Friday, October 05, 2007

The most boring controvery ever!

Local political junkies are abuzz! I think.


Because of this article in the Telegram. It's entitled "Donnelly targets Wong’s stands." That's actually not a very accurate headline, but whatever.

Here's the gist:
E. Thomas Donnelly, mayoral candidate and city councilor, yesterday criticized his opponent, Lisa A. Wong, for her past leadership of the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority.

“She is not the wonder woman she claims to be,” he said last night.

According to Mr. Donnelly, financial statements and audit reports from the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority since 2004 show an over-reliance on grants to pay operational expenses of the approximately $3.2 million nonprofit agency. Ms. Wong was head of the FRA from 2004 to 2006.

Mr. Donnelly also pointed to a $145,397 deficit reported by the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development for 2006. Ms. Wong was head of that agency from 2006 to 2007. Mr. Donnelly also said Ms. Wong’s claim to have managed a $75 million budget is exaggerated, because both agencies had a combined budget of $4 million.
Well okay... that's really dull.

Seems that Donnelly is basically saying two things:
  1. Wong was good at getting grants, which is for some reason a bad thing.
  2. Wong exaggerated about her experience with big budgets.

Wong's response went like so:
Ms. Wong said that while she was head of the FRA she knew that a tenant who had been storing steel at Putnam Place, which the agency owns, was planning to relocate in 2006. She said in anticipation of the decrease in rent, she applied for and received a $1 million grant.


In addition to successful grant applications, Ms. Wong said, the FRA had a surplus of $1.2 million in 2006, despite the decreased rent and increased tax bills and utilities. She said the agency renegotiated leases and stopped contracting out for marketing services.
Then about the budget shortfall at the Women's Institute:
“The agency was without an executive director for about a year. When I came in May, there was not enough time to pull the annual fundraiser together,” Ms. Wong said. “Money had already been lost. Lots of things were not being attended to. I responded quickly. There is a benefit to having experience in this field. It’s not a one-to-one, but it relates to how I would run the city of Fitchburg.”
And moving on, about the $75 million thing:
She said that although the agencies she directed had combined budgets of $4.7 million, the projects she managed had budgets that added up to about $75 million.
Okay, am I alone in not particularly seeing a problem here? Those seem like pretty decent responses.

Maybe I'm missing something. I've never claimed to be a financial genius, but these seem like things that actually make Wong look pretty good and Donnelly look like he's either desperately digging for dirt or is just focusing on numbers and ignoring context. Which is sort of the same thing.

I mean, seriously who cares that she used grants to cover the expenses at Putnam Place? Is that like something that shouldn't be done? It clearly worked in this situation, and Wong isn't saying that the city has to run on grants. Actually, she says this:
Ms. Wong responded by saying that she never claimed that a city could run on grants. She said she went after grants, project revenue, and loans to finance the FRA. The competitive grants had to be backed by matching funds and a viable project proposal, she said.
... which seems pretty reasonable to me.

So to be honest, I can't be bothered to give a shit about this particular non-issue.

Except for a couple things. First, there was this blog post by Donnelly from August 28th that said:
I choose to campaign in a positive manner, discussing the issues that Fitchburg faces, and focusing on the good things about Fitchburg. I have not and will not will use tactics of division and negativity.
What happened, Tom? Up until now, the race has been positive. But this is pretty clearly negative campaigning. Did positivity lose its appeal after Wong ran away with the primary or what?

I've said before that the only thing that can turn the race around for Donnelly is some major bombshell. But seriously, out of context financial reports? That's not a bombshell. Hell, I'm someone who follows the race quite closely and even I can't be bothered to care. Financial reports aren't a bombshell unless Wong was secretly a war profiteer or something.

Jason at Save Fitchburg noticed a similar reaction among his readers:
Based on early comments here, reaction is along party (or candidate) lines. Wong supporters think it's another example of Donnelly being an old-school bully. Donnelly supporters think it's about time Wong got hers for not exactly being honest about her work experience.
In other words, people who already support Donnelly will use this as more justification for supporting Donnelly. People who already support Wong will use it as more justification for supporting Wong. I expect that people who haven't picked a side yet will say "Financial reports? Boring!" and just ignore it.

Which sort of suggests it's not going to change things one bit. Which makes it even more boring!

It does indicate that Donnelly is getting desperate, though. Besides the negative campaigning, he hasn't changed his message one bit. I don't know why, maybe he just doesn't have anything else to run on.

That message is really his biggest problem. He still hammers on "experience" in the article, and the dull financial stuff is an attempt to make Wong appear inexperienced in handling budgets (though it sort of fails to do that). Going on and on about his experience hasn't worked thus far, and I sort of doubt it's going to start working now.

It is a bit disheartening to see things turn negative in the Donnelly camp though. Hopefully Wong won't fall into the same pattern. She's avoided negativity pretty well to this point.

Also, you know what would be great? If newspapers would actually analyze the data they're given and just tell us who the fuck is right! This is a pretty simple thing with facts and figures that can be examined, but we still get a dumb "he-said, she-said" story. Are there no fact-checkers working at newspapers anymore?

Anyway, get upset if you want. I find the whole thing totally dull.


ReallyRachel said...

Hmmmm.... this just doesn't fit the definition for me.

To me "negative" is calling someone a "slumlord" or some of the unrepeatable things that Lisa was called during the primary race (not by Donnelly or his camp of course).

Looks to me like Donnelly hopped on what he felt was an opportunity to contrast himself to Wong, whereupon Wong responded with a plausible explanation, all done exactly as it would have been handled in a debate.

Are we all a bit hypersensitive to "negativity" at this point until we're barking at shadows?

Far more interesting to me is the Sentinel and Enterprise's increasingly absolute disregard for Fitchburg. Anything that is newsworthy in this campaign is ignored - yes, this was newsworthy as campaigns go, in my opinion.

And yet the Sentinel continues to make the defeated mayoral candidate the front page story. Why? Because he presents the most embarassing and negative image of Fitchburg.

The real story here is why is the Sentinel not covering the Fitchburg election.


The Unicow said...

To me "negative" is calling someone a "slumlord" or some of the unrepeatable things that Lisa was called during the primary race (not by Donnelly or his camp of course).

No, that's just namecalling. It has less to do with negativity than it does with being an idiot.

Negativity in a political campaign is focusing on what's bad about your opponent instead of what's good about you.

There are ways to do that that aren't horribly negative of course. Contrasting your own ideas with your opponent's, for instance. Then letting the voters make their own value judgments. That's different from telling them "my opponent is bad!"

Going to the newspapers with financial reports about your opponent and claiming it shows something horrible (which I don't see as actually being true in this case) is clearly negative campaigning. Particularly since it was done in the absence of that contrast (yeah, there's the tacked-on "I'm experienced" bullshit, but the focus here is on Wong's supposed failings, not Donnelly's supposed qualifications).

Personally, I'm not one to complain much about negative campaigning. I expect it, and when it's used to point out serious problems I welcome it. Pointless attacks like this are just dumb though.

Honestly, I have no idea how you can claim this isn't negative campaigning. There's not one positive thing about what Donnelly did here.

ReallyRachel said...

"There are ways to do that that aren't horribly negative of course. Contrasting your own ideas with your opponent's, for instance. Then letting the voters make their own value judgments. That's different from telling them 'my opponent is bad!' "

OK, point taken, Unicow, and conceded. You're the first to offer a rational explanation of why Donnelly's shot across the bow could be conceived as negative campaigning rather than just plain old campaigning.

Donnelly missed an opportunity to draw a real contrast between himself and Wong. He alleged specifics re Wong yet left the contrast vague. Had he stated the specific size of the budgets he has managed in contrast and drawn a comparison, then, would you still have classifed the volley as "negative campaigning"?

My personal problem with both campaigns is in the lack of specifics. Neither has presented a detailed proposal. "Bringing new business to Fitchburg," "revitalizing downtown" so far is rhetoric without substance. What new business? How will that new business be brought to Fitchburg? What, besides new restaurant-bars is proposed for non-residential development for downtown?

We've had six years of vague philosophy. I'm looking for a specific plan with details from either or both.

There's no time like the present.


RomanAedile said...

Lisa Wong in the Boston Globe and Donnelly begging anyone who will listen to his cries.

Anonymous said...

From the Boston Globe article October 9:
"There are two doctors available - one is brand new, right out of Harvard Medical School, who has never performed the operation," he said. "The other is from a less prestigious medical school, but has performed this operation successfully 30 times. Who would you choose?"

...successfully??? This city is barely surviving on life support, which is not an indicator of a successful operation performed 30 times. Do we really want to make him Chief Surgeon?

The choice is clear!