On Friday, Voice of OC writer Adam Elmahrek asked a good question; Where Are the Anaheim Debates?
Anaheim, is the largest city in Orange County, and the city council controls the largest budget of any OC city. There are two of five city council seats up for election this year, and not incumbents seeking reelection. You would think, that there would be numerous public debates where the candidates could face off and tell the voters what they would do if elected. That’s not the case in Anaheim.
Granted, it isn’t the fault of the City of Anaheim, the city government doesn’t have a role in sponsoring debates. Such events are usually sponsored by local community groups, chambers of commerce, or newspapers. Elmahrek pointed out that the one debate scheduled for Sept. 26 by the West Anaheim Neighborhood District Development Council (WAND), is not one they want publicized.
WAND leaders don’t want their forum to be publicized or even recorded. An organizer with the group, who did not want to be named, said their forum room holds only 100 people and the group fears a repeat of the riots that erupted outside City Hall in July when protesters of police shootings were not allowed in the City Council chambers.
The organizer pleaded with a Voice of OC reporter not to publicize the forum. “We don’t want any rabble rousing,” the organizer said. “All we want is a small town forum, and that’s it.”
The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce — a powerful influence in the city’s political sphere along with a Disney-backed group called Support Our Anaheim Resort — held a candidates forum in 2010, but so far none this year has been scheduled, according to chamber officials.
Over the weekend I received a press release from council candidate John Leos calling for debates in Anaheim.
Leos has worked for a more open and transparent Anaheim City government over the last year by asking for the “Anaheim Transparency, Disclosure and Accountability Reform Act.”
“Many Anaheim residents feel disconnected from City voting decisions. The lack of debate and public discussion feeds into the perception that Anaheim residents work to benefit a few political insiders instead of the City Council working for the residents. Can you imagine a successful company where employees do their own thing and keep it hidden from the boss? In Anaheim, the City works for us. We’re the boss and we have the duty to evaluate their activities — especially when lobbyists are eyeing lucrative City contracts for clients,” says Leos. “We shouldn’t have just one debate or forum, but many. Let Anaheim residents fully engage and get a real feel for the candidates.”
The call for debates by Leos has been echoed by another candidate Duane Roberts. According to Orange Juice Blog, Roberts has joined Leos in his call for debates.
“There seems to be one primary reason why so few debates are taking place in Anaheim this year. The Walt Disney Company, Chamber of Commerce, and other big business interests that maintain a tight grip on City Hall are fully aware an overwhelming majority of residents in this town are mad as hell,” Roberts said. “They genuinely fear free and open debates will lead to the election of insurgent candidates who will better serve the needs of the people than the ones they have decided to back. From their perspective, it’s much preferable to have no debates because silence maintains and preserves the status quo.”
So here’s a challenge for the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to consider. Santa Ana has held at least one debate that we know of, are you really going to let Santa Ana kick your butt on debates?