Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Debates are not that awesome!

Last night there was another mayoral debate. This time of course it was just Wong and Donnelly debating, which made for a more focused but sort of sad debate.

Sad because I feel bad for poor Tom Donnelly. He's totally out of his league. I think he realizes this too, because at one point he started rambling (honestly, he did a lot of rambling) about how some people are effective debaters with a way for words. And unfortunately for him, he's not one of them.

I feel for the guy, because I share his affliction to some degree. Debating is a pretty specialized skill, and the winner of a debate isn't necessarily the person with the best ideas. It's the person with the best technique. You could have great ideas but still be a terrible debater.

But I don't feel too bad, because that doesn't actually seem to be the case with Donnelly. The ideas just weren't there. His statements ranged from boring to condescending to downright insulting at times, but none of them really contained any compelling ideas. His one "hit" was taking a dig at how awful the local paper is (I'm assuming he meant the Sentinel & Enterprise), which garnered applause (because everyone knows the Sentinel sucks). Besides that, nada.

Yeah, Lisa Wong mopped the floor with him.

The question-askers consisted of FATV guy Bill Gates (who has a way better haircut than multibillionare Bill Gates), Save Fitchburg & Fitchburg Pride guy Jason Lefferts (who is some kind of giant, I think), and WEIM Radio guy Chuck Morse (who is that ultraconservative guy I sometimes refer to as "Dickbag").

[Interesting side note on Morse: He actually invited me to be on his show last Friday! Which was sort of nice! He's also not as big a jerk in his emails as he is on the air and told me not to take it personally if he takes issue on his show with things I say. Sweet! Anyway, I turned down the invitation.]

Some of the questions were good, some were mediocre, and some were Dickbag babbling for five minutes before presenting a false either/or choice on a more nuanced issue.

Let's talk about that last one. The question was basically Morse going on about something or other for an awfully long time then asking if the new mayor was going to raise taxes or "stand up to the public unions" (as the Telegram put it, anyway. It's not like I wrote stuff down.).

Wong dealt with it quite well, in my opinion. She recognized it as a false choice and presented the much more sensible option of actually running the city efficiently (without necessarily ruling out any other options). She pointed out a large number of little (and some big) things that can be done to save money and run city finances in a way that neither tax increases nor cutting jobs is necessary. Pretty sensible stuff.

Donnelly complained that she didn't answer the question. Then he didn't really answer it either in his rebuttal. He pointed to layoffs I guess, but everything he said was tinged with his old "I'll have other people look into it" standby.

There was also a question about crime, and what the two candidates' philosophies were in that arena.

Donnelly and Wong pretty much agreed that prevention is the best approach. Both also recognized that crime is not as big a problem as people like to make it out to be. I take no issue with either of their ideas.

Unfortunately, Donnelly went into a little ramble about how "Crime Watch" is a bad name for community involvement projects and "Neighborhood Watch" is better (agreed!), and he thought promoting a smiley-face sort of approach for the signs would be great. Seriously, he talked about smiley faces. That isn't really bad, but it is really easy to make fun of (hence the image up top).

Another question boiled down to: "Unitil are overpriced assholes. What will you do about that?"

This is one area where I thought Wong really shined and Donnelly did horribly. Wong brought up bunches of alternative energy sources and energy conservation measures. She acknowledged that we're sort of stuck with Unitil, but produced some very sensible ideas for how to deal with that situation. How well they'd work in practice I'm not sure, but at least she's got a bunch of ideas.

Donnelly, on the other hand, thinks we're all a bunch of idiots. He pointed out that the Unitil bills are for gas and electricity combined. But in neighboring towns they get separate bills!

Yeah, no shit.

Apparently he thinks we're all just unable to do simple math and so we're upset about something that doesn't really exist. Frankly, it was insulting. Besides that, his answer was pretty much "We're fucked, get used to it."

Really, that was the basic gist of the debate. There's certainly other stuff I could write about, and no doubt some of it would be hilarious. But I feel bad for Tom, so I think I'll leave it at that. The debate wasn't really anything new. Wong presented ideas for positive change, Donnelly talked about his experience a lot. Same stuff from before, really.

If you ask me, Wong basically has this race wrapped up. I expected Donnelly to come out with some new ideas for change and improvement to the city, because that's what he'll need to compete with Wong. But he didn't. It was the same old stuff that got him a whopping 22% of the vote in the primary.

Wong had the same stuff as before the primary too, but her stuff actually works. Donnelly's going to need to change course pretty seriously if he has any hope of making a comeback. Even then it's pretty unlikely, but at least he could make things a bit more interesting. As it is, it looks like Wong's going to totally run away with the election.

[Update - 6:22 PM]

Liberal agitator 1970s Abraham Lincoln has a great post up over at Hello Fitchburg that breaks down the actual cost of being stuck with Unitil's extortionate rates. Empirical data! Numbers and figures and stuff!

It quite effectively debunks Donnelly's claim that we're all a bunch of idiots and just don't understand our bills. Check it out here!

Warning: it'll probably make the next time you go to pay your bill even more depressing.


Donna said...

I actually think Tom did better this time than at the last debate. The answers were pretty much the same, "I have experience and she doesn't", but at least he tried to disguise it as actual planning.

The way I see it, he has two problems. First, he absolutely can not be allowed to stray off script. Every time he does, he screws up. You could actually see it on his face and hear it in his answers every time he went off script.

The other is that planning isn't enough. It must be accompanied by real results oriented action. The only things he said he is actually going to do is raise taxes 2 1/2% and lay off more city employees. Not much for voters to look forward to.

The Unicow said...

You could actually see it on his face and hear it in his answers every time he went off script.

I noticed that too. He doesn't seem terribly skilled at thinking on his feet, which Wong seems to excel at (throwing that weird doctor metaphor back at him later on, for instance).

You don't think the voters are going to look forward to him hiring outside "experts" who may or may not have a good idea of how to fix things in town? I bet people are super-excited about that, everyone loves committees!

R3 said...

I only caught the question regarding "raise taxes" and "stand up to the union". Not a great question, I agree. However, Wong's answer was totally useless. Be more efficient? Spend to save? Duh? I didn't hear any examples - no suggestions of where changes could be made and how much these changes would save money.

Donnelly's rebut was no better. What he should have done is highlighted her support for raising taxes (e.g. local meals tax). He could of quoted her from her own web site.

Donnelly's problem in these debates is performance. Both candidates pretty much have the same platform, fairly similar solutions and they're both democrats (ugh). Fortunately for Wong, her performances give the voter much more confidence than Donnelly's

The Unicow said...


My memory's not perfect, but I'm pretty sure Wong actually did give some examples of ways to increase efficiency and so forth. It could have been during a different segment though. Morse asked what was basically the same question twice, so perhaps it was during the second visit.

You're never going to get a huge amount of detail in a debate, of course. It's one of the reasons debates are lousy. Serious policy discussions happen elsewhere (if at all).

Donnelly's debating skill is certainly not on par with Wong's. I think their differences go quite a bit deeper than that, but it's definitely a part of his problem.

brian said...

if you think the only difference between Wong and Donnelly is debate style you are not paying attention.

how about one wants to tear the budget apart and start from scratch and the other just wants to lay off and cut services first, ask questions later.

how about one has the skills with money to do the work herself and the other just wants CEO's to make his mind up for him.

how about one talks about issues and is prepared to discuss issues while the other just wants to focus on how long he has been in the city.

the list goes on R3. she may not be your cup of tea, but to say she is no different than he - is just not true.

ReallyRachel said...

Folks get so focused on debate style that they lose the real focus - ability to govern. Remember Annie DeMartino's huge lead over Mylott being totally destroyed by one disastrous debate. Who knows what kind of mayor Annie would have been, but we can unequivocably say our money would not have been thrown away.

Both of these candidates love Fitchburg and that's a good start. They're each "experienced" in their own way with municipal or municipal-sized budgets. Speaking style and speaking ability have far less to do with qualifications for mayor than actual ability. We have two candidates here who each have the ability. Now let's hone in on how each would apply his/her respective talents and compare and decide our preferences shall we?

That's my two cents. I'm riding the fence down to the last minute. The two styles are like night and day, but for the life of me I'm not sure which I feel is best for the city. I'm losing no sleep over the mayoral general election. We're ok either way as neither Wong nor Donnelly will be a disaster, and either will be a welcome relief from the well meaning but totally incompetent current mayor.

I do know one thing: regardless of whether it's Mayor Wong or Mayor Donnelly, he/she will get the blame before the honeymoon is over. There is far more wrong financially than we know and it's going to hit the fan, much as the GE departure was blamed on Mayor Whitney although it had been in the works long before she was elected.

Whichever is elected will need to be a true team leader as huge challenges lay ahead before we can rebuild.


1970s Abraham Lincoln said...

We're ok either way as neither Wong nor Donnelly will be a disaster, and either will be a welcome relief from the well meaning but totally incompetent current mayor.

People are supporting Donnelly for exactly the same reasons they supported Mylott: "I know him / he seems like a good guy." Donnelly hasn't articulated any new ideas beyond his plan to assemble a financial team to tell him what to do.

Would I vote for Donnelly over Mylott or Desalvatore? Any day of the week. Would I vote for Donnelly over Wong? Not a chance in hell. There's absolutely no comparison.

Nowoco said...

I'm with Abe on this one. hard to believe that someone who has spent so many decades in the city leaves no discernable trace of accomplishment. Donnelly gets points for trying a different tactic but good god, he is so wrong for this job...

1970s Abraham Lincoln said...

hard to believe that someone who has spent so many decades in the city leaves no discernable trace of accomplishment.

That's not entirely true. He did sell millions of dollars worth of his own property to the college. In fact, I think it's hilarious that he keeps trotting out North Street in the debates, where he essentially admits that he goaded the president of the college into buying his property:

"'No, no', I told him. 'Don't go away from downtown, go down North street! North street, damnit! North street!'"

fitchburg-shuffle said...

I believe the correct real estate term is "speculation". We can bitch all we want about the dough that Donnelly made but he saw the potential for progress on North St. and snapped up those dumps years ago.

I like Lisa but you can't fault his business sense on this one!

1970s Abraham Lincoln said...

We can bitch all we want about the dough that Donnelly made

Oh, I'm not bitching about it. Hell, I'd do the same. It just seems awfully cavalier to tell the story over and over and over again without disclosing the context.

fitchburg-shuffle said...

Maybe he's stressing his "business sense". He's got some ground to make up. I don't see him going down without a fight.

Could it be that he's grasping at straws?