Thursday, November 02, 2006

Master Debaters

I don't even know where to begin. This one's an epic, folks. Settle in.

I showed up at Jordan Hall around 5:15 so I could get my ticket. The doors didn't open until 5:45, so I loitered around Huntington Avenue away from the various campaign supporters so I could call my Mom and brag that I was going to a gubernatorial debate. She was appropriately jealous. She sounded tired, so I got off the phone and headed back to watch the mayhem outside Jordan Hall.

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The street outside the building had been sectioned off as a protest pen, and in front of it on Huntington Avenue were large throngs of people holding signs. Many of them on my side of Huntington Ave were Healey supporters. Some were the young Republicans from some college campus (their shirts read "the best party on campus" with the elephant) and others were a group of men I dubbed Frat Boys for Kerry Healey. These were retired frat boys; big, fat, loud men in their late forties who bellowed out their support for Healey. In front of the Frat Boys for Healey there was a slightly less vocal group of Frat Boys for Patrick, who at least had the foresight to bring a megaphone. As I walked past the group to get to the hall, the Patrick Frat Boys started a call and response.

"We say governor, you say Patrick."




"HEALEY!" Piped up the FBFH. As I walked by, the FBFH started losing the rhythm of the call and response and basically just screamed "HEALEY" really loudly.

I shook my head and walked up the steps to Jordan Hall. In front of me in the line to get in were a mother and son. Behind me was a young man in a suit (maybe in his early 20s) with two girls in casual clothes. I think the guy was with Patrick, as he was dropping figures and statistics like crazy.

"Well, he supports all-day kindergarten, but he's probably not going to get that done. And that rate [I can't remember what he was talking about] is about eighteen and they estimate sixteen..."

While I was in line, Christy Mihos came past the pen of supporters like a dad coming home from work. He wore a light purple shirt, had his suit coat tossed casually over his shoulder, and played nicely for the cameras, shaking the hands of his supporters. I waited for him to trip on an ottoman due to the simple, working-class values he was portraying.

Then Victoria Block came in. She tried to skip the line. Many people in suits who I didn't recognize tried to skip the line. Finally, around 5:50, they started letting people in. I got my hand stamped and went inside.

Jordan Hall is beautiful. An old stage with beautiful wood paneling and gold leaf trim, with the seats arranged for optimum accoustics. I considered taking a seat that was all by itself but it was far from the stage. I decided to move closer to the various dignitaries and channel 7 reporters and sat at the end of a row on the right side of the room. A good view, except for the cameras in my way.

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Podiums from my el shitto camera phone

The way the room is set up, the seats to my right faced the opposite wall of the hall, not the stage, and slanted down toward the stage. I got up to run to the loo and no one was around me and when I came back, several older guys in suits had taken the seats to my right. I scooted by them and took my seat back. As I looked around, watching the various campaign people loiter and shake hands a woman in her mid-forties came and sat in front of me, who I'll call Curly. Curly turned to a father and daughter team for Mihos that was also seated in front of me to the right.

"Can I have that seat?" She asked, pointing to the daughter. There was a seat on the other side of the father that was empty because it afforded a view only of the cameraman's ass. The woman smiled, clearly expecting the girl to get up.

"I can't see in that seat," the girl said sternly. Curly got herself back together after being dissed by a twelve-year-old, and started chatting with the guys in suits to my right.

"I've almost used up my expense account for the year," she complained to someone behind me, "we'll have to make it larger for next year, huh?" She cackled.

"Where are the panelists going to sit? Who's moderating?" Curly asked. The guys in suits didn't know.

"There are no panelists," I piped up, eager to know more than this woman who doubtlessly donated more than I make in a month to Deval. "And Cokie Roberts is the moderator."

Curly shot me a look. "How are your dogs?" She asked a man to my immediate right, who I'll call Beardo.

"Good. I took them swimming today since it was so nice out."

"Where's your wife?"

"At a board meeting. So I'm in charge of the dogs."

"Are you going to the after party?" Curly asked Beardo.

"Maybe," he said. "A restaurant near our house is reopening, so I'd like go to that for a while."

I expected Curly to ask which restaurant was reopening.

"Which house?" She asked instead.

I stifled a giggle as I tried to take as many notes as possible about these people without them knowing what I was writing. Curly was wearing a white silk blouse and suit and had the look (put-together) and demeanor (I-don't-give-a-f*ck) of a woman with money. Beardo and his compatriots were also in expensive looking suits. I was sitting among them, a partyless entitity who hadn't donated a cent to a political campaign or party, wearing bright teal corduroys from the J. Crew outlet, a houndstooth t-shirt from H&M, and beat-up socks with snowflakes on them. I could tell Curly was trying to figure me out, and probably assumed I was with the Dig or the Phoenix or some "other" paper.

"My son's at NYU," she told someone to the right of Beardo.

"My son's at Michigan State," he said. "My older son's a cartoonist for the New Yorker." (At this point, I hated myself for not having a business card to hand him.)

"He's loving it," Curly continued. "We've got him on a $1,000 a month stipend."

Sweet God. I have seen how the other half lives. And where the hell is her son? I work and don't live on $1,000 a month for food and fun. Maybe he'd like to share. I'm fun.

They continued chatting as the hall filled up. The Frat Boys for Healey were on the left side of the room, thankfully away from me. I had ended up in a predominantly Patrick section of the hall which I was thankful for. Curly kept talking, kneeling on her seat to face the guys behind me, until she suddenly sat down on the seat itself.

"Oh God," she murmured, "here comes Andy."

Andy Hiller walked by, shaking hands and booming at people as he made his way to the stage. Curly ducked behind her hand and slouched down in her seat until he left.

Another woman came up to Curly, Blackberry in hand.

"I have the latest statistics on our odds to take the Senate and the house. Losses for the Republicans look to be twenty to thirty-six seats, probable."

"How about Rhode Island?" Curly asked. "Doesn't Sheldon have it locked up?"

"I don't know," Other Woman said, "the Chafee name means a lot to them. And people really like Chafee."

"You know, I've met Linc, and I think he's a great guy. He's a good senator. And I'm not wild about Sheldon. But I want to take back the Senate!" Curly whined.

I turned bright red and wanted to scream at her. THAT is the problem with politics in America. The blind, lemming-like allegiance to party that causes bipartisan holdups and accomplishes nothing. If Linc is a good senator, why not elect him again? The Democrats will make gains, and on major issues, Chafee tends to go liberal anyway. I was furious.

Either out of boredom with Curly or trying to figure out who the hell I was, Beardo struck up a conversation with me.

"Who are you going to vote for?" He asked me.

"Oh, I don't vote here." I admitted. Beardo looked confused.

"Well, why are you here then?"

"I got a ticket, I really enjoy politics, and have never been to a debate before."

"Are you covering this for anybody?"

"Just my blog, actually." God, I'm such a hipster. "But I do write for print too."

"What do you write?"

"Mostly entertainment pieces, but I'd like to get into some more serious political writing."

"Where do you vote then?"

"Rhode Island."

"You know," Beardo said, "my wife's family has a place in Charleston, South Carolina, and a waitress down there has a father whose running for something in Rhode Island, and I told her I'd donate but I can't remember the guy's name. Is the governor in Rhode Island a Republican?"

"Yes, Don Carceri."

"Who's running against him?"

"Charlie Fogarty."

Beardo frowned. "No, that's not it. Who's up for attorney general?"

I had no idea.

Beardo pointed out various political campaign heads, campaign finance managers, and wives of candidates. Finally, the candidates emerged from the wings to thunderous applause, with Mike Carson, manager of channel 7, taking up the rear. Frat Boys for Healey began screaming "KERRY! KERRY! KERRY!" A guy behind me said "at least they're finally cheering for Kerry."

"We have to keep that guy quiet," Beardo said, to the collective moans of the Dems around me. I imagine John Kerry being held captive at the DNC headquarters, bound and gagged until November 8th.

Deval smiled and waved. I don't know if it showed up at home or if this was just me, but his lips looked orange. He was wearing a nice apricot-colored tie and I think it may have reflected up. It reminded me of A-Rod's purple lips, which wasn't pleasant. Kerry Healey was wearing her typical black suit/blue shirt combination, high heels, and her hair sprayed into place.

Beardo leaned down and whispered to me. "Did you notice those huge heels she's wearing? She never wears those on the trail. She wears low shoes like you are," motioning to my Target loafers.

Grace Ross was wearing her black suit/bright scarf combination, and, according to the girl next to me, two different earrings though they looked the same to me. Christy Mihos had gone back to work, putting on his suitcoat. Mike Carson gave a speil about how proud he is to be part of the Boston Media Consortium, and introduced Cokie Roberts.

"I love her!" The man sitting next to me clapped giddily.

Cokie explained the format of the debate to us before the cameras were rolling and told the audience to shut up until the end of the debate. "I went to a school with nuns. I'm a mother and grandmother. I will not hesitate to slap you with a ruler," she warned. Cokie said the candidates with "get it on" with each other, and Kerry gave an eye roll and a smirk that conveyed "not if these nuts were the last people on the mothereffing planet, Cokie."

Also, Kerry Healey drank water. Grace Ross didn't appear to smell. And Deval Patrick is indeed short.

When the show went live, Cokie introduced Deval first, and nobody applauded because Cokie said not to. When Kerry Healey was introduced, the FBFH went nuts. It was like the Jerry Springer show on that side of the room. Fat rednecks hootin' and hollerin', with the chant of "KERR-Y, KERR-Y" sounding eerily close to "JERR-Y, JERR-Y." To give equal time, Cokie let us cheer for Deval, which only led to a very noisy rebuttal from the Deval fans in the house.

A debate is much like a sporting event. Most people already know what team they're on and they're just there to watch the carnage happen. You saw the debate part (if not, you can read it here, with the most excellent typo of "I think it's a very god question" in response to a question about the church) and I think I must disagree with Mr. Andy Hiller who called Healey the winner of the debate. Yes, she was better than she has been in past debates, but she still came across mean and got very riled up by Deval Patrick a couple of times. (Though she did make me laugh as she explained how basic division got the figure of 13 students to 1 teacher to Christy Mihos.) Deval didn't really win either, since he just lets things slide off and evades questions. I think I won, because it was an excellent show, both before and during the debate.

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Somewhere in there is a candidate. This is why they're all cranky.

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