ENCINITAS — The Cardiff Town Council hosted a live forum last week at Ada Harris Elementary School for Encinitas mayoral candidates to discuss various issues ranging from crime to affordable housing.
The hour-long forum was moderated by freelance journalist Stephen Wyer in front of a packed audience in the school’s auditorium and featured discussion from Cindy Cremona, Councilman Tony Kranz, Jeff Morris and Michael Blobe.
The event was the second of two candidate forums hosted by the Cardiff Town Council in partnership with Cardiff 101 Mainstreet Association.
Candidates and audience members had mixed reactions to the forum — some praised the format and unbiased setting. In contrast, others said the event did little to change the opinions of undecided voters.
“(The forum) went well, the community was pretty engaged, and election season forums are generally a way for people to measure candidates, so I wasn’t surprised by the big crowd out there or the issues raised and the questions submitted,” said Kranz, who currently represents District 1 on the Encinitas City Council. “I hope I was able to answer in a way that encourages people to stick with my leadership and allow me to lead the city for the next two years.”
Cremona praised the event as an essential element of a functioning democracy.
“I was relieved the forum went smoothly. It’s vital for democracy that residents have the opportunity to hear directly from candidates in a safe and fair venue,” said Cremona. “Besides the known audio issues, I believe the event went smoothly. The event’s moderator and hosts did a great job. It was great to speak to residents directly in an in-person forum. It’s challenging to consolidate complicated issues into one or two minutes.”
Blobe, a Leucadia resident, felt the event was an opportunity for transparency between candidates and voters.
“I felt the Cardiff Mayoral forum went very smoothly,” Blobe said. “All questions covered a broad range of issues with very few repeat questions towards the same subject. I do believe that this debate was able to bring all the candidates’ thoughts and differences on issues into transparency.”
“It was great, and the moderator did a professional job,” Morris said. “I thought everybody did pretty good, I guess. I don’t think anybody failed, and nobody knocked it out of the park, either. I would like to see more head-to-head fighting. It was great, very professional, the biggest crowd I’ve ever spoken in front of.”
Some residents watching said that while the event flowed smoothly, they were hoping for more direct crossfire between the candidates themselves.
“My takeaway is that debates at the City Council level don’t change people’s minds; I doubt most people in the room were there to find out new information about someone that they didn’t already know,” said Marco Gonzalez, an environmental attorney and a supporter of Kranz. “I think people went with hopes that Jeff Morris would implode, and in that regard, he exceeded expectations…both he and Blobe reflected a significant lack of understanding of how city government works, and that was on display with their answers, whether the answers were fantastical or reflected hyperbole like Morris.”
“My sum up of the debate is that I didn’t think any of the candidates gained any new voters, and I don’t think that anybody lost support,” said Julie Thunder, A District 3 candidate who attended the forum. “They all did a fair job answering the questions and showed knowledge in different areas.”
Thunder praised the performance of Blobe in particular.
“One thing I noticed is that the least known of the candidates, Michael Blobe, was by far the most personable, and he surprised me the most,” Thunder said. “He was surprisingly well-informed.”
Conversely, some residents expressed their view that the performances of both Blobe and Morris at the forum seemed to reflect a lack of direct policy experience.
“It was good that they all four were there as it drew a clear distinction between them,” said longtime resident Joan Dodge. “At this one, Ms. Cremona was more prepared than in previous debates. The most prepared was Councilmember Kranz because he knows how it all works. Two of the candidates, on the other hand (Blobe and Morris), seemed unprepared for such a critical role.”
Ruben Flores, a former city planning commissioner who attended the forum, said he felt the candidates mostly performed well except for Kranz, whom he noted seemed to be fully aligned with the policies of Mayor Catherine Blakespear.
“I didn’t hear anything new from Tony, we need new ideas, and we heard the same kind of ideas he’s been approaching with the current mayor,” Flores said. “I think that Tony was the loser of the debate. Jeff (Morris) has a very important voice in the community that needs to be heard, he’s very passionate, and I think his voice needs to be heard.
“I support Cindy Cremona — she came across as calm yet strong in delivering a message of being in support of residents and listening to residents, that’s something in common between Jeff and Cindy. Cindy’s approach is more conciliatory and takes into consideration the realities of having to work with multiple directions, and she had a really strong closing statement.”