By Tim Whyte
I’ll admit, I was a little nervous. It had been a little while since I’d hosted one of these things. Over a dozen years, if memory serves.
It was Monday night, and I was getting ready to moderate the 2018 City Council candidates forum, hosted by The Signal along with our cosponsors, KHTS and SCVTV.
I had visions of a total meltdown on my part. You know, like slipping up and forgetting where I was and bursting out, “Live, from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
Or, “Toga! Toga!”
You know. As if it was a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.
We had 13 out of the 15 City Council candidates in attendance, and rather than making it a public event, which could lead to a “stacked” crowd and angry mobs being turned away at the door if the room got full, we decided to let each candidate invite 10 guests, which would have pretty much filled the room at The Centre.
But, some of the candidates didn’t take advantage of that opportunity. We had an OK crowd, but there were quite a few seats that could have been filled. I filed that away as something to try differently next time.
Thankfully, I didn’t completely melt down, as I had feared. My biggest gaffe was the time I almost skipped Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean in the question-and-answer rotation. Thanks, Marsha, for having a sense of humor about that.
All in all it went pretty well. For the most part, it seems like we have a number of candidates, both challengers and incumbents alike, who care deeply about our city and would work hard to keep building on Santa Clarita’s record and reputation as a great place to live and raise a family.
And, the candidates for the most part behaved themselves and followed our rules, staying on topic and avoiding personal attacks.
There was one exception, and that was Sean Weber, who attempted to use his closing statement as a platform to launch into a diatribe about a long-running dispute between him and his fellow challenger Brett Haddock.
It got really dark. And really awkward. Suddenly. Until that point the entire forum had been quite civil.
I didn’t know either of them before Monday night but I understand they have history between them. If you Google it, you can find some of it. I don’t care to wade into the details of it here, frankly.
In any case, Weber’s behavior was inappropriate and out of line with the rules of the forum.
I admit, I was a little slow on the uptake. Just as the hamster in my brain was getting up to speed, running on his little wheel fast enough that I could figure out something was wrong, candidate Logan Smith looked up at me with an expression on his face that said, “Uh, you gonna DO something about this?”
So, about two or three seconds later than I wish I had, I interrupted Weber, and said something to the effect of, that sounds like it’s getting personal, which is against the rules of the forum.
I haven’t gone back to rewatch it on video, so I don’t have his exact quote, but at that point Weber said something along the lines of asking whether he should continue reading his prepared material. It was essentially an attack on Haddock tied into their running dispute, which, as far as I can tell, dates back at least a year.
At that point, someone in the audience said no, he should not continue.
He stopped. I moved on to the next candidate to speak. He got up and, while the forum was still going on, he walked out.
I wouldn’t say he “stormed” out, which would make it really dramatic. But it was at least “semi-stormed out.”
The camera crew — a joint effort of SCVTV, KHTS and The Signal — caught the drama as Weber left the room. (Kudos, by the way, to all of the digital journalists who worked together to make the forum possible and make it accessible to all residents, via all three media outlets. It was cool to see the sharing of resources and manpower in the interest of providing important information to voters.)
Thankfully, the Weber thing was the only incident that you’d call “fireworks.”
After hearing the candidates speak, I feel a little closer to knowing which of them I’ll seriously consider voting for, but frankly the size of the field does make it difficult to weigh challengers vs. incumbents. (Hint: I scratched Weber off my list.) I was impressed by a couple of the newcomers, including one that I expected to like, and one that I hadn’t expected to like.
At the end of it all, a small part of me does wish the candidates would have thrown us a little more topical humor to lighten the mood. Maybe this is a little juvenile on my part, but I think it would have been a hoot if, instead of answering the question we asked, at least one candidate would have provided the answer to the real burning question this election season:
Question: What should the City Council do differently to manage growth and reduce traffic congestion in our city?
Answer: I like beer!
It might have been political suicide, but it would have been the funniest City Council candidate forum moment. Ever.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. Email: [email protected].