Saturday, August 10, 2013

Houston mayoral debate scheduled for October 8

My source for this information will remain confidential. -- Ed.
This past week a meeting was held to negotiate a mayoral candidates' debate among the seven declared candidates running for Mayor of the City of Houston.  This debate will take place on October 8, 2013, at 7:00 pm.  It is to be sponsored by the Bethel Family Church Empowerment Center.  The debate will take place at Willowridge High School, 16301 Chimney Rock, and Houston media will be invited to cover it.
Candidates and/or campaign staff from seven campaigns were invited to the meeting: Don Cook, Eric Dick, Keryl Douglas, Michael Fitzsimmons, Ben Hall, Victoria Lane, and Annise Parker.  Two candidates (Douglas and Fitzsimmons) were not present and were not represented by any of their staff at the meeting.
Judging from the intensity of the negotiations, it seems unlikely that there will be more than one scheduled debate, at least one that includes all of the candidates. 

More on that.
It was proposed that any subsequent candidates other than the seven already identified should be excluded from debating. In the discussion that followed, most participants seemed to feel that the elimination of any later candidates who were "not viable" or "not serious" because they had not declared early enough or not raised enough money was appropriate. 

You already know my position on this. There is only one group of people qualified to filter out unworthy candidates, and they are the voters in the election. More about the debate...

It was agreed that a drawing would take place ten minutes prior to the event with all candidates present to determine the order of candidates' initial statements, and opening remarks would be 90 seconds each (in a fifteen-minute window).  Thirty minutes was allotted for the debate itself and a total of ten minutes for candidate closing statements.

It would be more than unfortunate if less than 90 minutes were indeed the sum total of public exposure of the contenders for mayor of Houston in advance of the general election. That is to say, the public exposure not paid for by the respective campaigns (literally millions of dollars, as we know) and not advanced by television, radio, and print (aka "free" or "earned" media) . I'm sure there will be vigorous discussions happening online, in the blogs and social media, but those conversations have their own exclusivity, not to mention spin.

Campaign advertisements in your mailbox, on TV and radio, Tweets and Facebook updates and yes, even blog posts do not serve as effective replacements for open air discussion about the issues of the day among the people offering themselves to the voters.

This may sound airey-fairey and "Kumbayah" to you, particularly if you're a political hack, a social media butterfly, and even if you're a blogger. It isn't. It's what we know as participatory democracy in the United States of America. It's unruly and a little messy and we either have it or we don't.

If the electorate chooses to opt out, that's their prerogative. (My humble O is that we ought to make it illegal NOT to vote, but that's another rant on a different day.) There is nobody sitting in a quiet room who gets to choose the players. Nobody in the game gets to block anybody else from playing, just as nobody gets to hang a "Closed" sign on the Statue of Liberty.

You'd think this would be obvious to people with the word "democracy" as part of their name, but we know that it is not. If you didn't understand before why so few people participate with their ballot in Houston's municipal elections, then you should now.

There will still be a greater number of Houstonians showing up in the heat of an August day at a professional football team's practice than there will be at a mayoral debate, and that will remain true even if we held as many debates as the Texans hold practices. Yes, there is a certain measure of personal civic responsibility that distinguishes the two. What do you suppose would be the outcry, however, if JJ Watt forbade Andre Johnson from practicing because he's not one of the most popular players this season? Or if Johnson decided to exclude Watt because he wasn't making enough money?

Laughably absurd, yes? Of course it is.

The citizens of Houston deserve a broader public forum to learn about the people who have chosen to contend for leadership of the city. Let's hope they get it. And in the meantime, let's keep putting pressure on the powers that be -- and the ones who think that they be -- to broaden that forum.

(There have been two corrections to this post: one to fix the date in the headline, and one correcting Andre "Robertson" to Johnson. -- Ed.)

1 comment:

Stephan Rubin said...

Congregation Brith Shalom Men’s Club will be presenting a Mayoral Debate beginning at 1 p.m. on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at Congregation Brith Shalom, 4610 Bellaire Blvd., Bellaire, Texas 77401. Candidates for the office of Mayor of Houston, including Annise Parker, Ben Hall, Don Cook, Eric Dick, Victoria Lane, and others, will attend and answer important questions and express their positions on significant issues affecting the City of Houston. Former US Senate nominee and Vinson & Elkins partner Barbara Ann Radnofsky will moderate. More information regarding this exciting, history-making event can be obtained by (website) or by contacting Larry Estes at Congregation Brith Shalom, at 713-667-9201 x 321 or at