October 17, 2009

Reactions to “Meet the Candidates” Debate.

Council Candidates Tailor Causes to Younger Crowd

via Courtney Holden

Not many city council debates allow candidates to take sips from a longneck while voicing their political agenda. Most don’t have a whistle-blowing umpire regulating answer-length or a judge whose most recent claim to fame is his outspoken advocacy of a naked pumpkin run.

But Monday night’s “Meet the Candidate” event at the Fox Theatre allowed Boulder citizens the chance to see city council hopefuls in a new, and very different, light. The event was cosponsored by elephantJournal.com—an online information source and blogspot that encourages people to “live a good life that also happens to be good for others and our planet”—and New Era Colorado—a non-profit aiming to present politics in a more palatable format for the millennial generation.

Waylon Lewis, elephant’s editor-in-chief, hoped the event would encourage more than the standard older crowd to get involved in Boulder politics:

“Often, even though you think of young people as idealistic and motivated to change the world for the better, (they) don’t come out for stuff like (city council debates).”

The “Rocky” theme song boomed as prospects for the upcoming November elections took the stage, but their exit wasn’t quite so celebrated as they were booted from it in the “American Idol”-inspired event. Throughout the evening’s antics, a more serious question and answer series interspersed with joke-telling and Boulder trivia, the people watching voted for their favorite Council hopefuls; those who failed to find favor in audience eyes had to leave their perch. At the end of the night five people, in accordance with the five open spots for which the 13 candidates are vying, remained on stage.

Ten of the 13 hopefuls showed up for the event. Noticeably absent was current mayor, Matt Appelbaum.

Most of the evening’s questions revolved around sustainability topics like denser housing and Earth-friendly transportation, two issues the candidates were overwhelmingly in favor of, at least tonight.

Barry Siff, who carries a well-documented environmental track record, yet left the stage in the final elimination round, enjoyed the less formal format, but was frustrated by answers that didn’t align with previously-stated platforms.

“It still allowed the candidates to pander to the audience,” Siff said.

Lewis echoed Siff’s sentiments.

“All these people know what to say… They know to say green is good… But when they’re on council, literally half of those people won’t be supportive of traditional ‘Boulder’ values,” said Lewis, in reference to the city’s environmentally-conscious branding.

Still, the audience had a chance to learn about the individuals running for Council.

“Tonight I feel like through the process of elimination, which we kept fun and respectful, we were able to really focus on the candidates that the audience liked and get a little more depth,” said Lewis.

At the end of the night, an honorary “Mayor” title was bestowed on Valerie Mitchell for earning the most votes in the final round. Though she doesn’t have previous political experience, Mitchell’s stance on renters’ rights and affordable housing resonated with Monday night’s voters.

“Sometimes I feel pretty overwhelmed, but I have a really strong platform,” Mitchell said.

Macon Cowles, Jyotsna Raj, Fenno Hoffman and Tim Plass snagged the other four slots.

Official ballots for the 2009 city council election hit mailboxes in Boulder County Monday, October 13.

Candidates Wear Mardi Gras Beads, Not Patriotic Lapel Pins.

via Kristen Painter

This stodgy, traditional impression of politics is precisely what organizers of Monday night’s “Meet The Candidates” debate at Fox Theater hoped to combat. The forum’s sponsors, New Era Colorado and elephantjournal.com, designed the event to be a fun, alternative structure for engaging young people to participate in the upcoming City Council election.

The event’s format was based loosely upon the reality TV show “American Idol,” where 10 of the 13 Boulder City Council candidates showed up to play the role of contestants.

Beginning lightheartedly, the candidates were asked to simultaneously answer yes or no to a series of 20 questions in the “lightning round.” Opposing tradition, there were no “yea” or “nay” responses, however. The candidates were instead given answering paddles with the option “Mos def” or “Probs Not.”

While this was a unique way to convey the candidates’ general positions in a short amount of time, the speed and brevity of the questions may not have resulted in a more informed audience.

KC Becker, one of the candidates, later said that all the issues touched on by these rapid-fire questions could be tweaked and answered differently given different considerations and factors.

Next, the candidates entered the elimination portion of the evening. Four city policy questions were posed and each candidate was given one minute to answer. Between each question round, the audience would vote for their favorite candidate via text messages. The lowest vote getters would then be booted off the debate stage.

The four questions dealt with making Boulder more affordable for young people, tangible ways of decreasing the community’s carbon footprint, ways of supporting the underrepresented populations and finding the proper balance between overregulation and preservation of Boulder’s defining characteristics.

The evening’s catchword was “density.” Discussion surrounding the future physical plan for Boulder’s commercial and residential structures arose in the responses to all four questions.

Activities aimed at personalizing the candidates and keeping the audience smiling were interspersed between the four rounds. At one point, the candidates were asked to deliver their best one-liner or joke to the audience, which solicited a variety of interpretations by the candidates.

In the end, there were five candidates left standing: Valerie Mitchell, Fenno Hoffman, Tim Plass, Jyotsna Raj, and Macon Cowles.

Many audience members enjoyed the change in political scenery that this event offered.

“I’m just enjoying being with everyone in a fun environment. They maybe didn’t talk about everything I would have liked … but it was fun,” said long-time Boulder resident Richard Hull.

The evening ended with a raffle and a performance by the local bluegrass band, Dovekins. And, while the candidates did wear Mardi Gras beads, there was no nudity involved.

The three candidates not in attendance were incumbents Matt Appelbaum, Suzy Ageton and businessman George Karakehian.

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