Three Candidates Propose A Theatrical Performance But Wait, They’re Calling It A “Forum?”

Three Candidates Propose A Theatrical Performance
But Wait, They’re Calling It A “Forum?”
By Susan M. Halper
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)

I predict that in mid-April, three candidates (not six) will appear at a venue (the Addison Conference Center) and will put on a theatrical performance.  They will pretend to be answering questions extemporaneously but, in reality, they will be answering questions they asked to be asked, or that were otherwise provided to them in advance.  They will recite their prepared answers in the hopes of convincing the audience that they actually know something.  In truth, the only thing that will be tested will be their acting skills.

Although it appears that other candidates were consulted about the details, the organizers of this event did not ask about the availability of candidates Jim Duffy, Paul Walden and Al Angell.  These three simply received a March 13, 2016 email that began with “as you are aware” and announced all the details of the event.  How they were supposedly “aware” is unknown, but they weren’t aware.  As it turns out, both Mr. Walden and Mr. Angell are out of town on the date someone chose without asking them.

Mssrs. Duffy, Walden and Angell were also not asked whether they would agree to the format, which includes having the candidates submit questions they want to be asked in advance.  You heard that right: the email directs the candidates to submit 4-5 questions that “focus on key messages [they] personally want to deliver to the voters.”  Other questions are to be chosen by one or more persons identified only as “we,” including questions the “we” group chooses out of those submitted by the audience.  In other words, there is no opportunity for the audience to directly question the candidates.  The whole process is fraught with problems, particularly if Meier and/or his cadre are the chosen “we” group that picks the questions, since they obviously will pick questions for which their chosen candidates were prepared.

Sound familiar?  It should.  It’s just like the quiz shows of the 1950’s, where the contestants were given the answers in advance.  The audience was deceived by contestants who appeared to be smart but in reality were fed the answers by the shows’ producers.  Congress didn’t think much of the whole thing, and in due course amended the Communications Act of 1934 to prohibit producers from rigging the shows in the future.  Because it’s deceptive and that’s wrong.

Shouldn’t the same basic principles apply here?  When the event involves an important election?

To no one’s surprise, this illusive format is the brainchild of Addison’s misguided mayor.  In 2014, Meier even appointed himself as the guy who picked the questions, even though he was heavily involved in endorsing candidates.  I and others objected, including in a strongly worded letter to the Addison Business Association and the Metrocrest Chamber, who were then sponsoring the event.  Meier was ultimately forced to step aside, but he still hand-picked the group that screened the questions.  He just can’t let go…

Significantly, both the Addison Business Association and the Metrocrest Chamber have declined to be involved with this year’s event.  Good for them.  And yet, this misleading format endures.

So, I have a better idea.  How about all six candidates agreeing to a forum that’s really a forum?  An event held on an agreed-upon date, with an agreed-upon moderator, at an agreed-upon location, where the candidates answer questions from the audience?  You know, so the voters can see who actually knows their stuff, rather than who can recite answers they were fed in advance?  Then voters can make their own judgments about who can “deliver key messages.”

So, if you think that this event is designed to get you extemporaneous answers to the tough questions, forget it.  This is theater, not a forum.  I would refuse to participate in such a ruse as a candidate, and I won’t waste my time as a voter, since I won’t learn anything useful when it’s Quiz Show all over again.  In fact, we should all vote with our feet on this one.  Join me in refusing to attend such a ridiculous event, and demanding a real forum.

In the meantime, if you do go, don’t be surprised if all you see at this non-forum is three actors instead of six candidates.

Addison’s voters deserve far better.