Tuesday, September 16, 2008

George Arnold Calls the First Round

George Arnold, opinion editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette northwest edition, watched the mayoral debate sponsored by the Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods and called it fairly. "Dan Coody had a bad night," he said. "The mayor of Fayetteville is in a serious race to hold onto his job for a third term. ...But the other night, Dan Coody must have felt like the evening’s target for everybody else. He was forced to defend himself and his record, which meant he often sounded defensive."

"Give a politician a chance to dance around and he’ll take it every time. The squirm-inducing questions came from the audience," Arnold noted."There was the inevitable question about Fayetteville’s hole in the ground. That’s the Big Dig where the Mountain Inn used to stand. ...Meanwhile, the same developers are trying to get city approval for another grandiose project on the south side of town. ...And there was the question about the water and sewer project, which included the new west-side sewer plant. The project came in some $63 million over budget and three years late."

"All these questions had Mayor Coody bobbing and weaving. Which is nothing new," admitted Arnold. "Try as he might, he can’t explain the sewer plant and big hole away. They happened on his watch. The other night, he even had to short-change later questions to go back and try again to tell the audience why none of these things had really been his fault. Judging by their reactions, few seemed convinced. ...But the murmurs and chuckles that greeted some of Mayor Coody’s pronouncements that evening must have given him pause. It wasn’t what he could call a friendly crowd."

"Dan Coody’s specific problem," said the editor, "is that the narrative for the mayoral campaign lends itself to some simple—and memorable—sound bites. Like '$60 million and three years behind.' Or 'the big hole.' Anybody who’s paying attention in Fayetteville knows what those phrases mean. The audience at last week’s forum/debate seemed inclined to lay both at Dan Coody’s feet. We only have to wait until November to see if voters do the same."

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