The most recent city council candidate forum, which occurred Monday at College of the Canyons and was put on by the COC Civic Engagement Steering Committee, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, resembled a presidential debate more than previous forums.
The 13 candidates (minus Cherry Ortega and Paul Wieczorek) sat in front of the room alphabetically, microphones spread out. Separating the candidates and the audience of about 50 citizens and press was an island of tables where sat three moderators who had a list of questions they would ask each candidate.
For two hours, the moderators asked, and the candidates answered. Those who have read the Gazette’s articles profiling the various candidates probably weren’t surprised at the answers, since the candidates restated what they already said. For example, Bill Miranda stressed that one needs three votes on the council to get anything done, Marsha McLean touted her experience, TimBen Boydston spoke about the lack of water, Brett Haddock talked about how he’s not working to focus exclusively on his campaign, etc.
Yet as the night went on, it became clear that winners and losers emerged. This is not to say that people placed in one or the other group have helped or hurt their chances for election. Nor does not being mentioned mean a candidate has either a great or no chance. It simply means that according to this reporter, on this one night, in this one forum, these won or lost.
1. The format. Alan Ferdman, the Canyon Country Advisory Committee chairman and one of the moderators, said the intention was to avoid asking a series of what he called “Gotcha questions” in favor of letting candidates talk about what they thought were important issues. A narrative each candidate had submitted provided the basis for the questions the panel of three moderators asked. (Only candidates who submitted a narrative were allowed to come, which was why Ortega wasn’t there.)
“I got a lot of positive feedback from a lot of candidates,” Ferdman said.
2. The incumbents. Holding office has inherent advantages. Candidates trying to unseat them often have to go on the attack to cause doubts in voters’ minds. But nobody directly went after Laurene Weste, McLean or Miranda. The closest anybody came were the times people alluded to “the council.” But nobody went after the three by name.
And there were opportunities. When incumbents championed the roads that would be built or touted the homelessness plan, challengers could have pointed out the increasing traffic problems, how needing here votes to place a matter on the agenda isn’t helpful or how the homeless shelter should have been built a long time ago – and then faulted them by name. But nobody did, and time is running out for any challenger to convince an undecided voter he or she is a viable alternative.
3. Logan Smith. The youngest candidate impressed many with his intensity and knowledge of the homeless problem in the city.
“Logan Smith, for his age, he was very knowledgeable and articulate,” Bruce Fortine said of the 25-year-old. “I think he’d make a good councilperson.”
4. TimBen Boydston. The former councilmember has presented himself as an impassioned man, and nothing changed Monday. He railed against the council’s decision to need three votes to place a matter on the agenda (the so-called TimBen Rule) and took the council to task over the water shortage.
“TimBen spoke well about his prior service,” supporter Steve Petzold said, “and his willingness to engage the public and study an issue before making a decision.”
5. Jason Gibbs. He came across as more polished and confident than when the Gazette interviewed him in July, perhaps giving people a reason to vote for somebody younger – even though his the-council-has-done-a-great-job message remained unchanged.
“Jason Gibbs, he’s articulate and knowledgeable,” Fortine said.
1. Diane Trautman. The one candidate who openly attacked the incumbents by name when the Gazette interviewed her in July did nothing of the sort on Monday. She said the next day she wanted to point out errors and inconsistencies with what the incumbents said but didn’t feel the format allowed for it.
One of her supporters, Stephen Winkler, was wearing a Trautman button, but nonetheless said he thought she had “an off night, but that was due to the questions. I know she’s hard-working and dedicated.”
2. Brett Haddock. He didn’t do enough to explain his positions. That was especially true when he was asked to explain his proposal to customize a computer system that will route a van or bus to a destination. Puzzled looks permeated the gallery. Haddock later thought he had spoken too broadly.
“I could see where I could have extrapolated more on policy,” he said. “I was off my game. I had gotten some family news that wasn’t great.”
3. Sankalp Varma. He admitted that he’s new to campaigning, having never run for public office before. His idea for a spiritual center made no sense, and snickers and skepticism met his long-term solution for a monorail.
4. Paul Wieczorek. He didn’t even show up, which surprised Ferdman because, “He contacted me expressing interest. I sent him a reminder on Saturday.” Wieczorek didn’t return a phone call asking why.
5. Elaine Ballace. She’s not a candidate but an actor who showed up hoping to ask the candidates questions. Unfortunately, the format didn’t allow for it, so she said she hopes to make it to the Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting Oct. 17 at the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge where the incumbents, Varma and Nichols are scheduled to attend.