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Last night, seven at-large candidates traipsed down to John Tyler Elementary on Capitol Hill for the race’s first candidate forum of the general election—-and most of them arrived on time. The debate, hosted by the Ward 6 Democrats and moderated by WTOP’s Mark Segraves and WRC-TV’s Tom Sherwood, pitted all comers against each other—-Democratic incumbent Kwame R. Brown, “independent Democrats” Michael A. Brown, Dee Hunter, and Mark Long, Republican nominee Patrick Mara, Republican incumbent Carol Schwartz (running as a write in), and Statehood Green David Schwartzman—-in front of about 75 attendees.
The Post’s Nikita Stewart filed her report on the matter this morning, but allow LL, unfettered by the bounds of objectivity, to render some judgments on the forum’s participants:
Kwame R. Brown: The defining moment of Brown’s performance came when asked about whether or not he’d vote for the Michelle Rhee two-tier teachers contract. Brown spent a minute talking around the issue, about how “at the end of the day, no one wants bad teachers” Pressed by Segraves for a substantive answer, Brown said, “If it were between option A and B, I would choose option A.” Huh? He also gave a squirrelly answer on whether he’d support a citywide single-beer ban. On the other hand, you can’t argue with the fact that, when asked which other candidate each would vote for besides themselves, five of six said Kwame Brown (only Schwartzman demurred). Kwame, in fact, also said he’d vote for Kwame: “I’m gonna take my son [also named Kwame] so we can both vote for Kwame Brown.” Grade: B-
Michael A. Brown: If you’re gonna attend a candidates’ forum, you attend the candidates’ forum. You don’t show up an hour into a 90-minute debate and expect a passing grade from LL. Brown cited a pair of events he’d made prior commitments for, but LL is told Brown had committed to the debate weeks before, then sent his regrets mere hours beforehand. Not cool. But LL can understand why he showed up late: Brown would likely have been more of a punching bag for other candidates, such as when, at debate’s end, Hunter called him out for giving local labor leaders a different answer from what he said last night regarding a charter schools moratorium. And make no mistake Brown will be milking his last name for all its worth—-“I like how two Browns sounds….Brown squared,” he said in response to the who-else-are-you-voting-for question, marking the first time he’s tried to push the Brown connection in LL’s presence. Grade: D+
Dee Hunter: A question early in the debate about to what extent a candidate’s personal and professional dealings should be fair game was a clear shot at Hunter, who is facing disciplinary proceedings from the D.C. bar counsel. “Once you make the commitment or decision to seek public office, your life becomes an open book.” Later, Segraves followed up with a more direct line of inquiry about the charges, to which Hunter gave a supremely unsatisfying answer, excusing his behavior based on his large number of clients. Also, in response to a question on voting rights, he laid the failure of the D.C. Voting Rights Act at the feet of congressional Republicans. Sorry, Dee—-Democrats are just as much to blame for that one. Grade: D
Mark Long: Long never quite met the old James Stockdale test (Who am I? Why am I here?). Long was cogent, well-spoken, and pretty much forgettable. If you’re going to jump in to a citywide race late with virtually no public service record and even less name recognition, you need to have a good reason ready. LL hasn’t heard it yet. Grade: C+
Patrick Mara: Mara did a good job of staying on his message of being a fiscally responsible type who would support the Fenty schools plan foursquare. The problem is, in a room (and city) full of Democrats, who buys that message from a Republican? Mara showed a strong grasp of the issues, citing several areas where real budget cuts are possible, and played defense better than anyone, including making a strong case why sick leave is a bad idea (though LL remains unconvinced by his POV). When Schwartz angrily accused him of taking upwards of a half-million dollars in business money, Mara demanded additional time to respond and, though he didn’t exactly get permission, took it, over the moderators’ objections. Why did he beat Schwartz? “I got off my duff,” he said. Snap! Grade: A-
Carol Schwartz: Schwartz was at her best when defending her record on the sick leave bill, making it perfectly clear she sacrificed her council sinecure by standing up to the business community. Good on ya, Carol! But the rest of the time, Schwartz’s thin skin showed in her slightly unhinged responses to other candidates’ criticism, particularly when Mara jabbed at her on gay marriage and Michael Brown implied that she’s a John McCain supporter (she hasn’t made a presidential endorsement). But her biggest mistake? Rather than hammer home the fact she’s a wrote-in every time she opened her mouth, Schwartz only mentioned that exactly once, at the very end of the debate. She doesn’t seem to recognize this is a different kind of campaign. Grade: C-
David Schwartzman: Schwartzman beat extremely low expectations with candor, a sense of humor, and showing up in a coat and tie. Make no mistake that Schwartzman, a Howard University biology professor, is well to the left of any other candidate out there, and he was not at all reticent about positioning himself as a “real independent progressive.” That’s not to say LL endorses his policy positions: On the need for austerity measures in upcoming budgets, Schwartzman said that spending on housing and human services issues is too low and called on a steep tax hike on the richest 5 percent of D.C. residents to pay for it. Probably a bad move in this economy, but it’s a nice change of pace to have an unabashed small-s socialist in house, in any case. Grade: A