CHICAGO (CBS) — The mayoral debates so far seem to have drawn a collective yawn from many Chicago voters.
As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, part of the problem is having too many candidates trying to cover too much ground and not enough time to do it.
Voters want to measure the candidates against each other and use the same yardstick for all of them. That means asking them all the same questions and, when they disagree, let them go at it.
That didn’t happen in the latest debate on Thursday and hasn’t happened much in any of the so-called debates.
When you think of political debates in Illinois, most people probably think of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, or the Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960 – two person debates
There also was Harold Washington, Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley debate, a three-candidate debate that provided lots of give-and-take and back-and-forth in 1983.
But the mayoral debate on Thursday with all six candidates running for mayor provided no give-and-take, no back-and-forth.
“I haven’t really seen any of the debates,” one woman said Friday. “Not interested because I think it’s the same stuff; they’re going to tell you what they think you want to hear.”
Candidate Miguel del Valle agreed that the format for the debates has been flawed.
“There are time constraints, but we need to go back and forth and to give opinions and react to each other’s statements,” del Valle said. “I think that that kind of format is what’s going to give the voters a good sense of who we are and what our vision is for the city of Chicago.
But in the five times the candidates have been on the same stage in front of community groups, editorial boards and reporters, there’s been little of that back-and-forth.
“If two candidates go at each other, that basically leaves out the [others] and that’s unfairness and you try your best to balance it,” Roosevelt University political analyst Paul Green said. “I’ve been the moderator and it’s not as easy as it looks, because you want to be fair.”
It has been that sort of format that’s left the voters unimpressed.
Many voters who spoke to CBS 2 on Friday said they’ve already made up their minds about the election.
But if people aren’t watching or don’t find the debates helpful, for those chasing frontrunner Rahm Emanuel, the debates are lost opportunities.
“That’s how they are that’s how they are formatted. You will look back and for the future decide this structure, this format of the six worked better than the others. Or this one really didn’t work or that one was better overall,” Emanuel said Friday. “People are not only wanting to know their ideas, they want to take a measure of the person. And that process is not one night, or one format, but is an arc of time of evaluation.”
With about a week and a half until the election, time is short for those chasing Emanuel.
With virtually all polls showing him at or near the 50% plus one needed to avoid a runoff election in April, overtaking him as the leading candidate seems out of the question.
The other candidates’ only hope at this point appears to be blocking Emanuel from achieving outright victory on Feb. 22.