David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
ConventionNext: Salt Lake City Mayoral Candidates
As an outsider, I found the candidate forum interesting. But don't expect a broad spectrum of views from these candidates.
I attended Politic2.0's first event in April and waxed rather verbose about the politics and the technology involved in that experimental chat with Representative Chris Cannon. Politic2.0's second "ConventionNEXT" event was tonight at the Salt Lake City Public Library. It featured, again, a few dozen participants who were physically present, laptops clicking, and an unspecified number of participants who were only virtually present, via the Internet. The attraction: A forum in which five of six Salt Lake City mayoral candidates answered questions.
I won't say much about the technology here, except to note that the Web interface tonight was simpler, sleeker, and more effective than a few months ago, as expected.
I will say a few words about the venue. I found a parking spot easily across the street from the Library, which I had never visited before. I began by climbing the long, curving arch from ground level to the roof of the six-story building. It's a pleasant walk with an excellent view of the city. Atop the building are gardens, benches, etc. Two or three people were up there, working away on their laptops. I found my way off the roof without much difficulty.
I saw but didn't visit the book-related areas or operations in the building. The glass elevators are fun. The common area is pleasant and lined with a shop, a cafe, and other attractions. And the main auditorium is both functional and beautiful.
I was about half an hour early, by design. I found a seat in the narrow balcony on one side, near an electrical outlet, logged into the free wireless Internet service, went to www.politic20.com, logged in there, and began to review the questions already submitted. I gave a positive vote to some questions I wanted asked, a negative vote to others I didn't, and even added one of my own, though I'm not from Salt Lake City and don't have a vote or a horse in their mayoral race. I commented on a couple of questions, too, because the Web site allows discussion of a question both before and after it is asked in the live forum.
At any given point in the forum, the question asked was the still-unasked question with the highest cumulative numeric score, based on +1 for each positive vote and -1 for each negative vote. Except for a 7 at the beginning, the asked questions ranged in score from 9 to 14. The lowest score I saw was -9, for a question about the candidates' religious affiliation.
There was streaming video of the event, but I didn't watch it, since I was there in person. (You can.) They kept a list of the current, next, and highest-scoring upcoming questions on the screen at the front of the hall, which encouraged those present to affect the rankings by voting on the questions bubbling to the top of the queue.
The questions and answers went on for about 90 minutes, followed by brief closing statements. I thought it an excellent and effective forum, with serious people asking and answering serious questions. In this, it contrasted satisfactorily with the recent YouTube Democratic Presidential Debate, a ridiculous spectacle which trivialized the issues, the candidates, and the election and was really rather tasteless. (Small wonder the major Republican candidates refused invitations to a similar event for them.)
Miscellaneous Notes about Issues and Candidates
The candidates present were Jenny Wilson, currently a member of the Salt Lake County Council; Keith Christensen, a former Salt Lake City Councilor, whose campaign Web site loads much too slowly even via broadband; Utah House Minority Leader Ralph Becker; surgeon J. P. Hughes; and longtime Hispanic activist John Renteria, whose Web site I couldn't find on Google (if he has one). Candidate and current Salt Lake City Councilor Dave Buhler was absent due to a scheduling conflict.
(The home page of Buhler's Web site deserves an award for exceptional slowness. Don't even try it via dialup. Animation is flashy, but counterproductive and very slow. "To see the candidate greet you in a meaningless, impersonal fashion, click here" would be better, if only because it would get him off his home page. At least you'd have a choice.)
Here are miscellaneous notes, in more or less chronological order.
General Impressions of the Candidates
I'm an outside observer, with no firm sense of how some of the candidates have performed in other offices or how they are perceived by the voters. All five seemed intelligent and at least reasonably articulate. My general, one-or-two-line impressions of the candidates are based solely on tonight's event.
I can't evaluate Dave Buhler, due to his absence this evening. Maybe I would prefer him; he is a Republican. But considering only the five who were present, there's none I could vote for with enthusiasm, if I could vote in Salt Lake City. If I had to pick two of five (excluding the absent Buhler), I'd pick Wilson and Christensen. If I had to pick one of those two . . . Wilson. I like her style, if not necessarily her philosophies.
That's how I expect the race to shake out, too. I don't see anyone taking the left away from Jenny Wilson. Her challenger in November is likely to be either Christensen or Buhler. I don't think Christensen is different enough or sufficiently well-defined to energize voters on the right and in the center. I don't think voters to her right will find Wilson offensive enough that they will flock in droves to Christensen. Maybe Buhler beats Christensen in the primary, but I don't see how he'll then beat a solid candidate on the left (Wilson) in the November run-off. Not in Salt Lake City.
Shall we come back in a month, and then again in November, to see how right or wrong I was? The primary election is September 11, and the two with the most votes will square off on November 6. The race is officially non-partisan.
David Rodeback comments (8/16/07):
Jenny Wilson leads Dave Buhler by a nose in this week's polling, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. But as soon as the field is pared to two, if the two are Wilson and Buhler, watch for other candidates' supporters to line up mostly behind Wilson.
Meanwhile, Holly Mullen (Wilson's stepmother and a noteworthy Salt Lake City journalist and blogger) isn't pleased with the cynical process the Tribune used to come up with an early endorsement of Keith Christensen. You'll have to wade through a lot of very familiar anti-Bush rhetoric to get to the interesting part of this SL Weekly column, none of it particularly original, but you'll survive it, and the inside view of newspaper endorsements is interesting when you get there.
Copyright 2007 by David Rodeback.