Over the past few weeks, I’ve been approached by several people wanting to know if I had plans to host a mayoral debate prior to the Democratic primary. It would seem that, since I’ve helped to put a few together in the past, people kind of assume that I’ll be doing it again. The truth is, though, I just haven’t been feeling it this year.
Back in 2006, when we formed YpsiVotes and hosted the debate at EMU, it felt like there was a lot on the line. Mayor Farmer, after having served for 11 years, had decided not to run again, and there was a sense that big change was afoot. And the debate we hosted, I think, reflected that. The EMU ballroom was full, and people, it seemed to me, were genuinely happy to have an opportunity to meet the candidates and hear what they had to say on issues ranging from urban animal husbandry to the development of the 38-acre Water Street parcel. We put a lot of work into it, and I think it paid off. Four years later, though, things were different. There just wasn’t that same electric mix of optimism and fear in the air. People, for the most part, had a pretty good sense of who the candidates were, and who they were going to vote for. So, instead of working with EMU and trying to do something big, I thought that we’d go the other way and do something a little more intimate. We held the debate at the Dreamland Theater, in front of a few dozen people, and shared it online. It was a radically different thing, but my sense was that it’s what we needed at the time. We had Charlie Slick present the questions in song, and I officiated by way of a puppet. It was silly, and some people hated it, but we got to see a somewhat different side of the candidates, and I liked that.
I’d given the idea of hosting a debate this year some thought, but I just didn’t have a handle on how to approach it. Maybe I’m just projecting, but I get the sense that everyone’s just burnt out, and resigned to the fact that things won’t change significantly, regardless of who they vote for. So, I’d started telling people that, no, I wasn’t going to do anything. Then, a few days ago, while walking around Water Street, picking up garbage that had been buried under snow these past several months, it struck me that maybe what we needed this year was a community potluck, outside, amid the native flowers, which are just now beginning to emerge from the thawing ground. And that’s where I’m at right now. I’m not stressing, thinking that we need to have hundreds of people there, and the press. I’m not thinking that we need to kill ourselves, putting suggestion boxes around town, soliciting questions from the community, as we have in the past. I’m thinking that we should just pick a Thursday evening in May, and hang out drinking lemonade and eating ice cream, while our candidates share their ideas. It might be a complete disaster. But it’s the best idea I’ve got, and I like the symbolism of doing it on Water Street, which, regardless of how things turn out, is going to figure prominently in the next chapter of this city we all call home.
So, what do you think? Is this worth pursuing? If so, let me know and I’ll start thinking about the logistics.
Also, I should add that I don’t see this as just being a debate about Water Street. I think that it should be about everything, from schools and crime to job creation and taxes. I just think that Water Street would make a good venue.
NOTE: I’ve got a friend with a battery-powered amp mounted on a bike trailer that I think should be sufficient to handle the sound, in case we draw more than 20 or so people or so, but I’d need to test it. And we’d need to give some thought as to how we handle those folks running for City Council, who I’m sure will also want an opportunity to address whatever folks show up. If there are other things we need to take into account that I’m not thinking of, let me know.