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Steve Simon is vice president of Van Eperen & Company, a Rockville-based strategic communications and public relations firm. A longtime Montgomery County political observer, he has been in the media and public relations field locally for nearly 30 years. In addition to serving as an independent public relations consultant, he... Read more

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A Tale of Two Debates


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

I know what you’re thinking. Here he goes with yet another review of the first two presidential debates and the cumulative “split decision,” as we all now anxiously await the “rubber match” on Monday night.

On the contrary, the two types of debates I’m going to compare and contrast are 1) those that take place on the highest stage – yes, the nationally televised, “under the bright lights” presidential debates – and 2) those far less celebrated and noticed affairs that take place in localities everywhere, like the Montgomery County Board of Education debate I attended on Thursday night at the Rockville Library.

“… it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

When you go from watching a relative Battle Royale between the President of the United States and the “challenger-in-chief” to watching six of your fellow county residents politely sort things out in a library meeting room, you can probably guess which of the two encounters offers more wisdom than foolishness. Still, there were a few similarities and mostly stark differences in both forums.

  • Quality of the moderators – Sorry, Candy Crowley, Jim Lehrer and even Martha Raddatz, who actually did better in the vice presidential debate. None of you held a candle to the two fine young men from the Rockville High School newspaper, The Rampage, who most ably managed the six-candidate forum. Incredibly well prepared were they for their assignment, well-spoken and impeccably dressed. I’m glad they received a deserving shout-out for their yeoman’s work in an article that ran on Rockville Patch this week.
  • Roughing up the moderators! – Okay, to be honest, President Obama and (especially) Governor Romney were much tougher on Crowley and (especially) Lehrer, treating them at times like those poor NFL replacement referees. But even at a tame, community library debate among School Board candidates, there was an awkward moment or two when the hard-working high school moderators were chided by the candidates for things like the need to mix up the “starting order” for answers!
  • Common ground among candidates? – This was a complete rarity for the presidential candidates, of course. They even made sure to continually accentuate the contrast between the two by alternating their choices of red or blue ties. On the other hand, the Board of Education debate answers by the candidates often began with: “I agree with most of what has been said already…”

“… it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

  • Big Bird… and Binders? – Admit it; if you were asked a month ago whether those two subjects would be more likely to come up in the presidential debates or a Board of Education debate, what would you have guessed? And here’s a hint: today’s edition of Sesame Street is not brought to you by the letters B, O and E!
  • Best debate soundbites? Where do you start with the presidential debates?
    • “I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks?  And they brought us whole binders full of women.”
    • “I don’t look at my pension.  It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.”

I’m sure you could pick a few hundred others from the “bright lights” debates. But my favorite debate line came on Thursday night when Board of Education candidate Morris Panner spoke to the issue of dealing with childhood obesity, by relating it to how he and his wife deal with the challenge facing their own son: “One of the things we don’t do is let him eat the school lunches!”

Bam! A great laugh line (where was Joe Biden when we needed him?) and a magnificently powerful point for future school board discussions, all at once.

“… it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

The superlative degree of comparison? Thank you, Charles Dickens. And that leads me to my final observation.

So many of you will surely be tuning in on Monday night for the third and final presidential debate, whether you are among the 3 or 4 percent of remaining “undecided” voters or not. But how many of you will be willing to take a couple hours out of your life on another of the evenings coming up in which six, well-intentioned fellow county residents will sit side-by-side once again at a neighborhood forum to outline their positions and ask for your votes, to fill three seats on the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Give it a try. Because I’m guessing the number of you who really know what you would need to know to make up your minds about a race that is so much closer to home may be about… 3 or 4 percent.


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Steve Simon

About Steve Simon

Steve Simon is vice president of Van Eperen & Company, a Rockville-based strategic communications and public relations firm. A longtime Montgomery County political observer, he has been in the media and public relations field locally for nearly 30 years. In addition to serving as an independent public relations consultant, he has held previous posts as the public information director for Montgomery County Public Schools, as director of communications for Montgomery College, and as a public information officer for Montgomery County, under three different county executive’s administrations. Earlier in his career, he was managing editor of The Chronicle Express newspapers, a former community newspaper chain in Montgomery County. He is the former host of several Montgomery County cable television shows, including Capital View Annapolis for County Cable Montgomery and Campus Conversations for Montgomery College Television.


One Response to “A Tale of Two Debates”

  1. Karen O'Keefe
    On October 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm responded with... #

    I was there too. thanks for highlighting this event. it made me wish i could vote for every one of them — and the two moderators — they handled some tense moments with the voters on hand with aplomb.

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