At what may have been the last mayoral campaign forum before the end of this election, the seven remaining candidates were practiced and predictable Tuesday night at Stargazers in their responses to questions from a media panel and members of the audience.
The Citizens project-sponsored event attracted a sizable crowd of about 275, most of whom had clearly made up their minds weeks — months! — before. But the seven now-sophisticated campaigners sitting on the stage weren’t aiming their remarks at the studio audience, focusing instead on the TV exposure that KRDO would give the event.
So, to the dismay of those of us in the media who have sat through so many similar events, the leading candidates stayed on message. And here are the messages, stripped of excess verbiage, punctuation, rhetorical flourishes, dramatic pauses, and friendly smiles.
Steve Bach: Here 45 years, EDC, leader, military, business, vote for me.
Brian Bahr: Vision, leader, family, religion, business, vote for me.
Dave Munger: 50 meetings, truck routes eliminated, robust process, accomplished much, vote for me.
Richard Skorman: 30 years on Tejon, business, experience in city government, even more accomplishments, vote for me.
Buddy Gilmore: Beautiful city, grandchildren, military, business, vote for me.
In a futile attempt to elicit a new thought or two from the candidates, the Indy’s designated media representative (yours truly) asked them whether they’d consider de-annexing all or part of the Banning-Lewis Ranch to reduce the city’s future infrastructure liability.
Responses varied from agile (Brian Bahr, who in less than a minute managed to support both infill development and sprawl — which, come to think of it, has long been our city’s de facto development policy) to formulaic (Steve Bach) to reasonably thoughtful (Richard Skorman and Dave Munger, who both clearly understood the problems and opportunities presented by the second Banning-Lewis bankruptcy).
Tom Gallagher, always the outlier, claimed that Intel would still be in town if we had been able to offer them a 650-acre campus on Banning-Lewis, but that the existing annexation agreement/master plan made such a deal impossible.
Gallagher also managed to infuriate one of his present colleagues, Councilman Bernie Herpin, by later claiming that the city had turned off streetlights and taken the trash cans out of the parks to buy plasma TVs instead.
“That’s nonsense,” Herpin said after the forum, “I’m so sick of them blaming the present Council for everything.”
In a Facebook post right after the event, Herpin was angrily specific.
“I cannot believe that Gallagher said with a straight face that we turned off streetlights to buy a plasma TV!” Herpin wrote. “We did that to hire police academy graduates and staff two CSFD medical units. Do you want such a dishonest person as your mayor?”
The Gazette’s Daniel Chacon posed a different question to the candidates as the forum finally wound down.
“You all talk about your strengths,” he said, “but what are your weaknesses?”
The crowd tittered, and the candidates neatly turned the question on its head.
Their weaknesses, it appeared, were their strengths. One was “too optimistic,” another was “too determined” in pursuing his goals, a third was “too emotional” in supporting causes near and dear to his heart. None of them confessed to any actual weakness, human frailty, or any but the most trivial of faults. Had they been Catholics at confession, none of them would have stayed more than 10 seconds.
Only Dave Munger treated the question with the lighthearted good humor that it may have deserved.
“My problem,” said Munger with a twinkle in his eye, “is that I’m too humble.”
Post-forum, the crowd and the candidates adjourned to the lobby and a cash bar. one of the candidates bellied up to said bar, perhaps realizing that in the era of cell phone videos public quaffing is inadvisable.
Best overall performance: Brian Bahr, who spoke clearly, persuasively, and energetically, remembering to speak to undecided TV viewers, not to the far more liberal crowd in the room.
Best informed: Richard Skorman, who knows his way around government as well as did Bob Isaac or Mary Lou Makepeace.
Did themselves no harm: Steve Bach and Dave Munger, who may each have gained some votes.
Overall summary: Egos on Parade.