I attended the mayoral debates last night and have to say I was impressed with all the candidates.
The Journal's story is accurate when they say fireworks, if there really were any, came from Hanks and Kooiker.
Sponsored by the Citizens for Liberty and the School of Mines College Republicans, the forum was, to say the least, informal. Nobody seemed to be in charge. And there was much confusion about who was answering when. I suspect they'll have those bugs figured out by the time the next one comes up on May 10.
For the most part, the whole thing was quite civil. Yes, Kooiker reminded those in attendance that the mayor bought and installed a $5000 egg timer, then asked for council approval. Yes, Hanks said Kooiker voted for the egg timer, what he didn't say was that it was already bought, paid for, and installed before he allowed it to come to a vote.
In response to a question about privatizing public services, Kooiker urged voters to privatize the current mayor. It got a laugh. Hanks laughed.
I thought the forum gave us some insight into two candidates many of us don't know well, Pete Wernicke and Ron Weifenbach.
Weifenbach brought a good message about cutting costs by "incentivizing" and empowering employees to be more efficient. Weifenbach's weakness, right now, is that he seems to have a brain that works faster than his speech. I have this problem when speaking publicly. The result is that when the brain and speech are rolling along at the same speed, things go well, but when the brain gets into the passing lane, speech gets sidetracked. The brain slows down but forgets the thought where his speech stalled. He needs to slow down.
Wernicke is clearly Libertarian and thinks city government needs to handle the most basic needs and no more. He appears to be absolutely against any growth whatsoever. That's not realistic. Also, in his discussion of Tax Increment Financing, it became clear early on that he really didn't understand how that works. Recent legislation that allows TIF financing for the purposes of economic development, is particularly offensive to him.
Kooiker, Weifenbach and Hanks all had good answers to TIF questions, saying it is an excellent tool, when used properly. But Kooiker and Weifenbach called Hanks to the carpet when he said he had no influence over TIFs, which is just plain false, using the south Robbinsdale TIF as an example.
In a discussion of transparency in government, both Weifenbach and Kooiker had good messages, while Hanks said his administration has been the most transparent ever. What he didn't say, is he has had to be dragged kicking and screaming toward what little transparency there is. He cited the recent (just last week) posting of income and expense reports for enterprise funds. He's been in office for four years. Only January 2011 reports are posted.
Everyone is going to improve infrastructure. Surprise! Hanks cited a recent study that said folks in Rapid City thought the city's care of streets was pretty much hunky-dorey. Kooiker said all one has to do is drive through town, and you'll know streets need work. Weifenbach said if things were managed properly in the first place, major road projects could be avoided. Hanks countered that he didn't need a study to know streets need work. (Nobody asked: "Then, why did we pay for the study?)
Based on audience response, I'd say Kooiker led the night, followed closely by Weifenbach, then Hanks and finally Wernicke. That should not surprise anyone and nobody should take from that that those who win in forums win in elections. All the candidates have a lot of work to do to get information to the voters. Only Hanks had a brochure ready for the audience. Of course, he has the largest war chest.
It should also be noted here, in fairness to Hanks, that all three of the other guys are gunning for the job he now has. As the incumbent in a 4-person race, it has to be understood that each of the other candidates have problems with how he's doing his job. It wasn't Hanks' crowd last night. But experience tells me that will mean little come June 7.