Saturday, November 7, 2009

Reporter's notebook: The first mayoral debate

Posted By on Sat, Nov 7, 2009 at 3:37 AM

click to enlarge Debate

Whee! The first debate of the 2010 mayoral brawl was held tonight at the Ambassador Hotel in the CBD, hosted by the organization Crimefighters. Present were three of the six announced candidates (former judge Nadine Ramsey, housing advocate James Perry, and frontrunner/state Sen. Ed Murray), as well as businessman Rob Couhig, who has been playing footsie regarding his attentions, but -- c'mon, Rob, you were up there on stage, man. Let's cut the coy.

Not present: candidates Troy Henry, Leslie Jacobs and John Georges, the latter of whom may regret it. (But more on that later.)

Let's go under the jump for all the fun and some random observations, as well as an incredible bit of snark directed at Georges by Couhig...

Not surprisingly, given the sponsoring group's focus, the panel was revved up to talk crime. Here were the big takeaways:

• Murray: wants a national search for an NOPD chief who believes in community policing

• Perry: wondered whether city leadership is really open to change; praised NOPD, but slammed its "bad leadership"

• Ramsey: talked about how personal health battles inspired her run, said "city is in a fight for its life"

• Couhig: says if he had won last time, he would've canned NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley "and every day he's proved me right."

I had the chance to ask one question: "Yes or no only, please: Do you support the plans for the LSU/VA hospital with its current footprint?" Not surprisingly, no one could just say yes or no (despite some help from WWL-TV's Bigad Shaban, who yelled "He asked yes or no!" -- thanks for having my back, Bigad), but Murray was the closest any of them came to a definite yes. The other three spoke about the importance of good health care and establishing a world-class medical corridor...as opposed, it seemed, to having no hospitals and crappy health care.

Another interesting question: Would the candidates release their tax returns if they won? Murray said no; Perry said "absolutely." Both Couhig and Ramsey crawfished, saying they supported the notion in theory but saying that current ethics laws may be sufficient.

Some random notes:

• About the third time Couhig bashed Mayor Ray Nagin, the audience was getting restive; it was obvious somebody wanted to stand up and yell "Then why'd you endorse him last time, Rob?"

• Ramsey said one of her personal political heroes was President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, which was not, one might say, an obvious choice.

• Perry, ever-wired into the Facebook/Twitter Zeitgeist, managed to squeeze out one Tweet from the dais while someone else was speaking.

• Murray didn't stir much excitement, but did exude the calm that comes from being the current frontrunner.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the debate was the number of references to the candidates who didn't show. More than once, a Crimefighters representative stressed "our next mayor -- and I firmly believe that person is in this room." But the anti-no-show sentiment didn't boil over until late in the debate when panelists were allowed to ask each other questions, and Couhig addressed Murray with a question that began, "Ed, what would you have to say about a candidate who's funding his own campaign with the millions he made in tobacco and can't decide whether he's a Republican, an independent, or a Democrat..."

Laughter in the room drowned out the rest of the question. John Georges: burned.

In the end, none of the candidates seemed to have changed the game for themselves in any positive or negative way. Good-o; this is the first of what's sure to be many debates to come. But it looks like John Georges better start attending, or the mayoral pool is going to end up pie-ing him, instead of each other.

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