by Kevin Allman
Did you watch the debate live on WDSU-TV? If not, you can catch an online replay here. 12 of the 13 qualified candidates showed up at Xavier University for the hourlong event, and the sheer number of them combined with the time constraints kept things hopping from the moment moderator Norman Robinson said go.
The debate was split into five parts: candidates' discussing their top issue; addressing blight; talking about economic development; a Who Wants to Be a Mayor-naire?-style quiz about basic city information (the home audience saw the answers on their TV screens as the candidates struggled), and brief closing statements.
It's probably best to watch the video if you didn't see it, because nearly all the candidates had the same messages: Crime is bad and must be reduced. We need a new police chief. We need to invest in our kids. We need to get hold of the blight situation. Legalize weed. (Well, that last one was the pet project of Jerry Jacobs.)
Given the size of the field, there wasn't much new revealed, nor were there any punches thrown. Instead, much of the debate turned into a platform for the
fringe less well-known candidates, like Jerry Jacobs, who kept bringing the conversation back to marijuana legalization. Two comedians are in the race: Jonah Bascle and Manny "Chevrolet" Bruno, but it was only Bruno who cracked wise to any great extent. Bascle, who uses a wheelchair, brought up the very real issue of disabled accessibility in New Orleans, but managed to get a few crowd-pleasing laughs along the way ("This city itself is handicapped").
The only thing approaching drama came about 60 seconds before the debate went live on the air, when an elderly man with a cane approached the dais and began yelling about something. No one was sure if it was part of the program at first (or what it was), but once Xavier vice-president Warren Bell approached the guy, the lid came off. "I'm the Messiah!" he screamed. "And I was talking to Mitch Landrieu upstairs; he knows me!" Security was called and the faux-Messiah was bumrushed out the door just before the telecast began. Norman Robinson, smoothie that he is, didn't miss a beat and things began peacefully.
As far as production went, the evening was an A. The debate itself? Probably a C; no real news or dramatic positions were staked out. The more well-known candidates seemed content to deliver their core messages; the lesser-known basked in the attention of a local TV audience.
Twitter, that much-maligned social media form, was en fuego during the debate, with people in the hall and home viewers recording their impressions with the hashtag #nolamayor (read the reactions at the link). Candidates and/or their handlers were taking to Twitter immediately after the debate to record their impressions as well. And anyone who thinks Twitter is just an indulgence and not a potential game-changer in local politics better take a second look.
One last note: Based on body language, it's safe to say Rob Couhig doesn't find Manny "Chevrolet" Bruno funny. At all.
See you at the next mayoral circus.