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Debating the Mayoral Debates

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At one of the many mayoral debates this campaign season. | Photo: Neon Tommy/Flickr/Creative Commons License

In Los Angeles, elections are non-partisan and, despite the state's new top-two law, send two candidates to a run-off unless a one garners more than 50 percent of the primary vote. Considering the competitiveness this year -- five frontrunners seen in dozens of debates -- it is assumed two will move from the March 5 primary to the May 21 general.

Therefore, I'm curious how voters will decide which candidates to send to the May election. After all, what do we really know about them?

Judging by the number of debates -- some 30 of them -- we should know a lot about them. However, having watched a number of these increasingly predictable forums, I'm simply not sure if the voters are able glean tons of useful information.

It brings up questions. Are there new and better ways for candidates to reach the voters? Can't we do better? I'm not convinced that the debates so far do much more than allow the candidates to hit their talking points in different forums. Many of those talking points are, quite understandably, less than surprising by the time the 30th debate rolls around.

But there are certain groups that have benefitted from the dozens of mayoral debates held over the past couple of months. Those are the groups hosting the event. Often those groups, or the interests supporting those groups, are able to extract pledges and promises from the candidates.

Perhaps if we made the debates fewer and further between they would feel more like special events worth watching or listening to. In addition, making debates more rare would reduce the repetition we hear in the candidates' answers. Interests groups may band together to create forums in which they each get to ask a number of questions important to them while making sure that they are not all asking the candidates substantially similar question is debate after debate after debate.

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