the candidates “did real good,” too, which of course is a far more relevant point. Afterwards, one member of the audience said it would be good just to substitute all seven of them for the current city council. I thought that went a bit far, especially since a very fine councilwoman, Belinda Gergel, was there also in the audience, but it reflected the general feedback that I got.
Unfortunately, I can’t really provide you with a lot of substance as to what the candidates said, because I was far too busy moderating — making sure we kept to schedule, deciding which question to ask next, making sure I called upon the candidates in the order I had, on the spur of the moment, agreed to (letting a different one go first each time), and so forth.
But I can offer a generality or two. In general, I thought the three leading candidates — Steve Benjamin, Steve Morrison and Kirkman Finlay III (who joined us in progress, having been delayed by the city council meeting running late, which is why you don’t see him in the picture I shot with my phone near the start above) — all did fine, with none of them really standing out. No, I take that back: I thought Steve Morrison, having launched his campaign rather late, was sufficiently forceful and on-point to prove he is indeed a contender. I was more familiar with what Messrs. Benjamin and Finlay have to say, so they made no new impression.
Among the lesser-known candidates, former career soldier Gary Myers made the strongest impression, touting his experience as a nation-builder all over the Western Hemisphere (in Haiti, Ecuador and setting up the prison at Guantanamo) and saying he came home because his brother the cop told him he was tired of burying so many young black men, and arresting the rest.
So here’s my very, very rough ranking of how they all did, with the caveat that these are holistic impressions, not based on particulars:
- Steve Morrison — He had to show he had the stuff, and he did.
- Steve Benjamin — Seemed on the defensive a couple of times, but came across as a guy who’s going to fight to steer Columbia in the right directions.
- Kirkman Finlay — Had to play catch-up, but used his incumbency well and stayed in the game.
- Gary Myers — As mentioned, he distinguished himself from the pack of also-rans.
- Joe Azar — Exhibited the confidence and smoothness of a candidate with far more experience as a candidate than anyone else on the stage.
- Aaron Johnson — Showed a good deal of populist passion, but did not inspire confidence that he was quite ready for citywide office.
- Sparkle Clark — Got the best laugh of the evening when, during a discussion of crime and public safety, spoke of a shooting she witnessed in which she told the intended victim, “If they’re shooting at you, get away from me” (or so I remember it, not having taken notes), but in general came across as a type of candidate I’ve seen quite often over the years — chock full of good intentions, but seemingly not really a leader.
If you were there (and a gratifyingly large group of people did show up) and had a different impression, please share it. And if you were actually taking notes, your observations will immediately garner more credibility than mine…