Sunday, October 31, 2010

Following Dan Onorato Around

In 2006, I wrote up some general guidelines for evaluating candidates. A few times I’ve used those guidelines to write about meeting candidates over a period of months and how they measured up to them. It’s been awhile since I wrote a “meeting” post, so let’s dust off the guidelines and see what happens.

Dan Onorato is the Democratic candidate for governor. I’ve watched a couple of gubernatorial debates on pcn and written them up, went to an early endorsement rally, read his policies extensively and posted on that, did an email interview, reviewed his campaign finance reports, attended three of the picnics he held on this side of the state over the summer, went to one house party where he was the featured guest, and attended one diner stop (see the Dan Onorato and Governor 2010 blog post labels for those and other posts). That’s not as extensive as the contact I had with previous “meeting” post candidates so this is more a “following around” post. Also, at very few of these events did Onorato make public remarks, for the most part he would walk around the room or area and talk with people individually. But his detailed policy statements fill in, providing his platform and electoral positions. Having read up on his work in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh I see a lot of consistency in what he promised and what he did in office. So, here goes:

The Utility Test
Voters might assume that high rollers and influentials can get face time with elected officials and candidates, but how are those further down the food chain treated? This is important because no matter how useful you are at any one point in time the wheel usually turns at some point and you will lose your utility. What happens then? How receptive is the candidate to regular voters?

I think some people on the Onorato campaign were tipped off early on as to who I might be, which removes the some of the element of surprise and objectivity. All the same, this is a governors race and I am a low level blogger. At most of these events I sat quietly and watched the interaction between candidate and people, but a couple of times I had specific questions about policy matters or campaign finance. Not all candidates take unexpectedly detailed or pointed questions well, but Onorato did. He was willing to discuss matters and explain his position, and, when I did not appear convinced, where he thought we agreed. I still disagree but appreciate the effort he put into his answer. I saw him engage in lengthy discussions with other people as well. A videographer from the campaign of his opponent, Tom Corbett, attended some of the same events I did. I watched carefully to see how the young man was treated. At each event he was invited to get something to eat or drink. Onorato came over to talk with him at one event. If a representative from the opposition is greeted in a calm, welcoming fashion, then voters can expect the same. The research I have done on various posts, on Onorato and the minority business community in Pittsburgh for example, indicate that he works with the community he represents. Of the various criticisms I have heard and read, inaccessibility is not one of them.

The Staff and Supporters Test
People are judged by the company they keep. What sort of staff does a candidate hire and do they stick around? High turnover is a warning sign. What kind of people attend the candidate’s events? As always, one reason I can write a post like this is that someone on the campaign staff kept me in the loop, where would the candidate be and when. I was added to the press release list and, especially in the last few months of the election, there was a public schedule with a number of free public events on it. I could usually get an answer to an emailed question. Campaign staff were efficient and friendly. Onorato hosted a number of picnics in various parts of the greater Philadelphia area over the summer, and has done a number of diner stops. The people I spoke to at events were civic-minded and pleasant. I enjoyed going out to Onorato events and just chatting with the people who were there. Onorato appears comfortable wading into the masses and chatting with people one on one. He doesn’t seem to bend his campaign positions to fit the audience – I saw and heard a lot of consistency in what he said in public remarks and in what was said in individual and small group conversations.

The Motivation Test
Can the candidate get people who otherwise disagree to work together? Can the candidate get people to come out and get involved? Here again I’d say yes. In doing research on his work in the Pittsburgh city council and Allegheny County government I found evidence that he could work with people he disagreed with and get them to come on board for projects. His low key, no drama approach seems effective. As always, when writing a post like this, it is worth noting that I was willing to give up a fair number of Saturday or Sunday afternoons to drive around and go to events to follow the campaign.

The Rope Test
My mother's basic judge of character is to ask this: If you were dangling over a cliff and hanging on to a rope, would you want this person to be holding the other end of the rope? In this case I’d say “yes.” Onorato is methodical, both an accountant and a lawyer. If he makes a commitment, say holding a rope, I think he would carry through. He would, of course, make sure he got the rope at a good price and you shouldn’t expect a big fuss when you got back up the cliff, but you would not fall.

Summation: No candidate will share your views on everything, or do everything the way you would have liked. What is important is if you can voice that view and be heard without fear or repercussion, and if you can count on the candidate to follow through with stated intentions. That has been my experience with the Onorato campaign and what has been reflected in the research I have done on his work in office. It may be telling that in nearly six years of blogging, this is my third “meeting” post.

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