Self-inflicted wounds in mayoral debate on violence (now with video!) | Slag Heap
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Self-inflicted wounds in mayoral debate on violence (now with video!)

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2009 at 4:34 AM

I'll try to put up some video of this later today (UPDATE: It's here) but last night's mayoral forum, held at the Kingsley Center and focused on violence prevention and gun rights, featured a couple candidates shooting themselves in the foot.

The most gaping wound was inflicted during a discussion of domestic abuse. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said that one of the proudest accomplishments was establishing more stringent policies for handling domestic abuse by city police officers. True enough. But as challenger Patrick Dowd pointed out shortly afterward, Ravenstahl only ushered in that policy after promoting three officers with domestic-abuse allegations in their past.

Given that one of the co-sponsors of last night's forum was the Women and Girl's Foundation, Ravenstahl picked a tough crowd to try this out on.

Dowd also scored some points off Ravenstahl's claim that having police detain kids in a curfew center would, in fact, be a way to help them relate to youth.

There were other key areas of dispute as well. The gun-control debate continued to play out, with Ravenstahl and Dowd more or less echoing each other's support for a city law intended to stop the "straw purchase" of such weapons. Carmen Robinson continued to denounce local legislation as a "distraction" from the real issues ... and to explain that she was not, in fact, a "card-carrying member" of the NRA.

Robinson also took issue with the fact that David Kennedy, a consultant the city hired to help devise a crime-reduction strategy, is white. That, she said, would make it difficult for Kennedy to devise an effective strategy in black communities (though Kennedy was brought in as part of an initiative launched by city councilor Ricky Burgess). And I could be wrong about this -- I was working the camera and stuff -- but I think she also said that Kennedy's resume wasn't any more accomplished than that of Tim Stevens, who has long headed the local NAACP chapter. 

I dunno. No disrespect to Tim Stevens, but among other accomplishments, Kennedy has literally written the book -- or at least a well-regarded text -- on criminal deterrence. Robinson also took a cheap shot at her rivals by suggesting that they'd only really gotten concerned with gun violence after the Stanton Heights police shooting. It just ain't so: Debate about the city's straw-purchase bill, among other changes, dates back well before that tragedy.

Like many others, I've been impressed by Robinson's performance in the past several weeks. She's got a command of the issues and she delivers her message with polish. She did a good job, for example, faulting Ravenstahl for saying that overall, crime rates are down -- even though homicide rates are up. (Ravenstahl's numbers aren't wrong ... but against a backdrop of spiking murder rates, they do remind one of an old joke: "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?") But like the mayor, Robinson didn't have a great night otherwise. If you are scoring the debates at home, you'd have to put this one in Dowd's column.

Last night's debate was also notable for the inclusion of Dok Harris, who is running as an independent but got equal time with the candidates on the ballot this May. Harris was a thoughtful voice, but there's a business-school syntax to his delivery that made it sometimes hard for me to figure out what the hell he was saying. Again, though -- I was working the camera. Maybe when I post some footage online, I'll have more luck.

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