Smile Politely

Schweighart stumbles in second debate

After last night’s candidate forum held in City Council chambers, it’s easy to see why Mayor Jerry Schweighart and his advisors did everything they could to avoid debating Don Gerard. Although it’s difficult to tell what sort of impact it will have on the final outcome on April 5, Gerard dealt Schweighart a resounding defeat, as the incumbent’s numerous weaknesses were exposed one by one.

The candidates’ first debate, held in the Champaign Public Library last week, was much more structured and relied on what seemed like prepared statements to familiar questions. This time around, a more freewheeling format involving questions from audience members read by moderator Dr. Sandra Kato resulted in more surprises, to both the audience and the candidates.

The tone was set with the opening statements — capped at two minutes — when Schweighart rambled through a laundry list of accomplishments which included his receipt of a platinum record from a local musician at some indeterminate time in the past. His remarks were cut short just as he was sharing a story about sponsoring Bonnie Blair, the closest he got to the present day and a scant two decades ago.

The first question, directed to the mayor, asked: “What does CCAPP stand for and how are you involved?” Schweighart drew a blank, but Gerard quickly identified it as the Champaign Community and Police Partnership, an new organization which the city’s own website is trumpeting on its front page. According to an article posted on Monday, its goal is to “seek solutions to policing issues raised by the African-American community that will improve community and police relations.” When a later question asked what the city is doing to avoid another Kiwane Carrington-type incident, Schweighart cited economic development efforts, but again made no mention of the organization newly-created by city government for precisely that purpose.

Later, the question “Do you believe that President Obama is a U.S. citizen?” caused more problems for Schweighart. He replied, “I think my opinion is pretty well known in the community and I’ve seen nothing to change that. This is an open question, only one person can solve it.” In a way, you have to somewhat admire the mayor for sticking to his guns, but on the other hand, we still have an unapologetic Birther of national renown in the highest office in the city ― the only mayor in the country willing to go on the record with such extreme views.

Other points of note for Schweighart:

  • As a solution for Champaign’s low-income housing ills, he recommended constructing a building “like that one in Urbana, not sure the technical name of it”
  • Placed in the unenviable position of defending proposed fire department cuts the day after a major fire in Campustown coincided with another fire in Urbana, Schweighart futilely tried to downplay the significance of the cuts
  • He attempted to defend his opposition to accepting a $30 million federal grant for UC2B by stating that people in underserved areas who would have high-speed internet infrastructure supplied by the grant would still have to pay for internet service (from companies such as “Comquest”)
  • His affiliation with the Tea Party was also called into question, and he unsuccessfully danced around that issue, claiming no affiliation with the group (in spite of the fact that he was more than happy to supply vocal support to the group at a rally last summer, and the video evidence backs it up)

Meanwhile, Gerard seemed more comfortable in the extemporaneous format than he did in the first debate, and continued to emphasize his campaign’s themes of more transparency in city government, cutting costs from the top down, and communicating more directly and effectively with both community groups and statewide representatives.

The only point at which he was forced on the defensive was regarding campaign contributions disclosures; Gerard plans to report according to the letter of the law, which wouldn’t require him to disclose individual donors until after the election. Schweighart failed to capitalize on this opening by only committing to disclosing his contributions if Gerard would also do so, and Gerard was able to slip in a one-liner about not being willing to agree to a “I’m going to show you mine if you show me yours” arrangement.

With just 11 days to go until the election, the candidates have had their last face-to-face meeting, which must come as a relief to the mayor this morning.

The debate will be rebroadcast on CGTV Channel 5 at the following times:
3/25 at 4:30 PM, 3/25 at 11:00 PM, 3/26 at 7:00 PM, 3/26 at 11:00 PM, 3/27 at 3:00 PM, 3/27 at 11:00 PM, 3/28 at 8:00 AM, 3/28 at 11:00 PM, 3/29 at 3:15 PM, 3/31 at 2:00 PM, 4/1 at 2:00 PM, 4/2 at 5:00 PM, 4/2 at 11:00 PM, 4/3 at 9:00 PM, 4/4 at 8:00 AM, 4/4 at 2:00 PM, 4/4 at 7:00 PM

WILL has the raw audio of the debate here.

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