Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Ladies First"

I love Richardson's diversity. And the various candidate forums for the mayor's race strongly highlight that diversity while also showing common interests across the city. But it's the diversity that keeps me coming back. It's the unique questions I listen for, as much as the answers.

The first forum, sponsored by the GOP, was held at Richardson's country club. The unique questions were about Agenda 21 and fluoride in our drinking water. The next forum was at a public school, sponsored by a neighborhood association. Someone wanted to know where the candidates live in relation to their neighborhood. Someone else asked the candidates to do something about speeding on Grove Rd. The third forum (which I missed) was at a BBQ joint, sponsored by the tea party. They wanted to know how much a natatorium was going to cost Richardson taxpayers. The most recent forum was in Richardson's Chinatown, sponsored by the Dallas Chinese Community Center. The moderator set the unique tone with her polite explanation of how it was decided which candidate would speak first: "Ladies first."

After the jump, a progress report on the campaigning skills of Laura Maczka and Amir Omar.

Laura Maczka started right out challenging how her detractors paint her. She said that growth demands that Richardson change and she is fully in support of those changes. But she never specified exactly what needed changing. She was adept at saying what her priorities are, but not what needs to change to achieve those priorities. She still needs to work on this. She also said she'll lead from the front, so she's probably learned not to describe her team-oriented leadership style as "leading from the back." All in all, steady improvement.

Amir Omar, in his opening, emphasized his record of accomplishment, specifically naming "Tree the Town," which he touts frequently. In a change from his usual stump speech, he shared credit with others on the council, saying it was a team effort, perhaps a deliberate choice to challenge how his detractors paint him as stretching the truth in self-promotion. Omar, as usual, pointed out how he was the only council member who voted for a referendum on direct election of the mayor. In another change from his usual speech, he declined to accuse Maczka of "leading the charge" against direct election of the mayor. This puts Maczka in a more difficult spot, having to defend her vote instead of refuting Omar's exaggeration. All in all, a toned-down performance from a high wattage candidate.

Where Mazcka shines is in describing the highlights of her activities on city council. She singled out her efforts on the Regional Transportation Council, pushing for the development of the Cotton Belt rail line to D/FW Airport, and her efforts to enlist all the cities along US 75 to pro-actively engage TxDOT on its study to expand capacity. Both efforts are critical for Richardson's future prosperity and she's a leader in both. She's getting better at saying "I". Omar was left saying the whole council was aligned on this.

Where Omar shines is in his rapport with an audience. In his opening, he rattled off the names of people he recognized in the audience. He tried out his rudimentary Chinese language skills, reading a couple of sentences phonetically. The audience found his effort amusing, but the laughter was friendly. One feisty woman even threw up her hands in joy and triumph. (She was later seen putting on an Omar T-shirt. Whether she came in as an Omar supporter or was won over during the forum, I can't say, but she left as an Omar supporter.)

Where neither Maczka nor Omar had a particularly compelling answer was to the request for more diversity at city hall. The questioner (the woman I described as feisty earned it for this question) pointed out that most of the council members in attendance seemed to share a certain demographic. (I won't repeat her entire critique, but she did suggest that at age 65 people need to go home.) I seem to remember a request during the last election for more representation at city hall from the Chinese community. Maczka, in saying more outreach by the City was needed, pointed out that she learned that, in Chinese culture, you have to ask a person to eat with you three times before it's considered polite to accept. This is now the second election that it's come up at the Chinese Community Center. Maybe by the 2015 election, both sides will have heard the request for diversity the three times needed to change the appearance of Richardson's boards and commissions.

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