The group that gathered last night for the City of Miami mayoral debate between commissioners Tomas Regalado and Joe Sanchez made Joe Wilson, Kanye West, and Serena Williams look like upstanding examples of manners. Maybe they didn't get the message they're supposed to act civilly for the next week or so, because they freely shouted at the candidates, loudly cheered for their favorite, and argued with anyone in the audience who didn't agree with them.
Of course, after the candidates' performances last night, you couldn't be blamed for wondering how either of these men has attracted such devoted supporters.
Moderator Michael Putney of WPLG opened the debate with a question submitted by the audience, asking each candidate if he plans on firing firefighters and police officers in order to balance the budget -- a question that invited answers that had more to do with the candidates' current work on the city commission than their plans for the mayoral term.
Both agreed the police union needed to agree to pay cuts and seemed hopeful it would. But Regalado, who's been endorsed by all the major city unions, stressed he'd rather ask higher-paid city workers take pay cuts before asking the unions to sacrifice, while Sanchez pointed out that the police union only needed to accept a 4 percent pay cut across the board to keep the city budget balanced.
Regalado suggested reducing the elected officials' retirement trust by 25 percent. Sanchez quickly upped the ante by promising to eliminate it altogether.
"I would second that motion," Regalado replied.
"As you always do, Commissioner," Sanchez retorted.
Later, Sanchez, who supported construction of the new Marlins stadium, was met with deafening boos when he suggested that the city would pay only $25 million for the park. Regalado pointed out the bill might be closer to $94 million.
Regalado refused to give a clear answer as to whether he would fire City Manager Peter Hernandez. And while pointing out he never said he'd fire Chief of Police John Timoney, because the mayor doesn't have the sole power to do so, he made it clear that a vote for Regalado would be a vote to show Timoney the door, citing in part the chief's ethics issues.
Sanchez jumped on the remark, pointing out Regalado's own ethics problems.;
"I have not been investigated by the State Attorney's Office, I have not been investigated by the ethics commission, and I have paid my taxes," Sanchez said, causing Putney to remind the commissioners to shy away from personal attacks.
"If I didn't have money to pay my taxes, all of you should be proud of me, because I've had one house and did not invest in condos," Regalado replied. (Yes, he suggested we should be proud he didn't pay his taxes.)
A Sanchez supporter in the crowd quickly yelled, "You should invest in the city."
The crowd, perhaps enlivened by the small setting of the Science Museum's theaters, couldn't seem to keep quiet.
Sanchez said twice he didn't want the city to become a banana republic again, and a woman shouted twice: "It still is," partially proving her own point.
At another point, Regalado held up five fingers to illustrate his only four assets (his house and his three children, in case you're wondering). The crowd promptly informed him he was holding up the wrong number of digits.
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Before the candidates were allowed to give their final statements, the debate portion came to an end with each candidate asking his opponent two questions.
Sanchez once again returned to the most pressing issue apparently facing the city: Regalado's personal finances. First he asked how it is that each year Regalado claims his net worth is only $5,000. Regalado promised to bring his tax return to the next debate if Sanchez brought his. Then he asked how he can ask residents to pay taxes if he had a history of not paying his own. Regalado pointed out that Timothy Geithner, the secretary of the treasury, had a history of tax problems.
Sanchez retorted, "Two rights don't make a wrong." An impressive slip considering someone had shouted the correct phrase from the crowd seconds earlier. "Two wrongs don't make a right," he quickly corrected himself.
"Two wrongs don't make a right" might just be the best way to describe last night's debate.