Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Trading punches

With a standing-room only crowd and air stagnant enough to choke lichens, the Democratic welterweights squared off in the ring for the first time. By the end, both looked a bit hot under the collar, as did just about everyone gathered in the library for the county League of Women Voters’ debate Monday. That is, with one noteable exception.

Republican mayoral candidate Scott Johnson spent the evening with a sweat-free brow, quietly and anonymously in a back row. As the democratic candidates traded barbs, Johnson seemed to be sizing up his competition, taking note of their attacks on one another. And when it came to attacks, Keehn took the cake and then some.

Ms. Mayor quickly went on the offensive against Boyd, lodging the first cannon balls within the first minutes of the debate, accusing Boyd of “Rove-like tactics” for a several op-ed pieces he penned in area newspapers. The claim came just hours after Keehn –joined by Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim –made the same comment during a hastily called news conference on the steps of City Hall.

Boyd appeared to roll his eyes at the curious attacks by his opponent, who must have heavily steeped herself in vitriol prior to debate. Of course, Boyd wasn’t immune to a few pops below the belt himself, especially during his closing remarks. After spending most of the debate steering clear of personal attacks, he brought up mayor’s recent use of the terms “cowards” and “wretched” during public speeches as proof of her divisive nature.

Boyd also mentioned that she threw her weight behind a Saratoga Lake homeowners association to thwart efforts to move the city’s water project ahead. The remark was quickly interrupted by Keehn, who accused Boyd of lying. Boyd snidely responded to the allegations and the sudden back-and-forth thrust the debate into a quick spate of caterwauling from the crowd, during which one boisterous fellow sitting near the Brothers’ McTygue shouted out “liar,” presumably at the mayor.

Attacks aside, the debate seemed to sway in Boyd’s favor, even though the crowd seemed equally split among the candidates –although the Saratogian gave the “clap-off” to Boyd. While Keehn seemed to trip over words and tug at strings with her answers, Boyd seemed fluid and collected.

Ultimately, Boyd seemed to convey his points a bit clearer than the mayor, who frequently stammered like an elementary school kid during her first day at debate club. Using her trademark monotone intonation and cue-card reading, Keehn pioneered new lows in public speaking, making gaffs that literally stopped the debate dead in its tracks.

Keehn’s first major botch was when she attempted to call Boyd on his environmental record. She attempted to reiterate the message from a recent online advertisement. The short piece boasts quotes her challenger once made against the federally ordered dredging of the Hudson to clean up PCBs dumped by General Electric during the 1970s.

But then something went dreadfully wrong. Perhaps a period was missing in the mayor’s cue-cards; possibly a word or three crossed out. Maybe there was someone’s Chinese food order scribbled in pencil on the margin, making what was supposed to read ‘Gordon Boyd didn’t support removing PCBs from the Hudson River’ seem like ‘Gordon Boyd supports dumping PCBs in the Hudson River.’

“Well, maybe he doesn’t support dumping PCBs in the Hudson,” Keehn swiftly retorted after making the brazen accusation, which even caused the otherwise neutral moderator to cock an eyebrow.

Keehn’s gaffs didn’t end there. In her closing remarks, she experienced a slight of tongue that harkened back to when she referred to her fellow commissioners as the “silly council” during her state of the city address six months earlier.

“As your governor,” she proudly proclaimed as the room again filed with groans. “I mean, as your mayor.”

For most candidates, this might have gone unnoticed. But for Keehn, the statement seemed less a word trip and more of a Freudian slip. Perhaps this how the mayor views her position in City Hall, a sort of power broker saddled by a silly group of commissioners. Oddly enough, Keehn was the very politician who fought bitterly to augment the powers of the mayor just last year.

The peoples’ governor also seemed to frequently lose sight of who she was debating. Like her supporters have frequently done in online forums, she chose several moments during the debate to single out Public Works fixture Tom McTygue, her sworn enemy.

When asked if she would make peace with her adversary, Keehn indicated that she would be more than willing to offer the olive branch –as long as it was to tan McTygue’s hide. Despite her quite open attacks on McTygue –ones that extend much further than the city council chambers –she said it is the long-time commissioner’s duty to make amends with her.

Keehn even contradicted herself at times. After Boyd blamed the mayor of crafting an excessive capital budget, Keehn quickly growled back “read the charter, Gordon.” She went on to explain how all the department heads were actually the ones that crafted the budget and she merely presented it to the public. In the very next breath, she referred to the plan as “my capital budget.”

As the self-proclaimed ‘peoples’ mayor,’ Keehn sounded a bit out of touch with the realities of working-class life, when a moderator question asked why another recreation facility is needed with a multi-million dollar YMCA facility in the city proper. Keehn dipped into how working families couldn’t afford memberships to the Y and its services. She explained how her family pays something like $600 per year for a membership, a cost she seemed unsure about.

“I don’t know, my husband pays that bill,” she conceded, referring to her undoubtedly six-figure earning betrothed, who works as an attorney for the state.

All this may seem a bit excessively hard on a sitting mayor. However, these are flaws that were blatantly obvious during the debate and ones that are very unbecoming of someone seeking a second term in office. One Democratic voter in the audience who admitted to being a bit of a political novice, said Keehn came across as childish, petty and back-biting.

Keehn’s neophyte public speaking ability, lack of intonation and long drawn out explanations of topics was acceptable during the first months of her tenure. But now, nearly two years later, these are elements of her political persona she should have remedied or groomed at the very least. Instead, she has replaced this understandable bewilderment with an acerbic attitude hell-bent on waging attacks on her opponents.

Kamp Keehn’s cadre of Keehniacs were quick to jump online after the debate, leaving flurry of messages lauding their candidate’s ability to ‘speak on the issues’ while castigating Boyd for just about anything under the sun. In wake of the debate, the early morning deluge of posts seems almost like a desperate attempt to wipe clean the slate of very public missteps made in the presence of not one, but two challengers.

If the debate proved nothing else, it at least drew the battle lines clearly. Accounts Commissioner John Franck –who one member of the audience speculated as the aforementioned boisterous fellow –was clearly on the side of McTygue, who was sitting among a pool of Boyd supporters. Kim didn’t even wait for the debate to choose Keehn as his candidate.

Not that any of these allegiances are anything new. But they will certainly become more interesting after next Tuesday, when the elephants begin donkey hunting season. Regrettably for the city Democrats, they’ll be using much of the same ammunition Keehn and her supporters are now firing over the bow.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keehn had a melt down at the debate. Keehn was shrill rude and angry. I was particularly appalled by her Spade a Spade comment
‘It might be thought that this derives from the derogatory slang use of the term spade meaning Negro, as exemplified in 'as black as the ace of spades'. That view of it as derogatory might also be thought to be supported by this piece from John Trapp's Mellificium theologicum, or the marrow of many good authors, 1647’
From phases org

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In anonymously paraphrasing Robert Frost, the Governor used the poet’s words to wind her opening comments, way down to a desperate dead end. The unfortunate use of a derogatory reference for plain speak, the vapid responses to questions, the closing interruptions and angry demeanor suggesting a sense of entitlement that was now, being challenged was, experiential for those unfortunate to have seen the performance before.

Taking a lesson from Horatio Alger, Gordon Boyd used adversity for opportunity and came away the decisive winner of this candidate’s debate. With exceptions, Mr. Boyd who exhibited no less than intelligence, a comfortable command of the issues, a posture that is willing to work with those whose opinions may differ, and a comfort for the office -- does have some defending to do. Yet, in the spirit of congeniality, he appears right now, to lead the pack.

The system works.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the complete 90 minute video of the debate; courtesy Tech Valley Times:

http://www.wordofmobile.com/debate/

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

seems voters don't care.

5:54 PM  

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