Friday, April 18, 2014

Raucous Feet To The Fire Forum Last Night

NOT QUITE DAYTIME TELEVISION, BUT...
Well, we were promised a "television talk show" style format by the host, Barbara Venezia, but none of us expected it to be a Jerry Springer Show!

AN HOUR OF CONFRONTATION
The abbreviated program - 60 minutes instead of the advertised 90 - was marked by some pretty aggressive interrogation by the journalists on the stage and some equally aggressive verbal sparring among the participants, too.  There were no fist-fights or chair-throwing, but the exchanges between
candidates became strident many times.

ALL CANDIDATES ATTENDED
All the candidates for the 74th Assembly seat being vacated by Allan Mansoor attended this forum - apparently the first time all five have been at the same venue.  Three Republican men - Newport Beach City Councilman Keith Curry, Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper and Emanuel Patrascu who works for Assemblyman Travis Allen - were joined by two Democrat women - Educator Anila Ali and recent convert from the Republican Party, businesswoman Karina Onofre.
THE INTERROGATORS
The interrogators for the evening - Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis, Orange County Register columnist and Republican activist Jack Wu, Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana, Jr. and Daily Pilot City Editor Alicia Lopez - came prepared and didn't let the candidates off easy with their questions.  Venezia, as moderator, kept the ball rolling.
SMALLER CROWD
The "crowd" was less than hoped for - somewhere around 100 people rattled around in a room prepped for at least double that number.  Still, the crowd of partisans and other interested parties was attentive and, at times, quite vocal.
GOOD MEDIA COVERAGE
The event was covered by reporters for the Daily Pilot, Orange County Register and The Voice of OC, plus Costa Mesa Television was on hand to record the event for future viewing on the public access channels of all cities covered by the Assembly District.
 Jill Cowan (Daily Pilot), Scott Martindale (OC Register), Brad Zint (Daily Pilot)
FACES IN THE CROWD
As I looked around the room I saw Costa Mesa City Council candidates Harold Weitzberg, Lee Ramos and Tony Capitelli, plus Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Sanitary District Director Arlene Schafer, too.  And, Police Chief Tom Gazsi also made an appearance.  Late in the program Mansoor and his lovely and VERY pregnant wife arrived.  He is scheduled to attend the forum for the 2nd District Supervisorial seat being vacated by termed-out John Moorlach on April 28th - about the time she is due to deliver their first child.  A highlight of the evening for me was a chat with the grande dame of local politics, Marian Bergeson.
CURRY AT THE TOP
I thought Curry came off as the most composed, professional  candidate on the stage.  The former Newport Beach mayor, a seasoned pro, knows how to answer the questions briskly and when to keep quiet.  The rest of the more junior candidates had trouble with that part, frequently talking over one another, making it very difficult to sort answers from the noise.

DEMOCRAT WOMEN AT THE BOTTOM
The two Democrat women, in my view, finished 4th and 5th if the evening was to be graded. Ali, a teacher from Irvine with no political experience, clearly articulated her answers, but didn't have enough of them.  Onofre was much more frenetic with her answers and, while attractive and engaging, lost much of the crowd when she complained about not receiving respect from "elderly" members of the audience.  Neither of them have raised any significant funds for their campaigns.

CAMPAIGN DOLLARS
While on that subject, Curry has accumulated the biggest war chest - somewhere around $250,000, including money he loaned to his campaign.  Harper was quite nebulous about his funds - he said somewhere between $30,000 and
$50,000.  Patrascu said he had $100,000 on hand.
OOPS - KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!
Ali also shot herself in the foot late in the meeting when she spoke in glowing terms about Barack Obama.  Muffled boos were heard throughout the room.  It's important to understand one's audience in these situations.

CROSS-TALK CONFUSING
Because of the free-form, talking-over-each-other format it was difficult to understand the answers to many of the questions.  During a very unusual exchange we did learn that Onofre is both Pro-choice and Pro-life!  Yeah, nobody I spoke with later could figure that one out, either.  Nick Gerda of the Voice of OC was first up with coverage of the event, HERE.  His summary will help you with specific answers gleaned from his front-row seat.  HERE is Brad Zint's Daily Pilot coverage, posted online at 11:30 Friday.
NOBODY HAS A PLAN
When asked how each would deal with the Sacramento politics, which is tilted extremely to the Democratic Party side on issues, none of the candidates had good answers - even the Democrats.  We know the Republicans will have a tough go of it - Mansoor's lackluster tour has demonstrated that for us.

WITHOUT FACTS IT'S A "STYLE" ISSUE
Quite honestly, because so few of the candidates were able to offer concrete, specific answers to tough questions we were left to form judgments about their qualifications by the WAY they navigated through answers.  Again, in my mind's eye, Curry came out ahead of the pack, with Harper a distant second, followed by Parascu.  There seemed to be very little enthusiasm from the crowd for the two Democrat women.  A couple people muttered "None of the above" as they made their way out of the room.
ONE DOWN - MANY TO COME...
So, that's one forum under our belts.  On to the next one on April 28th - same time, same place.  Costa Mesa City Council Candidate Forums will be scheduled once the field is locked-in.  The Feet To The Fire Forum for that group will be held on September 18th on the campus of Orange Coast College.  More on that one as the day draws near.

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