Friday, May 14, 2021

The First Debate

With just one month to go until early voting starts, eight of the Democratic candidates for mayor met last night for their first "debate." It was on-line, not in person. So we miss the drama of who gets the center spot (so central to the 2020 Democratic presidential debates) and the intriguing spectacle of how the candidates interact with one another, which is sometimes maybe the most interesting aspect of such events. I had another commitment, so I only saw the first hour or so of the debate, and frankly saw nothing that made any one of them stand out in ways he or she hasn't already stood out in this relatively lackluster campaign. (The NY Times writers' scorecard gave their highest rating, 7.3, to former journalist Maya Wiley and their lowest rating, 4.8, to Shaun Donovan, who seems to be running on Obama's imagined coattails, and lumped al the others in the middle with ratings from 6.0 to 6.7.)

In a better world, the pre-pandemic orgy of 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates might have taught us something, but obviously we seem to be beyond earning. I remain not a fan of the "debate" format, which really is not a debate (and, almost by definition, cannot be when there are eight participants). Watching a zoom-style debate highlights the individual environments of the various candidates and makes the image they choose to project about themselves in the way they set up their home backgrounds one of the few interesting distinguishing features about them.

The great challenge for most voters this year will be navigating the new system of Ranked-Choice Voting, which asks them to choose not just a favorite candidate but a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and even 5th choice as well! Ideally, Ranked-Choice Voting is an improvement over the typical first-past-the-post system that frequently favors more ideological candidates with fewer but more intense supporters. Ranked-Choice Voting favors more moderate figures who can appeal across the spectrum to people as an alternative or "second best" choice. That is especially helpful in other jurisdictions where the General Election may be a real contest and a party can hurt itself by nominating someone who appeals to its intense ideological base but cannot appeal more broadly.

The frontrunners in the Mayoral race are obvious, but no one knows how it will turn out once voters' alternative preferences have been factored in! (Nor should we underestimate the possibility of many "bullet votes" for one candidate only - both from intensely ideological voters who want their candidate at all costs and, maybe more lively, from nay voters who find Ranked-Choice Voting too complicated and confusing and just vote the old-fashioned way.)

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