Larry Mantle |

Hey, What Happened to the Other Candidates?




That was the essence of several comments we received in response to our debate featuring three of the candidates for the San Fernando Valley's Second District City Council race. Ten candidates are running in today's election. The top two vote getters will runoff in December.

We often face this challenge in races with a lot of candidates -- do we put all of them on together, break them up into smaller groups, or hold off on a debate until the runoff? We've tried each approach and each offers pluses and minuses.

If we put all the candidates on together, it's impossible to do much more than have each of them make one comment within the time we have available. Given that these races usually cover only a small part of our listening audience, we can't justify spending a full-hour on such an election. Ten candidates in 30 or so minutes isn't a good use of airtime and only frustrates listeners.

If we wait until the runoff, we miss out on covering races with more than two prominent candidates. That's the case in Council District 2. It wouldn't appear to be a slam dunk as to who the final pair will be. Yesterday's debate gave voters in the District a chance to hear from the three candidates who'll likely top the count. Voters can, of course, choose to vote for any of the less well known candidates who we didn't feature in the debate. However, we were able to provide voters with more in-depth exposure to those likely headed for runoff.

The option of breaking the full field of candidates into groups also has problems. Do you put the higher profile ones into one group and the lesser known ones into another? That would feature all the "outsiders" in a half-hour devoted to slamming the front-runners, without those more known candidates being able to respond. If you break up the likely runoff contenders, then they can't directly address each other.

After 24 years of hosting political debates on "AirTalk," we still take each race on a case-by-case basis to try to determine the best way of serving our total audience. I welcome your feedback so that we can consider it when we do our next debate for a District with a lot of candidates.