“To discuss opposing reasons; argue.”
That’s the definition given by Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary of the word “debate.”
By this standard, the recent event hosted by the Oneonta Area League of Women Voters barely qualified.
This is certainly not the League’s fault. The not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization put on an organized, professional and informative event at SUNY Oneonta on Wednesday night, featuring candidates seeking to represent the town of Oneonta.
It’s not the audience’s fault, either. The event was well-attended, and numerous people asked thoughtful questions on issues such as economic development, shared services, MOSA and Otsego Manor.
And the three candidates for town justice are off the hook, since they were only there to make statements.
But between county board candidates Janet Hurley-Quackenbush and Dan Buttermann, and town board candidates Brett Holleran, Patricia Jacob, Andrew Stammel and Fred Volpe, the words most frequently heard were “I agree.” There was a distinct lack of “opposing reasons,” and nothing that could be called an argument.
It was, in short, a love-fest.
Now, for those of you who are (quite rightfully) tired of bitter, partisan battles, gridlock and mudslinging, you may be saying, “Good!” We have no desire to see personal attacks, or argument for its own sake. But we do want, and voters need, to understand what sets these candidates apart from each other.
Voters need to hear, “Here’s why you should vote for me and not the other guy (or gal).” By and large, on Wednesday night, that didn’t happen.
The candidates did speak about their respective backgrounds. But without specific statements along the lines of “As your county (or town) board representative, I would do x, y and z,” how are voters supposed to evaluate those backgrounds?
We heard a lot about what the candidates are for (a county manager; more sales tax revenue for the town), and a little bit about what they’re against (fracking) — and not an awful lot about what they would actually do if elected.
So when Oneonta voters go to the polls on Nov. 5, how will they make their decisions? Will they choose the man or woman whose last name they recognize? The person who’s lived in Oneonta longer? Will they simply look at the party lines, and check off all the boxes on down the line? Will they pick the person who spoke the most glibly, or who is the most attractive?
Those are all lousy reasons to elect someone to local office. But if Wednesday night’s love-in — sorry, debate — was meant to give us a full measure of these candidates, that may be all the voters have to go on.