Democratic Party mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is following the infamous Rose Garden strategy of ignoring underdog Republican challenger Joe Lhota and refusing to participate in a series of public debates between now and election day. De Blasio is stalling by claiming there is plenty of time to work out a schedule of debates. In the meantime, he has time daily to roll out endorsements from fellow Democrats on the steps of City Hall. He is running out the clock in negotiations between the two with the goal of agreeing to a handful of debates knowing full well that his election is already preordained. Republican Lhota has challenged him to a series of five debates, one in each borough. De Blasio has only agreed to three debates to date. Leading up to the September Democratic Party primary starting in January, de Blasio participated in over 100 forums and debates on a daily basis with Quinn, Thompson, Liu, Weiner and Albanese.
All incumbent elected officials, be they Democrat or Republican on the city, state or federal level, start out with many advantages not available to challengers. During any term of public office, incumbents have daily television, radio and newspaper exposure, press conferences, newsletters, guest columns in newspapers, letters to the editor and speaking engagements on a regular basis. Don’t forget the perks of public office, including announcements of member items (many of which taxpayers consider local pork-barrel projects), which are used to raise name recognition and assist in greasing the wheels of re-election.
In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, both Democratic and Republican primary candidates participated in numerous television and newspaper editorial board debates. Voters could look beyond the 30- or 60-second TV commercial sound bites to learn about real views and issues among the candidates.
Those candidates who refused to participate in these debates would be subject to critical newspaper editorials. They ended up losing any chance of newspaper endorsements and usually went down to defeat in either the primary or general election.
In the 1980s, a new Rose Garden strategy emerged. Incumbents or officially designated incumbent candidates of both parties refused to debate lesser-known, under-funded opponents in either the primary or general election. They had no interest in providing a free forum for challengers to get their message directly out to voters. Too many newspapers and good government groups failed to speak up and shame these incumbents into participating in open forums and debates.
They don’t want to provide their respective unknown and under-financed opponents with free forums to explain their positions on issues of the day. It is your local community newspaper that provides a forum at no charge affording under financed and lesser-known candidates a chance to communicate their views on issues of the day to voters.
Why not participate in debates sponsored by each of NYC’s daily newspapers and television stations? The New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Staten Island Advance, El Diaro, AM New York, Metro New York, The New York Observer, The Village Voice, Crain’s New York Business along with many local weekly newspapers would all be happy to host a debate. Don’t forget News One, WCBS2, WNBC4, WNYW5, WABC7, WOR9 and WPIX11 along with the League of Women Voters and Citizens Union. Let us hope that enlightened newspapers such as The Queens Courier call for an end of incumbents and officially designated organization candidates use of the infamous Rose Garden strategy in future elections. Intelligent voters deserve frequent debates prior to the general election as opposed to canned TV commercials.
If Bill de Blasio refuses to participate in series of debates with his underdog Republican challenger Joe Lhota, he should be subject to critical newspaper editorials. He should forfeit any chance of endorsements by media outlets.