Strong Debate For Yoon

My impressions of last night's mayoral debate:

--I thought Yoon had the best showing. He was on-message, respectfully aggressive in criticizing the mayor, and was the only one on stage showing any personality at all. That said, I thought he was frequently unclear about what he was specifically talking about (he tends to slip into bureaucratese shorthand, which we forget most people don't know). Still, viewers trying to decide which challenger might best carry the fight against Menino in the general election probably came away giving Yoon the edge over Flaherty.

--Flaherty was the one candidate who looked into the camera effectively as he delivered his message. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like he was getting a coherent message across. He had a distinct milquetoasty (milquetoasty? bureaucratese? what made-up language am I using here?) lack of presence, possibly exacerbated by his positioning on the far end, away from the Menino-Yoon gravitational center of the debate.

--I thought Menino ranged from OK to awful over the course of the debate. He particularly tanked on a question about creating jobs, which was surprising and potentially very harmful. On the measures he's taken for the long-term fiscal health of the city -- an area I give him a lot of credit for -- he was petulant and dismissive rather than explanatory. And perhaps the clunkiest line of the night was when Menino said that people only criticize the Boston Redevelopment Authority because the BRA "is a change agent, and people don't like change."

--Another candidate for clunkiest line came from Flaherty, while defending police details: "Think of all the drugs."

--Kevin McCrea sometimes seemed like he belonged on the stage with the others, and sometimes seemed like a simple-minded critic of "the politicians" who he paints as universally corrupt, secretive, and dishonest.

--Flaherty and Yoon almost entirely avoided criticizing each other, even though the preliminary election, as I have previously written, is entirely a death match between the two of them. At his press avail after the debate, I asked Yoon how he thought the debate might have helped viewers decide whether he or Flaherty would be best to take on the incumbent in the general election -- a softball, I thought -- and he couldn't handle it at all. He hemmed and hawed and fumbled around painfully before pivoting into some bland talk about the future of Boston.

--At Flaherty's press avail, I asked him whether he felt that Menino had sufficiently answered the question about job creation. He responded with a perfectly good discussion about his ideas for job creation. Which is pretty much what he did during the debate, too. Where's the soundbite-ready one-liner knocking the mayor? I can't tee 'em up any better for you guys -- it's up to you to take the swing.

--Menino relied heavily on -- or perhaps was badly distracted by -- note cards, constantly fumbling with them and looking to them for help. It was odd, I thought, especially because he has always been more than capable of talking about the city off the cuff. The cards seemed emblematic to me of Menino's discomfort with the debate setting. Worth noting that after the debate, at a press avail, I asked him about job-creation and schools, and in both cases he did far better (without notes) than he had during the debate.

--As the debate was ending, Menino made a very deliberate reference to "diversity," which made me think that the campaign feels like it needs to reach for minority votes in the prelim. Sure enough, at his avail the first thing he made sure to say was that he wished there had been more discussion about "issues of diversity," and made reference to the importance of Boston being a "majority minority city."

--At McCrea's avail he declared himself the winner of the debate, saying that he had checked the blogs and "everyone says Kevin McCrea won" -- specifically citing Blue Mass Group. (Is he inviting the notorious BMG Kiss Of Death?)

--Jon Keller did a terrific job, as usual.

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