Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More “blown coverage,” at WTTW- Chicago Tonight’s 3rd Ward Debate hosted by Carol Marin

In short, it was a botched debate. Marin’s real strength is covering trials of mobsters and Conrad Black, not hosting a 3rd Ward debate. But don’t take my word for it, watch the repeat tonight of the debate, or set your DVR/TIVO [WTTW, midnight, 1:30 am and 4:30 am, Ch. 11].
The 3rd Ward aldermanic race on the near South Side is an important one for reform in Chicago. You have the flamboyant [proponent of slavery reparations for African-Americans, said to have had a gun on the City Council floor and wearer of big hats] 23 year incumbent, Dorothy Tillman. Tillman, surprisingly endorsed by Barack Obama as pay back for her early endorsement of Obama’s U. S. Senate run, is facing her toughest challenge, to date, from Pat Dowell. Mayor Daley is investing heavily in Tillman, who was an ally of the Mayor in his successful veto of the City Council’s Big Box Living Wage ordinance.

Dowell, an urban planner who was endorsed by Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and a significant, junior state rep. from the area, Ken Dunkin, forced an April 17th run-off [one of a dozen in Chicago] in the initial February 27 vote, keeping Tillman’s margin to 43%-38%. Dowell, who has said from the get-go that she would support the City Council Big Box Living Wage ordinance, has been backed heavily by labor unions.

Dowell has worked under Mayors Washington, Sawyer and Richard M. Daley and she says she can work with Mayor Daley as an alderman, but she promises not to be a rubber-stamp, suggesting that is what the once independent Tillman has become. Pat Dowell is soft-spoken, but well spoken, and has the toughness of a 6’ 3” former basketball player and mom of a 21 year old basketball playing son at Loyola. Given a strong, but fair, moderator, Dowell can hold her own with the bombastic and domineering Tillman.

Carol Marin took a crack at being that fair moderator of the Tillman-Dowell exchange this evening on Chicago Tonight. It was not to be. [The debate is the first fifteen minute, or so, segment, airing tonight on WTTW, Ch. 11 in the Chicago metro area, 7:00 pm, midnight, 1:30 am and 4:30 am].

Marin has a number of strengths, but apparently keeping bullying pols like Tillman, at bay, is not one of them. Tillman started out by filibustering and then, when interrupted, ever so slightly by Marin, Tillman accused Marin of being unfair—referring to Marin’s set-up which raised a number of the problem areas of the Ward, while also giving Tillman credit for some of the Bronzeville economic development. Unfortunately, for Dowell and the audience, Marin, in effect if not in words, then backed off and Tillman ran the rest of the debate.

Tillman, as Monroe Anderson essentially put it, has a Friends and Family 3rd Ward patronage operation—and that operation has to be raised by the moderator in any debate. To get at reform, which is the key issue of the 3rd Ward race, you have to deal with Dowell’s allegations of patronage and public funds being wasted and sucked out of the community. Surely Marin understands that.

Moreover, you cannot have an honest discussion of the 3rd Ward without at least raising the ten year, or so construction period and thirteen million dollars of public money expended on the Harold Washington Cultural Center (“HWCC”) at 47th and King—not to mention the questions of lack of professional management, nepotism, conflicts of interest and low bang for the community’s buck at what is essentially Dorothy Tillman’s “baby,” the HWCC. Dowell sought to raise these items, but she needed a moderator who understood the issues and was willing to let Dowell try to make her case and then asked if Tillman could defend it. That moderator wasn’t Carol Marin—at least not tonight.

For example, you needed a moderator who would cut-off Tillman’s filibuster and keep the segment on track. Instead, Carol Marin, having been pushed around by Ald. Tillman, was more often cutting off Pat Dowell. The show became about Tillman’s charge that Dowell was fired by the City [with no supporting evidence from Tillman] as opposed to a thoughtful discussion about how much economic development and job growth has or has not occurred in the 3rd Ward, what the facts show about crime trends, education, and city services received or not received in the Ward, etc.

As a matter of style, Ron Magers, Marin’s former NBC-5 news room partner, has helpfully suggested I try “to grab the viewers,” by coming out swinging to start my show, “Public Affairs.” It is a good suggestion and one which I have tried to follow in recent months.

Marin’s first question to each candidate tonight: “Tell me, why are you the best woman for the job.” Not only is that an invitation to put the viewers to sleep, but never invite Tillman to filibuster—she does it well enough without the invitation.

In short, it was a botched debate. Marin’s real strength is covering trials of mobsters and Conrad Black, not hosting a 3rd Ward debate. But don’t take my word for it, watch the repeat tonight of the debate, or set your DVR/TIVO [WTTW, midnight, 1:30 am and 4:30 am, Ch. 11].

Perhaps Marin can work on her style a bit before the 43rd Debate scheduled for Monday night at WTTW. Incumbent Vi Daley faces challenger Michele Smith in that near north, Lincoln Park area, ward. Although Smith barely forced a run-off there, with Daley’s 48%-33% margin over Smith on February 27, the Ward has large chunks of independents who might be looking for change [as in the 3rd] and Smith could pull this off. These Lake Front liberal independents, for example, preferred Republican reformer Tony Peraica [notwithstanding his generally socially conservative views] to that of machine Democrat, Todd Stroger, for President of the Cook County Board in the 2006 election. Peraica has endorsed Smith.

In contrast to the 3rd Ward, a major issue in the 43rd Ward raised by Smith is the charge of too much, unplanned development, with too little community involvement in the process tolerated or encouraged by Daley.

To do the 43rd Ward debate right, Marin needs to know the issues better than she did tonight and she needs to keep it moving. It will be interesting to see how she does.

Notwithstanding the above criticism, we’ll be watching. Other than Fox Chicago Perspectives [Sunday mornings, 8:00 to 9:00 am, with ace political analyst Jack Conaty] and “Public Affairs,” WTTW is the only local television outlet paying significant attention to the Aldermanic races-- and state and local politics and public policy, in general. And, for that, we give Carol Marin and her public TV station, WTTW, thanks and credit.
First there were ghost voters, then ghost payrollers, now we bring you the ghost of City Council past, ghost guests. For a somewhat different debate format from that of the staid Chicago Tonight, [Go here] to watch a virtual Powell-Tillman debate and a virtual Smith-Daley debate. Coincidentally, this "Public Affairs," show also airs throughout the City of Chicago this Monday night [April 9], following the WTTW Smith-Daley debate, at 8:30 pm on Cable Ch. 21
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at