12-Round Debate

By: Jason Colthorp
By: Jason Colthorp

Some behind the scenes from the Virg Bernero-Carol Wood debate last Tuesday.

Debates aren't the easiest to prepare for.  You have to know the issues, come up with good questions, know the answers to those questions, know what their answers to those questions will be, and know what your follow-up questions will be. 

It's a process.

I've only moderated one debate and that was the Congressional race between Tim Walberg and Mark Schauer.  It went all right, but didn't break any new ground, which my debate mentor, Tim Skubick said.  I look at Skubick as the gold standard of debate moderators because he isn't afraid to come off as a jerk to get these politicians to speak from their heart.  He told me the keys to a good debate are to get the candidates off their talking points and talking to each other.

I was able to do that last Tuesday night in the Lansing mayoral debate between Council Woman Carol Wood and Mayor Virg Bernero.  But, I'm quick to point out-- that wasn't much of a challenge.  They don't like each other.

Right out of the gate they were at each other's throats, which made me do my best Skubick impression-- listen and ask the opponent to answer the allegation just made.   Skubick says you know you've done a good job when you get hate mail from both sides.  I only got one hate letter and the rest were complimentary and from both sides.  I don't know if that means I was too easy on them since they don't hate me, but at least I was fair.

If you watched, you had to be entertained, because I was.  There were three times I had to make an effort to not laugh-- once putting my hand over my mouth.  It was like watching my two kids at times, as they called each other liars and such. 

When my floor director gave me the 30-minute time cue, I looked down and was well past the halfway point on my list of questions.


I got a little nervous that I'd run out!  What was I going to do then-- sing a medley of my greatest hits?  So, as they ramped up their attacks on one another and really started bickering about Council minutia-- real inside baseball stuff-- I stopped them and asked, "Why can't you two get along?"  It wasn't a planned question, but I really wanted to know at that point.  Why did they hate each other so much?  Two people who are for the same thing-- making Lansing better-- and are Democrats for all intents and purposes, can't even agree that the sun rises in the East.  So, I asked it, got good responses, and killed an extra five minutes, meaning I wouldn't run out of questions.


The other behind-the-scenes item you didn't see was a process server trying to hunt Virg down all night.  A local union sued the mayor the day before and somebody (I wonder who) thought this would be a good venue to serve him papers.  So, he didn't come out to the stage until about two minutes before it began and when it was over, he looked anxious to get out.  I had to stop him to get a handshake, but I think it was the whole lawsuit thing that had the mayor looking for the exit as soon as we signed off.  I'm actually not sure if he was served that night or not, or if anybody (I wonder who) got a picture of it-- which I also heard was being attempted.

So, debate number two is in the books and I have yet to get the post-mortem from Skubick.  I think I'll wait another week.  I'd like to feel good about it a little longer.

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  • by Bob Location: Lansing on Jan 21, 2010 at 10:14 AM
    Well, Skubick has some good tips, and contributed a lot to the community. But I'd hate to be the subject of one of his interviews. Con artists and spin meisters probably need to be put through the wringer of his slam bang, impulsive approach. However some of us are already honest, and searching diligently for constructive and insightful methods and goals. He can just distract us into the ditch. The resulting gaffes might be entertaining, but rarely optimal or useful. I was not entertained by the Bernero-Wood debate. Yes, they did look like 2 kids at times. But that's how Bernero operates when someone attempts to hold him accountable for his shortcomings. It's hard to compete with someone who fights dirty, without getting down into the gutter with him. Certainly at least one of them was lying about a number of things. The extent to which the other one was, could not be easily determined, unless you knew all the answers and had the inside track beforehand. Few if any of us do
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