Round Four: Winners and Losers
At your convenience, between now and the Nov. 7 election, you can watch the only debate of the Santa Barbara mayor’s race produced for live television, thanks to the miracles of technology and the commitment to community of KEYT-TV.
Full disclosure: our Santa Barbara Bureau Chief was on the panel of journalists invited to question the five candidates throughout the forum
Witnessing a debate unfold as a participant on the set, up close and personal, sitting 20 feet from the candidates, is a qualitatively different experience than watching it aired or live streamed on a screen, whether handheld or super-wide.
Beyond the behind-the-scenes turmoil of lights, cameras, time clocks and other technical paraphernalia that is invisible to the audience, a reporter’s active engagement in the debate process also brings into play the basic laws of quantum physics, i.e. the presence of an observer changes the nature of the observed.
So it’s a fool’s errand to try to produce a detached and disinterested debate analysis from that vantage point in the peanut gallery. For that reason we forego our usual. post-debate report card review of each candidate’s performance, in favor of some broader, if more subjective, observations on the winners and losers of the last debate.
Winner: Chicanery, Campaign operative kudos to David Pritchett, lapsed Santa Barbara resident and ex-husband of Democratic machine candidate Cathy Murillo, who hacked KEYT’s viewer question selection procedure, and successfully planted a softball for his former bride that asked each of the candidates to discuss their personal wealth and ability to relate to regular folks.
Murillo’s four male rivals, who range from very comfortable to wonderfully rich, awkwardly put on their best poor mouth faces (Angel Martinez did the best job here, by far, acknowledging his considerable wealth in the context of his American Dream narrative that began with abject poverty in the Bronx) while Cathy recited an overt appeal to renters and working stiffs by announcing that she lives solely on her council salary ($49,882.50 total pay in 2016, $74,914.36 with benefits).
Loser: Candor. In her humblebrag response to Pritchett's question, which sounded suspiciously rehearsed, Cathy neglected to mention that she used to be married to the guy. In asking the question, moderator Beth Farnsworth announced his name, which also appeared on the screen, but Murillo never acknowledged that she knew, let alone once was wed to, the inquisitive viewer who posed the income question
Two reporters on the set nearly fell off their chairs when they heard the questioner identified as Pritchett, an indefatigable campaign troll, who faithfully boosts Cathy throughout the social media universe. A Monday morning KEYT news report on the debate that acknowledged David’s monkeyshines reported that Cathy said she knows nothin’about any planted question.
SCIENCE VS. OPINION
Winner: Actual Facts. Newsmakers threw a cantankerous high hard one at conservative front-runner Frank Hotchkiss, seeking to become the first climate science-denying mayor of the birthplace of the environmental movement:
“That humans are causing global warming is the position of the Academies of Science from 80 countries and about 95 percent of active climate scientists endorse that view. Why do you disagree with that consensus position and what is the scientific basis of your position?”
Loser: Alternative Facts. “Your numbers are way off, first off," Hotchkiss began his response to that question, factually incorrectly. In alleging that humans play an inconsequential part in shaping climate, Hotchkiss revealed the scientific source of his stance was something he’d read recently in the local morning newspaper. Sorry Frank, “I read it in the paper,” doesn’t quite rise to the level of, evidence.
Winner: Back Story. Several candidates struggled to answer a simple question about how large a population Santa Barbara (pop. 91,930) can sustain, in balancing its size, scale, specialness and resource carrying capacity against calls to build many more dwellings and units amid a much-proclaimed “housing crisis.”
Hal Conklin was the only candidate who displayed a depth of knowledge and familiarity with this historic controversy – in the not-so-distant past, citizens twice have voted on the question of capping the city’s population – and he concluded a thoughtful and coherent summary of the matter by saying Santa Barbara should only grow by a few thousand more people, at most.
Runner-up honors in this category to Bendy White, who smartly broke down a question from Noozhawk’s Tom Bolton about the city’s unfunded pension liability; Bendy explained the city’s fairly limited power over the pension problem, properly tracing it back to the sweetheart pension policies enshrined throughout the state by ex-Governor Gray Davis on behalf of union allies back in the halcyon ‘90s.
Loser: Winging It. Although housing has been the dominant issue discussed throughout the campaign, several candidates struggled to explain the implications of their positions. Murillo began her answer to the population question by reciting her stump speech on housing, but when pressed, eventually offered the thought that the city should grow enough to accommodate tens of thousands of workers who commute from Ventura every day; Angel said it was impossible to answer because Santa Barbara lacks a true economic development plan, damn City Hall; White, the self-proclaimed man in the middle, used trademark finesse to avoid a clear answer. Hotchkiss had the clearest response: the city is pretty well “built out” already, he said.
Winner: Sunniness. Although Frank descended into get-off-my-lawn grumpy mode after being challenged on climate change, he had a strong start to his debate. Addressing a more diverse audience than the Fox News fans to which he aims his paid advertising, Hollywood Hotchkiss positioned himself as a unifier, exuding Reagenesque optimism as he soft-peddled his homeless crackdown policy and bubbled with good cheer about the natural wonders of Santa Barbara.
Murillo, who was statistically tied with Frank in the recent Newsmakers Poll, also put on a clinic of happiness, maintaining a smiley face throughout the evening that played against her vexatious City Hall reputation.
No matter how calculated, it was a good look for both of them, at least from 20 feet away.
Loser: Darkness. Oddly, Martinez began his opening statement by recalling a pre-campaign meeting with political consultant Jeremy Lindaman, which we reported here, in which he was warned to stay out of the race because it wasn’t his turn. For a man with such an uplifting rags-to-riches personal narrative, the insider tale seemed too small a way to introduce himself to many voters who still don’t know much about him. Angel’s closing statement included his familiar refrain of “don’t vote for me” if you like things the way they are; it was the right positioning for a change vs. status quo candidate, but the language was too choleric and the tone too gloomy by half.
Winner: KEYT. Santa Barbara’s only local news operation went all-out on their election project, presenting a full hour of genuine political discourse without commercial interruption while arranging online and on-the-air replays of the event through Election Day and offering reported profiles of the candidates on their site. For whatever reason, many voters seem to be struggling with a decision on the mayor’s race, and KEYT deserves plaudits for offering its viewers important information in the final days of a long campaign.
Loser. Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers closer was magnificent all season, with only one blown save, but he’d matched that number in the World Series, even before he coughed up Game 5 in the 10th inning Sunday night, walking off as the losing pitcher several hours after the debate. Jansen is no doubt tired at this point, but aren’t we all. He needs to suck it up and get back to lights out form before the young and hungry Houston club spoils L.A.’s dream season.
Prediction: Dodgers in 7.
Don’t forget to vote.
Images: Winner and loser; David Pritchett, running for city council in 2009 (Paul Wellman, Independent); Cathy Murillo; Frank Hotchkiss; Hal Conklin; Bendy White; Angel Martinez; Kenley Jansen (mlb.com).
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