Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mayor’s Debate – First Impressions.

Mayor Don Plusquellec and challenger Joe Finley tussled in front of a packed house in the Martin Center today for the one and only debate before the primary two weeks from now. I took some time from class prep to check it out. While I have pages of notes, tonight there is barely time for an overview. Eric Mansfield and Ed Esposito each have detailed round-by-round coverage on their respective blogs. Also Esposito kvetches about the lack of fireworks on his and the Bliss Institute should have on-demand video available soon.

The room was packed with Dem party faithful. I was seated between County Councilwoman Eileen Shapiro and Tom and Joyce Sawyer. Pretty much everyone you would expect to be there was there. In addition to the politicos, I saw Kyle Kutuchief, Redhorse, and the aforementioned newly-minted MSM bloggers Esposito and Mansfield.

In addition to all that, Joe Finley had a highly partisan crowd bunched together in the center of the room. Who all they were, I can’t say, but they made a point of applauding loudly after every Finley turn at the mic.

The lot of us sat and watched an hour that is unlikely to change any minds. First off, people who have any inclination to get out and vote in the primary have overwhelmingly made up their minds. I have yet to meet a single person who intends to form an opinion about the race, but hasn’t yet.

Bottom line – either a voter thinks Plusquellec is worth the grief or not. Few, if any, would dispute that the Mayor is high-handed, mercurial, impolitic or rude. But after twenty years, we all also know what we get for our trouble – a pretty solid mayoralty in a city that has its troubles but is doing far better than most of its similarly situated neighbors.

And then there is the question of the alternative. Joe Finley is running as Notplusquellec. What the Mayor is for, he’s against. What they Mayor is against, he is for. And frankly, a couple of the things Finley seems to be against are personality and accomplishment. His speaking style was low-key to the point of inducing drowsiness.

And while the Mayor cited achievement after achievement, Finley could only pick at the margins. He never, through an hour of debate, cited a personal accomplishment as a member of Akron City Council, despite being challenged to by Plusquellec.

For that matter, in this race Finley doesn’t have ideas, so much as reactions. Looking over my notes, the only agenda items he cites are either instituting proposals the current administration rejected, or rejecting what the administration has implemented. Onc classic challenge in a primary is effectively differentiated oneself from the other candidate. Finley has certainly done that – by the end of the debate the only apparent commonality is a fondness for hair styling product. But the other challenge is making a case for change, and Finley has failed on that score.

In the end, Finley stands for little more than being a nicer guy than the Mayor. But the city is full of people nicer than the Mayor. Why should I vote for this one? Finley gives me no confidence that he can be anywhere near as effective along with the niceness. All we know is that the future employment of the city’s parking lot attendants will be more secure. That’s nice. But not good enough.

Meanwhile, the debate crystallized the central irritation I have with Finley’s campaign. Since he has little more to run on than a more agreeable personality, his campaign has devolved into bashing the city. He cites the expected statistics – people leaving, jobs leaving, crime rising – but ignores the fact that Akron is in better shape on every score than any other central city in our region.

Finley isn’t going to win. But his poormouthing campaign will have an enduring effect. The people who have committed to him will continue to believe that the city is heading down the tubes long after they’ve forgotten the barely there candidate who planted the idea. Supposedly he wants to lead the city, but all he’s doing is wearing down the people’s hope for better things ahead.

And darn it, that’s just not very nice.


Village Green said...

Your final paragraph says it all. It is as if the naysayers have deliberately blinded themselves to all the positive changes in our city. As one who used to live downtown in the 80s, I remember the empty storefronts, the abandoned factories, the city streets that emptied at 5 PM every work day.

Dave P. said...

Thanks for the debate summary. I've been here for just a month, but I see no reason to support Finley. As I posted at the Village Green, in the West Side Leader Q&A, he blamed "quality of life" as the reason jobs have left Akron. Not, you know, three decades of deindustrialization. Dumb.

Kyle said...

Pho, solid summary. I agree with the wit in your conclusion. It is tough for Finley to come off as the nice guy when he's against many of the things people like about this town.

Anonymous said...

Pho--the video of the debate is now up at the Bliss website...

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Scott Piepho said...

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Anonymous said...

i haven't watched the video but i had a question about the debate. did anyone (or has anyone) ever asked finley if he would limit his mayoral reign to two terms in the unlikely event he wins this election?

if you recall he jumped on that transparent mayoral term limit initiative with the other mayoral hopeful four years ago. was he for it before he was against it?

Anonymous said...

Finley has publicly stated that he will not serve more than 2 terms.