A Tampa media entity suffered amnesia last week, denying three city mayoral candidates the opportunity to participate in a Jan. 9 debate it is sponsoring.
Spectrum Bay News 9 forgot its major responsibility of fully informing the public and its viewership, not to mention any notion of fair play.
Spectrum's criteria for winnowing the mayoral debate: the amount of money raised by the candidates. The favored four: David Straz, Jane Castor, Harry Cohen and Ed Turanchik. The omitted victims of the witless parameter: Topher Morrison, independent businessman who is showing the most momentum of the seven candidates; Mike Suarez, a sitting city councilman, and LaVaughn King, the only black candidate.
After tremendous pressure from the camps of the three excluded candidates, and Hillsborough Community College (Ybor), the debate site, Spectrum relented and is allowing all the candidates to participate.
The corrected snafu had its heroes and zeroes. Let’s review:
Mining the most goodwill from the debate battle was David Straz, the billionaire banker whose philanthropy is widely known. He issued this statement on social media early Friday:
“I will not participate in any debate or forum where all the candidates are not invited. All candidates should be allowed to attend the Spectrum News 9 debate on January 9th.”
Hillsborough Community College expressed grave concern about the exclusion. Ashley Carl, executive director of marketing and public relations at HCC, had this to say:
“This is the first I have heard about this debate requirement. We are providing the venue and the sponsor is Spectrum Communications. Yes, we are concerned because HCC is a majority-minority institution that believes in inclusion.”
Later Friday, HCC’s concern was conveyed to Spectrum and no doubt played an important role in the communications company’s reversal.
Three Tampa City Council candidates contacted by Tampa Bay Beat -- Bill Carlson, John Godwin, and Joe Citro -- all favored inclusion.
From Carlson, “I have managed mayoral debates before and having all seven candidates participate is the only fair and democratic thing to do.”
John Godwin had this to say, “Straz earned a lot of respect in my book for his willingness to risk losing public exposure to stand up for proper democratic norms. At the end of the day, whether we’re running for city council or mayor, I hope we’re doing so to serve the citizens -- helping them be informed voters is certainly central to that.”
Citro, contacted through social media, “I can only add that this should be open to all candidates that have qualified.”
Now the zeroes.
Spectrum is the obvious villain. It reversed course only after tremendous pressure from Straz, HCC, and threats of picketing outside the debate and disruption inside the forum. They get no points because they opted for doing the right thing -- stubbornly.
Then there is Suarez. The city councilman with an undistinguished record and no real base played “every man for himself.” He twisted arms at Spectrum and was allowed to participate in a debate that still excluded two candidates. His basic philosophy: to hell with King and Morrison ... I’ve got mine.
Turanchik, who never met a mirror he didn’t fall in love with, bragged that he was one of the “chosen” people, declaring that limiting the debate was the right thing to do. Turanchik’s social media post (which appears since to have been deleted) speaks for itself:
In Turanchik’s mind, the original chosen four are the “leading candidates.” A Tampa Bay Business Journal poll, taken a few weeks ago, begs to differ:
Zero, without a doubt.
Then there are Jane Castor and Harry Cohen. Tampa Bay Beat contacted them through social media asking for a response to the debate exclusion. Silence from both.
Zero and zero.
The non-partisan election will be March 5 with the two highest vote-getters clashing in a runoff.
Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.