Phony 'Debates,' And Other Matters


Notes from the campaign trail and elsewhere . . .

It's time for a debate on debates, now that the so-called Annapolis mayoral forums are history.

What we call debates these days aren't.

That doesn't mean they're worthless; far from it. All three major mayoral "debates" -- one held Oct. 13 by several Ward 1 residents' associations, another Oct. 21 in Eastport, and last Thursday's Jaycees event -- gave us a clear sense of what Al Hopkins, Dennis Callahan and Larry Vincent stand for and who )) they are. And they were fun to watch, too.

Consider some of the things we've learned through these events over the last two weeks: That God is on Al Hopkins' side. That Larry Vincent has a sense of humor. And that Dennis Callahan's gift of gab is in fine form -- good news for journalists who not-so-secretly relish the idea of a second fun-filled, controversy-laden Callahan administration.

Lo and behold, we even learned what they think about some important city issues.

Nonetheless, these were not debates. A true debate works something like this:

A moderator throws out a question. Candidate No. 1 answers it. Candidate No. 2 responds. Candidate No. 1 gets a chance to rebut. There's an in-depth dialogue on a few key topics rather than superficial answers to a lot of questions. Along the way, Candidates 1 and 2 actually confront each other. Sometimes the exchange even gets lively.

It isn't just on the local level that debates have become unworthy of the name. Last year's presidential debates were polite question-and-answer sessions, with the candidates rarely acknowledging each other's presence except to point and, without looking at the subject of their disdain, say "He did this" or "He'll tell you that."

A welcome exception was the vice presidential debate, in which Dan Quayle and Al Gore slugged it out until that uneasy participant Adm. James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate, was moved to confess that he felt like "an observer at a ping-pong game."

So maybe they got a little carried away. At least their debate was interesting.

Debates have become too polite. The groups who schedule them seem afraid to upset the candidates by asking them controversial questions, or to allow them to let the sparks fly.

It's just one year until county and state elections. Let's hope we see some debates that really are debates.


What's wrong with this picture?

Five Democrats have gathered to endorse Annapolis Mayor Al Hopkins. Sen. Gerald Winegrad and delegates John Astle and Michael Busch are there, along with County Council members Virginia Clagett and David Boschert.

But Mrs. Clagett represents South County, and Mr. Boschert Crownsville. Where is Annapolis' council representative, Maureen Lamb?

Mrs. Lamb worked for Mr. Hopkins four years ago. For whatever reason, she's stayed out of this year's mayoral campaign.

The Democrats would have done a better job of camouflaging her absence if they'd had Messrs. Winegrad, Astle and Busch show up alone, instead of alongside two council members who (( have very little to say about what goes on in the city.


It was only a matter of time until someone came up with this idea about where to put a dreaded new county jail:

David Reeves, a Pleasantville machinist and former Navy man, suggests that the county ask the Navy to take an old ship out of mothballs, put inmates on it and float it out in the middle of Chesapeake Bay -- far enough "where they can't swim to shore if they jump over the side."

Mr. Reeves envisions the inmates running the ship themselves and learning a trade. "They would have their own little city out there," he says.


Finally, the Quote of the Month, from none other than Admiral Stockdale, who spoke before the children of West Annapolis Middle School Oct. 14.

Asked how he got to be a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, he answered, "I had things to blow up in their country, so I can't claim I got a bum rap."

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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