Friday, October 17, 2008

The mayoral debate, live-style

OK alert readers, here’s the written-live posted-later blog of the Tracy mayoral forum on Thursday night. We at Second Thoughts did this for the first presidential debate, and we’re trying it again, since it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. (OK, so it’s just me, and I’m also manning the Tracy Press camera for the event.)

Let’s begin the marathon!

7:13 p.m.: Evelyn Tolbert kicks us off, followed by Brent Ives and Celeste Garamendi.
Tolbert’s staking her night’s message to effective leadership and evidence of action, not just words and promises – and she has a lot in her record to back her up. “Listen to the evidence.”
Incumbent Ives does the same in his opening statement, emphasizing early his fiscal leadership in helping the city to build an emergency fund for tough economic times and his leadership in general.
Garamendi is banking on shared “values and principals,” and she delivers the most polished intro of the night, digging to her generations old Tracy roots and the community’s promise that she, too, believes in. (She is from a political family, remember?)

7:23: Our first interruption from the audience, and we’re only 10 minutes in! “Cut the business tax,” stops the mayor for a beat. This has good times written all over it.

7:32: Garamendi scores in the opening. She clearly shines with a prepared statement, let’s see how the questions go.

7:32: Actually, let’s wait on that. Tolbert gets an intro rebuttal because of Garamendi’s extensive time overage. We need a way to penalize such infractions. We need a TP Forum Sin Bin!

7:35: First question about the Tracy Animal Shelter and a “no-kill” policy.
Garamendi launches into a general budget priorities and shared-resources speech hammering on incumbents, including animal shelter shortcomings.
Ives mentions capital improvement budget actions that are going toward improving the animal shelter and a south county shelter and possible no-kill network.
Tolbert “doesn’t have the answers,” but talks about her effort to form a group that will use “the expertise within our community” to come up with short- medium- and long-range goals.

7:41: The possibility of a gang-free zone ordinance is raised. (Yep, no gang problem in Tracy.) To the mayor!
He touts his efforts to make the whole city a gang-free zone, and Tolbert also capitalizes on what is so far the Sound Bite of the Night. It’s “capitulation” to only designate a few secluded gang-free zones and not protect the whole city.
Garamendi goes after the mayor’s five-point plan of no-tolerance gang policy, and calls out City Hall’s “ivory tower indifference” (yes folks, this is hardball) before agreeing with Tolbert and Ives’ whole-city approach.

7:47: Wow, “Joe the Plumber” even makes a cameo. Somewhere, John McCain’s debate preppers are smiling.

7:48: Onto the question of how to make Tracy better for business.
Tolbert wants to increase the speed of permitting and reducing/waiving fees, and look into the possibility of fast-tracking and incentivizing focus. She wants to focus on green jobs, which fits in nicely with her longheld green initiative policies.
Garamendi is really going after the “change” message without saying “change.” She said the results of the incumbents’ work simply aren’t there, and points to the fact that the job issue isn’t even on the city’s 2008 priorities and goals report.
Implementation of the vision of a business city is key, according to Ives. He stressed that there have been successes (Costco warehouse, for example) and goes back to the leadership he’s shown on safety and budget – without that, he said, they wouldn’t even be able to look at job creation as a priority.

7:53: By the way, the mayor’s point that no one can unilaterally bring jobs to Tracy is a point very well made.

7:54: The Boston Red Sox just kept the Rays from going to the World Series, and Garamendi is throwing some chin music. (Underdog-sports combo metaphor. In some political writers’ circles, that earns you double points.)

7:56: A question of union support gives Garamendi an opening to detail what she calls
a city disregard for not increasing fire and police support. Ives, of course, is endorsed by the fire and police unions in Tracy, and fires a real hard one back, saying he’ll take the words of firefighters over that of a candidate any day. Tolbert actually wants to answer the question, which was about the candidates’ support of labor unions. She says they serve a “necessary purpose.”

7:59: And Tolbert likes the firefighters. (Can you imagine what would happen if a political candidate said he or she didn’t like firefighters?)

8: “It’s definitely warmer here than it was last night.” Thank you, Bob Matthews.

8:01: We’re going to break these entries up a little more.

8:01: “We have a lot to do in terms of job creation.” Mayor Brent Ives, channeling Captain Obvious.

8:02: Tolbert talks about the importance of building a three-person majority on the City Council to pass policy. She’s playing to her strong suit and playing one of Ives’ old saws – governing with consensus. “No one does anything alone in a democracy. If someone does, get scared.”

8:04: Garamendi says that incumbents weren’t able to pass a job creation agenda when there was a consistent “5-0 majority” before 2004 on the council. “The only excuse we didn’t hear for not creating jobs is ‘the dog ate my homework.’” My sound equipment is catching on fire.

8:05: Garamendi has building trades endorsements. She lets people know about it.

8:06: Consensus-building question goes to Tolbert, and she mentions listening as the first priority and that she doesn’t care who gets credit as long as something gets done. Someone is making sense. This can’t be a political forum.

8:08: Consensus-buster? Garamendi says she will provide “leadership” and “articulation of common values” so that we can “bring the council together.” That’ll bring a “change of heart on the council”?

8:09: Garamendi uses the opportunity to plug the council race, too. No mention of anyone in particular, but take a wild guess who she’s talking about.

8:11: “So what I’ve heard is that she’s going to stack the council so she can get her way.” Garamendi is getting under Ives’ skin, and he gets after her for being “negative” about the city and her and her husband’s sowing the seeds of discontent. (Hey, I’m a writer, I get to paraphrase.)

8:12: And Ives breaks out a Thomas Jefferson quote. Bring out the big guns.

8:12: Bathroom break. You’ll be able to tell if you watch the TP video because it’s the two-minute stretch when the camera isn’t focused on anything.

8:15: What’d I miss? Any fistfights? No, just a question about naming three specific things that the city has done right the past 10 years. Just to say off the cuff, the downtown, Grand Theatre, City Hall, Mayor’s Community Youth Support Network.

8:15: Oh, wait, Ives just rattled off the same things I was thinking about.

8:16: Yep, it’s easy to forget that with so much to fix in this city, Tracy has a lot going for it. This is a feel-good moment. I gotta say, I like it.

8:19: Going in, I thought that Garamendi might come off as too strident for many voters. She’s definitely the most divisive of these candidates personally, which is hurting policy arguments that are really good ideas.

8:22: “The environment is a nonpartisan issue.” Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert, channeling Captain Obvious.

8:25: Yes, we get to transportation. Finally.

8:26: I think Garamendi has mentioned the word “incumbents” in every answer. I should have kept track of this earlier.

8:27: But in this answer Garamendi is spot-on. Tracy’s development boom did not consider how the varied subdivisions would link together and to the city hub. Now we’re left with a patchwork of disparate neighborhoods.

8:29: Ives has an inside track on this question because he’s on the Altamont Commuter Express Commission. If you have rail questions for a Tracy politician, he’s the guy to nswer them. Really.

8:30: Um, pretty big gaffe on the TP tape. Ives’ 8:29 response was focused on Garamendi. And his response was a good one. (Getting the evil eye.)

8:32: Ives backs Irene Sundberg’s idea from yesterday that the courthouse belongs on the Chrisman Road property. A downtown courthouse “Doesn’t fit my vision of downtown.” It doesn’t fit the needs of the area because it empties at 5 p.m. and is dead on weekends, he said.

8:34: Plenty of hurdles to building a courthouse in the Bow Tie, and Tolbert details them very well. She knows her stuff. She also backs idea of building the courthouse at the Chrisman Road property. If Ives wins the mayoral seat, there’s a working majority for the plan right there.

8:35: Tolbert has a great public attitude: “Dude, what’s up?” This is more entertaining than the presidential debates by a rate of about three martinis. Dry, icy, Sapphire gin martinis.

8:36: “Downtown is the best location” for the courthouse. Garamendi isn’t backing down from her idea of a Bow Tie “business builder” and “job generator.”

8:38: And another TP film gaffe of the wrong person in the picture when another’s speaking. One more and we’ll get the all even. (Getting beaten with a folding chair.)

8:39: Please, please let all the candidates get behind the Measure S school bond that would help repair, among other things, the school that’s helping host this very forum.

8:42: Woo hoo! Everyone endorses Measure S. Consensus at last!

8:43: Oh, wait, Garamendi does sneak in a dig at the incumbents for “underfunding” our schools via developer-friendly agreements. And she says Ellis is going to short the Jefferson School district by millions, and the Jefferson trustees said so in a letter.

8:43: “No one doubts that Celeste says what she means when she says she’ll get in the way of growth.” Thank you Mayor Ives. The mayoral-presidential entertainment gap just went up by another martini.

8:44: Ives says that every development agreement and school money amount has been OK’d by school districts, and you can’t make new residents pay for schools built ages ago.

8:45: Tolbert points out that a Tracy Municipal Airport runway expansion is not the top priority at the airport in its development, but that lengthening the main runway is a good idea. There’s a bright future there, she says. I agree, but it isn’t in lengthening the runway.

8:48: The Ellis project could choke the Tracy airport, according to Garamendi, and she cites a staff report suggesting that selling the airport and relocating could be a plan because of “planned” encroachment.

8:50: The real encroachment is the industrial plant and intersection of Corral Hollow and Linne roads, Ives said. Um, point to the mayor. You can’t expand the runway without taking out that industrial parcel. You can see it, too, if you bother to go to the airport. The intersection is a red herring – anyone who’s driven the 880 through San Jose would agree.

8:50: I’ve given up on zooming into each candidate. I’m going widescreen mode and hoping YouTube ups its resolution. (Getting forcibly dragged from the premises.)

8:51: Holy Lord, we’ve already shattered the one-and-a-half hour time limit and we have two more questions.

8:52: Term limits Measure T comes up, and Garamendi supports it. I think she’ll be the only one.

8:53: And the 2006 mud-slinging “through Brent Ives’ campaign” comes up, in reference to the tens of thousands of dollars spent by a PAC to keep Garamendi from gaining the mayor’s office that year. John McCain’s camp could have taken tips from Garamendi when it comes to swinging for the fences.

8:54: Ives responds by countering that his campaign didn’t do any personal attacks, and that those ads were through an independent expenditure group.

8:55: Yep, Ives and Tolbert both say no to Measure T, especially for a city of Tracy’s size that boasts a non-career City Council – reasoning courtesy of Tolbert. Hear hear! We can always vote the bums out.

8:57: Hearing her talk, it’s getting harder and harder to rag on Tolbert for her campaign contribution limit policy. Though I’d still like her to list all those donors.

9:03: Garamendi pulls out an e-mail (sent today!) tying Ives to "independent" efforts in this year's campaign as a counter to his previous argument. She then asks “who’s pulling the strings” of Ives the candidate and Ives the mayor, and says the incumbents “wash their hands like Pontus Pilot” of underfunding area schools. My motherboard just started smoking.

9:06: Garamendi is going waaaaay over her limit on this question. I’m telling you, we need this Sin Bin thing.

9:07: I swear, that’s not me shaking the TP camera. Really. (Once again getting forcibly removed from the premises.)

9:07: Let the closing statements begin. Garamendi hammers again on the current mayor and councilwoman, saying that they’ve made “dead end” choices that have basically engineered a city that’s good at building subdivisions but lacking otherwise — and not without reason. The evidence is all around us. And she signs off on a very positive note of “leadership” and “independence” and about her vision of Tracy as a leader of the county and region. She did well tonight.

9:10: Ives reiterates that this is a community that has a bright future because of past planning. “It’s not out of accident, it’s because leaders were there” making public safety job No. 1. “What we’re talking about are troubled times ahead, and what we’re talking about is will we have the kind of leadership and judgment” to get us through. And he closes with a good shot at Garamendi’s 2006 call to spend the city’s reserve funds, funds that are now seeing the city through lean times. Very. Strong. Finish.

9:12: Except that Ives pulled a “My friends” reference and made an experience pitch straight from the June presidential campaign. How did John McCain get into Monte Vista Middle School without me knowing?

9:14: “You do have a clear-cut choice … please do not confuse anger and negativity with passion.” Tolbert has an inclusive message in her closing. This is her strength, and she’s built her whole campaign on the notion that she’s the person that can get things done from the mayor’s seat in an inclusive way, and not without reason. She says that she will be able to get things done because she has in the past. And she hammers on “politicians” who take credit for everything that’s happened on their watch and show up out of nowhere with a vision at campaign time.

And that’s a wrap!

Stay tuned for Saturday’s column for analysis. That is, if I can duct tape my keyboard back together.


Mike McLellan, D. Min. said...

Great job Jon:
While I was busy running back and forth gathering questions to pass on to the panel, I was struck by the "Perry Mason" moment. (OK I sound as old as McCain. I remember Clarabell the Clown too.) Garamendi sucked Ives into his standard "I did not know anything about the hatchet job on you in 2006" speech when she pulls out the smoking gun of an e-mail to him (at his place of employment and not his City e-mail address) that let him in on a new attempt to go after her with PAC money. He was very, very silent for a long time after that one. High drama I thought. She must have learned some of that from her husband. Thanks for the running commentary. I hope those who were not there watch Ch 26 and read your remarks. Looking forward to Saturday's Second Thoughts.

Karen Robey said...

Hi Jon:
Thank you for your great run-down on the Mayor Forum. You did a great job, I did attend the forum and thought it was very interesting. I love your sense of humor too! I will say that I am a Celeste Garamendi supporter and didn't appreciate the way Brent Ives was treating her. Oh, and I happen to be a big Boston Red Sox fan, so liked how you added that to your blog! Thank you again, you did a great job. I also enjoy reading your "Second Thoughts" column in the Tracy Press.