The city council runoff candidate’s forum sponsored by the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council went pretty well. We had a full house, and we had pretty good coverage from The State, WIS, WACH, ABC Columbia and Free Times. Follow the links for their coverage.
The coverage sort of seized on the “jabs” and “barbs” the candidates aimed at each other. There was plenty of that, in part stimulated by some of my questions. And while I had worried that it would be funky doing one forum with people running for two offices, it sort of worked, largely because these guys have split up into tag teams: Howard Duvall and Ed McDowell vs. Andy Smith and Aaron Bishop.
I wasn’t just going for pointless conflict, but I made sure to ask at least one question of each candidate that required him to address a perceived problem or weakness — not just to put them on the spot, but to give them a chance to address, before an audience, these things that people have been saying about them. (And in the case of Duvall and Smith, based on my interviews, I already knew that they had pretty good answers for the questions. People deserved to hear those answers.)
After a softball question or two to all (“What is Columbia’s greatest need, and how will electing you help achieve it?”), I asked one “edgy” question of each. That was really all I had time for in the hour before we went to closing remarks, because I let them go back and forth — response, rebuttal, then (if new allegations came up in the rebuttal, which happened often) another round. I wanted them to say all they had to say, as long as it didn’t drag — and it didn’t.
Here were the individualized questions:
- To McDowell: “Mayor Steve Benjamin has criticized your ties with former councilman E.W. Cromartie. Please describe your relationship with Mr. Cromartie, and talk about why that is not a problem in your mind.”
- To Bishop: “We don’t have parties in the usual sense in city elections, but you and Mr. Smith have both been endorsed by Mayor Steve Benjamin, while your opponents seem to be running against him. What should voters think about your ties to the mayor?”
- To Duvall: “A few years back, we had a city councilman who was known as “Councilman No” (I didn’t say so at the forum, but I meant Hamilton Osborne) – whatever it was, he was against it, or at least that was his reputation. You have presented yourself as a needed obstacle to things the mayor wants to do. Will you be a new Councilman No, or do you have a positive vision for the city’s future?”
- To Smith: “You are up against a candidate with an intimidating resume. Mr. Duvall is a professional at municipal government. Why should voters choose you, a political novice, over someone who has helped run cities for as long as you’ve been alive?”
I was far too busy to take notes, so go look at The State‘s or the TV coverage to see how they replied. Most of the quotes you see arose from those questions.