By Dan Haley
It is a daunting thing to sponsor a candidate event. Every race has its peculiar challenges.
Remarkably, there are 13 candidates running for four seats on the school board at OPRF. And that is down from the original 15 folks. So how do you have a debate, forum, discussion with 13 people? Give them each two minutes at the top to spell their names and lay out their credentials and a third of your 90 minutes is shot. Does each one have to answer the question about the achievement gap? What new insight is Lucky 13 going to have on that topic!
And who gets to ask the questions? Well, there's typically the impartial moderator who actually voices the questions. But whose questions are they really? Oftentimes at these events we go through the "index card process."
"If you have a question for the candidates, write it on an index card and pass it to the end of the row. We'll sort through them and then ask the candidates."
But don't most people wonder about the sorting of the questions part? Now only a few people want to ask the really snarky questions. But as you're sitting there with your stubby pencil parsing out just the right way to ask, "Why the hell does the high school have $117 million in the bank!!??" so it elicits a nuanced response, it does occur to you that your perfect question is about to be pureed into the moderator saying, "Well, not a shocker but we've gotten a lot of questions about that really big financial reserve. So what do you all make of that anywho?"
Our friends at SEOPCO — the Southeast Oak Park Community Organization — are sponsoring a District 200 forum on March 14 and we've signed on as a co-sponsor though our role is very limited. One of the organizers asked if I wanted to join a discussion on how to run a debate with 15 speakers and I demurred. But we will be there at Irving School to cover it and to see what they've come up with format-wise.
There are several other candidate events coming up. The Buzz Café always does an interesting job. Ascension Parish is hosting a forum. The League of Women Voters, of course, has election events. But the League is so determinedly middle-of-the-road that they don't sponsor debates or rumpuses. They sponsor "Candidate Fairs." Are you going to Candidate Fair, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme?
This coming Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, the Journal is sponsoring "conversations" with the candidates for village president in Oak Park and in River Forest. Sounds so precious that I felt the need to put quotation marks around "conversations."
It's true. These aren't some damned forums or debates or fairs. No, we're going to have ourselves some civil discourse. Won't be a podium on the stage at either the River Forest Public Library on Tuesday or the Main Library in Oak Park on Wednesday. No stopwatches that the candidates can ignore as they make that one final point. We're not even going to have opening statements.
Instead we're going to test the power of a roundtable. It works for Charlie Rose on PBS, it ought to work for us. Three people. Two candidates. One moderator (guess who?).
So what are we going to talk about for 90 minutes? Well it is not going to be just bond issues and sewer projects, though those are good topics. On Tuesday I'll ask River Forest candidates Michael Gibbs and Cathy Adduci the old Barbara Walters chestnut: "If you could be a tree, what sort of tree would you be?" And on Wednesday in Oak Park I'll ask Anan Abu-Taleb and John Hedges, "Boxers or briefs?"
Turn out for our "conversations." Each night at 7 p.m. Free and open to the voting public.