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Archive of Debate Team

11/ 6/06

5:10 PM

Debate Team 

Shays and Farrell Spar in Final Face-to-Face

Chris Shays, facing the fight of his nineteen-year congressional career for reelection in Connecticut's Fourth District, got riled at a candidates' forum on Sunday morning when a woman at the back of the hall said, "Nobody could accuse you of not being a decent human being … but … every piece of literature that came through my mailbox is disgusting." Shays challenged her to show him one example that came from his office. "I resent that you'd say that," he said. A moment later, he acknowledged that some of the mailings have come from the Republican National Committee. Shays said he is barred by law from asking the RNC to stop the practice.

The forum, at Bridgeport's Congregation Rodeph Sholom, was a chance for Shays, the nine-term incumbent, and his principal challenger, Diane Farrell, former two-term first selectwoman of Westport, to sway undecided voters only two days before the election.

"Are you happy with the status quo, or is it time for a change?" asked Farrell, adding, "I stand in opposition to Chris Shays, to George Bush, to the Republican majority." Farrell said she wants Donald Rumsfeld to go, but to end Iraq chaos, she favors setting benchmarks for pulling troops out, not deadline dates.

When a woman questioned Farrell's lack of experience with Iraq and military affairs releative to Shays, the candidate answered, "Fourteen trips to Iraq do not an expert in military affairs make. I'm not a military expert, but I'm smart enough to know who to ask."

When someone questioned Shays about squaring his conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War with sending young men and women to fight and die in Iraq, he said he had held 22 hearings on terrorism before the World Trade Center attacks and that the threats of the post-9/11 world had changed his thinking.

Saddam Hussein was never credibly linked with Al Qaeda, of course. "One of the reasons I've gone to Iraq fourteen times is I feel responsible" for that decision, he said.

Robert Davey


3:42 PM

Debate Team 

Peter King: Dry Like a $12 Martini

Democrats love to hear Republicans jeopardize their candidacies by saying stupid things. But both liberal megablogger Daily Kos and local progressive the Daily Gotham misinterpret as sincerity a little shot of acerbic irony deployed by Long Island (Republican) incumbent Representative Peter King in describing his vote for the controversial 2003 Medicare overhaul.

The moment came in a debate with Democratic challenger David Mejias. It's oh-so subtle, but when the King calls AARP and the NCAAP "radical organizations," he's making a joke. It's pretty understated, and like fellow employers of the dry and detached delivery (David Letterman, Steven Wright), King pulls it off with perfect tactical remove.

Sadly, in a heated campaign year, the first casualty of politics is always hilarity. Next debate, the King of Comedy better wear a seltzer-spraying lapel and drop a few banana peels under Mejias's podium, just to let everyone know the joke shop is open for business.

King (R) Calls AARP and NAACP "Radical Organizations" [Daily Kos]
Peter King: NAACP, AARP "radical" [The Daily Gothamist]

1:20 PM

Debate Team 

Hevesi Yearns for Nerd Reputation

Alan Hevesi (center) and Chris Callaghan (right) pause for a moment in between not talking about comptrolling.Photograph by Keith Bedford/AP

During the journalist roundtable on NY1 following last night's sweatily anticipated Alan Hevesi-Chris Callaghan debate, Village Voice reporter Tom Robbins compared Hevesi's discourse to Nixon's "Checkers" speech of the 1952 vice presidential campaign. The two were similar in many ways but different in one eerie sense: Nixon had his wife, Pat, with him when he appeared on TV to defend himself from allegations of taking illegal contributions, essentially using her as a prop.

Hevesi couldn't produce his infirmed wife, Carol, but he conveyed her spirit with grim imagery of her spinal injury, three open-heart surgeries, and attempted suicide. Had Hevesi stuck with the implication that life with a chronically ill loved one can at times drive a person beyond reason, he might have approached the resolute dignity Nixon nailed in the Checkers speech. But in his vacillations between "abjectly" apologetic, combative, defiant, equivocating, and indignant, our troubled state comptroller fast-forwarded straight to the Tricky Dick of Watergate. Rather than the humble state number-cruncher coming clean, we got King Lear with a calculator.

And it's sad, because 35 years of good public service is a pretty lousy thing to throw away in one moment of careless hubris. When the debate turned to the actual office the candidates sought (about minute 49), we saw something that's been pretty absent throughout all the (admittedly excellent) scandalmongering: Alan Hevesi can comptroll his ass off. Check out this dig at Callaghan's shoddy oversight as Saratoga County treasurer. "The lack of proper accounting records and the failure to adequately monitor the financial status of each capital project is a significant weakness in the county's management system." Ouch.

If only Hevesi had stuck with the droning, banal stuff no one cares about. Then we'd be awarding our top accountant with the obliviousness he so deserves, rather than the persecution he now endures.

Hevesi Defends Accusations in Comptrollers Debate [NY1]


3:38 PM

Debate Team 

Are You Ready to Comptroll?

The time has come. Tomorrow. 7 p.m. Tune into "Inside City Hall" on NY1 and find out definitively (and finally) what exactly it is that a comptroller does. You may be shocked, you may be alarmed. Life as you know it may never be the same. But at least you'll know. And knowing is half the battle.

After weeks of ducking invitations to square off in a head-to-head battle of comptrolling skills, sitting (or is that teetering?) state comptroller Alan Hevesi will take on opponent Chris Callaghan. The one-hour debate may touch on a few other issues beyond the ins and outs of pension-plan management. But we're just guessing.

So, what does one wear to a comptroller's debate?

Spitzer May Withdraw Support for Hevesi as Candidates Gear Up for Debate [NY1]


12:15 PM

Debate Team 

Clinton's War-Vote Rationale Gets Weirder

We've already sussed out the romantic aspect of Sunday's debate, but there was a collegial moment as well. John Spencer said at one point that Clinton would make a "tremendous" presidential candidate.

Hillary didn't entirely live up to the billing, but she was downright breezy at points. As she often has trouble connecting with an audience, the antiseptic environs of a TV studio had the weird effect of loosening her up. For her that means policy over personality. She was effortlessly on point on all issues except, yeah, the big one. (On abortion she added a nice bit adoption and cutting teen pregnancies to the Bill stadard "safe, legal, and rare". If Kerry had her comfort on the issue in his town-hall debate against George Bush in 2004, he may have earned a few extra thousand votes.) On the war, Hillary's still in a fog. This time, she said her vote gave Bush approval to let the weapons inspectors return, adding the strangely psychoanalytical assertion that Bush needed that authority because Saddam may have wanted to out-terror Al Qaeda with another attack. Well, at least that's a new line.

Clinton Stays on Talking Points in Senate Debate [NYT]

Hil Better Watch Her Barack [NYDN]


9:04 PM

Debate Team 

Hillary Cruises Through Preseason Warm-up

The Hillarocity just wasn't as Hillacious as one have might hoped in last night's Senate debate. Practicing for a White House run by debating former Yonkers mayor John Spencer should be like warming up for March Madness with a game against Old Mother Hubbard's Academy for the Blind. And Hillary pretty much took it that way. Treating the event as a casual forum for reintroducing the brand, she only got heated when she condescended to correct Soldier Johnny's myriad factual errors, kept answers on Iraq and North Korea unquotably muddy, and avoided hot buttons like abortion and gay marriage (unless the line "New Yorkers took a chance on me" was intended to evoke ABBA).

"Dancing Queen" would have been a more apt reference. Searching for the right rhetorical vein — commanding but folksy, human but not all-too-human, red but purple but blue, truth-saying but poll-hugging — Hillary shimmies around until someone (ideally a donor) cries uncle. Appearing authentic in the canned contexts that shape American politics, sealing the utterly fake ties that bind, just isn't her thing.

Despite a debate style that suggests he learned rhetoric watching Peter Boyle's hippie-hunting nutjob in Joe, Spencer managed the one fun line of the night. When Hillary, in calling for Rumsfeld's ouster, noted that Lincoln changed generals during the Civil War, Spencer fired back: "Abraham Lincoln changed generals … you're not president yet, Mrs. Clinton."

Thank you, John Spencer. You may not have been able to recall your own wall-moat-snakes immigration position (despite its appearance on a campaign Website you claimed not to have looked at for six months) or articulate an economic-stimulus package beyond tax cuts, cutting taxes, tax-cutting and … er, um, lemme check my notes here … yes, decreasing the rate of taxation, but you decreased the rate of boredom for a fleeting second.


4:05 PM

Debate Team 

We Heard the Connecticut Senate Debate Sucked Live

As you've probably heard, this year's Connecticut Senate race isn't the usual binary battle between a Democrat and a Republican, what with "Independent Democrat" Joe Lieberman busting up the kissy-kissy duopoly of Ned "D" Lamont and Alan "R" Schlesinger. But for Wednesday afternoon's debate at the Bushnell theater in Hartford, the three-candidate roster swelled to an almost unmanageable five, with Green candidate Ralph Ferrucci and Timothy Knibbs of the Concerned Citizens Party joining the fun.

Sadly, although the format was democratic, host station WFSB-TV was not. It originally refused to let reporters from other news media into the debate (a policy revoked after considerable criticism) and then placed a 27-hour news blackout on the event, refusing to distribute even a snippet until 7 p.m. tonight.

We may never have known what kind of Stalinist airbrushing went on in the homegrown Pravda of the WFSB newsroom had not the intrepid Connecticut Blog heroically smuggled out some bootleg audio. The sound quality is kind of sucky, but the note-perfect resonance of Ned Lamont's solo on "Casey Jones" still cuts through the static like smokestack lightning.

Best line delivered by a guy with nothing to lose:

Knibbs: "Mr. Lieberman has called for Rumsfeld to be removed, maybe that's because he's on the short list to replace him."

WFSB-TV Relents on Debate Embargo [Hartford Courant]

Listen to the debate. [Connecticut Blog]


5:50 PM

Debate Team 

Pirro and Cuomo Play the Hits

Reviews are trickling in from this morning's attorney-general debate in Rochester and all indications suggest the touring version of the Andy & Jeanine Show has even more thrills and spills than last Sunday's hometown debut. They do faithful renditions of all their best routines (such as "My opponent's inexperience is blatant again") and try out some new material too (like "The office she's seeking is investigating her"). They even attempt the "throw scalding acid at your opponent's face" portion of the program on ice-skates. Real fun for the whole family, assuming you all enjoy hatred and shame. The delayed telecast is overnight — 12:30 a.m. on Channel 13. Don't miss it.

The Pirro Barrage Continues [The Empire Zone]
New York State Attorney General Debate 2006 [Thirteen-WNET]

1:05 PM

Debate Team 

John Hall: The Nerve of Him!

Sue Kelly and John Hall exchange words in a meeting
with the Times Herald-Record's editorial board.
Courtesy the Times Herald-Record

John Hall has been in some tough fights in his 30-plus years as a musician and activist. The former front man for seventies soft-rock hit makers the Orleans and current congressional candidate has seen mellows harshed and vibes queered.

And yet through all those uncool times, it's hard to imagine he's been caught in a crossfire hurricane quite like this exchange with incumbent Sue Kelly during a recent debate in the Nineteenth District. Kelly was overseer of the congressional-page program from 1999 to 2001, a period that possibly coincided with the Mark Foley hottie-hassling era. Hall, like many Democrats in tough races, has used the Foley cover-up to turn what seemed like a no-hope bid into an increasingly close contest. But Hall's naturally sunny heart may not be entirely suited for the politics of personal destruction. Watch the video and find out if, indeed, Hall has no shame.

(Back when Hall was doing session work with Seals & Crofts, there was a violent altercation over whether the backing harmonies on "Summer Breeze" should be "sweet and cool like morning rain" or "milky but not too milky." In 1979, when organizing the No Nukes benefit concerts, Hall and James Taylor got into a tense discussion about who was going to go on after Bonnie Raitt — "Following Bonnie, man, that's tough" said Hall, to which Taylor responded, "I know, friend, but look, if we can't figure out stuff like this, how're we gonna bring an end to nuclear proliferation?")

Kelly on the Pages [The Times Herald-Record, via Talking Points Memo]


11:00 AM

Debate Team 

A Sunday-Morning Mud Bath

Jeanine Pirro and Andrew Cuomo in their Sunday best.Photograph by James Estrin/AP

Sunday morning's attorney-general debate between Jeanine Pirro and Andrew Cuomo indulged a form of violence that was patently inappropriate for the churching hour. When two candidates stand at podiums and list the names of persons both alive and dead their opponent should apologize to, the discourse has morphed into a supernaturally grotesque form of petty. The attacks were heavy-handed, light on the facts, personal, visceral, catty, mousey, and, in a refreshing twist, only occasionally culled from canned laugh lines like Pirro's much-workshopped dig at Cuomo's lack of prosecutorial experience: "Your running for AG would be like me running for Joe Torre's position because I played softball 21 years ago." Clunk.

Pirro was a bit more Movie of the Week than duty required, once telling her adversary, "you've never held the hand of a child who's been victimized by a sexual predator," a gimmicky image that still suckered Cuomo into a jumbled rebuttal about how much he loved his kids. Pirro also got a hold of Cuomo on alleged corruption during his time as Clinton's HUD secretary ("if it's illegal today, what made it ethical then?") and didn't let go until she'd almost reversed the very stakes of the election itself. "Just so we're clear," Cuomo said. "There is a candidate who is being accused of criminal wrongdoing and is under investigation by a number of law-enforcement agencies and had their ethics questioned — that's not me, however." Well turned.

The blurring of their identities was Pirro's biggest hit and Cuomo's biggest problem. In the New York of 2006, a Democrat running for a law-enforcement position against a Republican under criminal investigation shouldn't have a hard time differentiating himself. Maybe it was Cuomo's New Democrat reluctance to get too close to his father's liberal legacy, a patricidal quirk he shares with George Bush. Cuomo emphasized his legal-beagle head over his social-justice heart, his competence over his compassion, and merged his candidacy with Eliot Spitzer's so many times you'd think they were running together. It was so glaring, the sainted one's name was almost taken in vain.

Of course, Cuomo didn't need to work so hard. He could have stood up there and read the newspaper, literally, as in that morning's Post, which recapped this magazine's must-read piece on life with the Pirros — and gone home a default champ. But it's to Cuomo's credit that he didn't. A good Catholic boy knows some topics are too unseemly for Sunday morning, even a Sabbath as besmirched as this.