Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Great Fayetteville Mayoral Debate of 1992: When everyone showed up but the eventual winner of the race

Posted By on Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 11:53 AM

“Plenty of girls and bands and slogans and lots of hoopla, but remember, no politics. Issues confuse people.” - The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), organizing his election campaign (Batman TV series - 1966)

One of the truly great things about having a “People’s Television Studio” (public access station) in Fayetteville is that, come election season, so many have traditionally made use of it to come down and discuss political issues facing the city.

Many candidates have appeared either as guests on interview programs, or have produced their own programs in the studio so that their issues can be discussed.

And, of course, their supporters can come down and present themselves on camera in support of their candidates in short segments on the “Short Takes” program. It is a savvy candidate who learns the intricacies of public access.

This year, as with so many, there will be debates between candidates, and hopefully all candidates for all offices will have their opportunity to be on camera.

In 1992, after the Great Access War had come to a close, and public access (then known as Access 4 Fayetteville - later to be known as Community Access Television) had a home in the PEG (Public, Education, Government) Channel building at 101 W. Rock, for some unknown reason (I’ve been asleep since then, and can’t recall the exact reason why) there was no mayoral debate scheduled.

What? Not coming home? On Christmas Day?

Sorry . . . getting my stories mixed up.

Anyway, this was just an unacceptable situation, as far as many were concerned. But how to go about it correcting it? Well, it seemed easy enough the night we thought of it, but gradually seemed more and more far-farfetched:

One night, we would just devote an hour of On the Air with Richard S. Drake (in the days when we were still going on live) and present a mayoral debate.

It was sort of like one of those notions you write down at three o’clock in the morning, and read hours later; did I really think of that?

Well, my crew (I can never write enough words on how many excellent crew members I have had over the years) thought it was a good idea. As well, So, we set about inviting the five -count ‘em, folks! - candidates running for office that year.

Everyone of them accepted but one. Still, no bother. We had a quorum.

Next, we set about finding a moderator. Since I was running for city council (the last of my attempts at public office) that year, we all decided that I shouldn’t be the one asking the questions, so we put our heads together thinking of who a good replacement might be.

The editor of The Traveler, the student newspaper at the University of Arkansas. Accepted our invitation. She turned out to be an excellent choice.

Next, the questions.

My crew and I (and a few others, as I recall) drew up a list of questions and we were all set. Now we just had to set the time limits. It’s sort of fascinating, when we did a run through in our heads, and figured out how many questions could be asked and answered in the space of one hour.

Lastly, and this is important for anyone involved with any sort of public venture, we made sure the press was notified - well in advance. None of this telling reporters two days in advance crap that so many are prone to, and then wonder why nobody shows up at their event.

And we got the coverage, too. Both local newspapers and at least one TV station showed up.

And it all went off without a hitch. The candidates were in fine form, te moderator was professional, and my crew showed the world (once again, as public access producers so often do) that quality work can be done in a public access studio by private citizens.

Only one person didn’t show up.

Fred Hanna, who won the race in a run-off election. Ah well, you can’t have everything, can you?

One thing I could have wished for, though, was for reporters to get their information right and report that the debate was a segment of On the Air with Richard S. Drake.

Yes, I’m that petty.

This may be immature on my part, but it has stuck in my craw for 20 years now. And not just because it is a feather in the cap of the show’s history, but it is something the crew can be proud of, and it proves to naysayers that folks (camera operators, directors, sound folks) at public access television are more than capable of producing work that can stand to anyone’s idea of quality.

******

My role that night?

Well, after helping get everyone together and helping put the questions together, nobody really needed me. I was sort of like a Wal-Mart greeter, shaking people’s hands as they came in the door, and thanking them as they left.

Good job, everyone. Even now, in 2012, I want to say that. Good job, everyone.

One day soon I’ll make a DVD of this and pass it along to the Fayetteville Public Library - assuming they want it, that is.

*****

Quote of the Day

Where words fail, music speaks. - Hans Christian Andersen

sdrake@cox.net

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