MICHAEL NUTTER won Saturday's five-way, Democratic mayoral debate.
When I say "won," I mean his staff was the first to send out an e-mail saying he had won. I received mine at 12:57 p.m., three minutes before the debate finished taping. (The one-hour debate was broadcast six hours later by CBS3.)
Diplomatically, the e-mail didn't say Nutter had "won," only that he was "successful."
(Drop the half-measures, Michael.)
Why the tape-delay, anyway?
TV usually delays sporting events held in audience-killing time zones - such as Olympic skiing from Uwackistan. It also delays some shows a few minutes to allow bad words to be censored.
Neither was the case Saturday.
The "debate" was not really a "debate" because the format didn't permit exchanges among the candidates, which might have been an unholy mess with five candidates. This was more like an opportunity for each to present well-rehearsed statements on predictable issues. The general areas covered were crime, the city budget and schools.
Good TV contains elements of color, movement, drama, surprise and humor.
This was not good TV.
It was civil - serious bordering on solemn.
The six guys in black suits (the sixth was CBS3 moderator Larry Mendte) looked like pallbearers at a mob funeral for an out-of-favor capo.
There were no surprises, no gaffes, no knockouts, no knockdowns, no rabbit punches.
While this was the first debate to be televised, these men have endured endless previous forums before community and civic groups. Each guy knows the other guys' positions as well as his own and could probably recite the other guys' lines with as much conviction as his own.
(I would like to see that in the alternate universe I sometimes visit.)
Since the candidates' positions were (in the main) very similar - you will read about the few differences elsewhere - here are my impressions about how they did, telegenically:
Most nervous: Outsider Tom Knox, who kept clearing his throat nervously (maybe he had a cold), but whose slight pauses made it seem like he was speaking from imperfect memory. Phrases he did best with: Pay for play, no-bid contracts, nepotism, favoritism.
Most mayoral: Former Councilman Michael Nutter came across as calm, sincere and authoritative, with the best grammar, pronunciation and syntax. (That St. Joe's Prep training paid off.)
Most sincere: State Rep. Dwight Evans' pledge to spend "every waking moment" working to solve the problems of the city.
Most relaxed: U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah has the most experience being on TV and it showed. He flubbed, however, on a question about cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, saying "there should be a trial" to determine his guilt. There was a trial that did determine his guilt.
Most affable: U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who smiled a bit, but scolded Knox for attacking Evans, Fattah and Nutter (which Knox had not done). Brady breathed fire when saying his name had never been connected with pay-to-play during his decades in politics.
More TV debates are planned and viewers are condemned to more of the same without a change in format.
As unorthodox as this may seem, I'd replace the moderator with a referee who would allow each candidate to direct questions at opponents. To prevent piling on, each candidate would be required to ask a question of each opponent.
I'd give the opponent up to a minute to answer, then give the questioner a follow-up, and a final brief answer from the opponent.
How long would it take for the civil veneer to be dropped?
Then voters might really learn something. *
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