CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE DEBATE ON KUHT/KUHF at 7 p.m.
HOUSTON -- Tune in Tuesday night if you want to watch Houston’s mayor debate her opponents. It will be your only chance since there is only one scheduled debate.
Televised debates have become standard fare in campaigns for Houston mayor, with local stations traditionally hosting a series of live broadcasts featuring their own anchors and reporters quizzing the candidates. But during this election season, although the candidates are participating in a number of untelevised community forums, voters will have the opportunity to watch only one broadcast debate. And for that, you can either thank or blame the mayor.
The campaign of incumbent Mayor Annise Parker, running for her last term in office, made a politically strategic decision to participate in only one live television debate, scheduled Tuesday evening on KUHT Channel 8, the city's public TV station. Although a number of other stations hoped to host debates between the mayor and her leading rival, the Parker campaign's refusal to participate effectively shut down the discussion.
The political calculation behind the decision was obvious: Limiting televised debates also limited free exposure for her only serious challenger, former city attorney Ben Hall. Also, agreeing to debate only on the public television station – which generally attracts smaller viewership than commercial stations – probably further reduces the potential audience.
Another dynamic: The Parker campaign decided the mayor would appear only if all nine candidates on the ballot were invited. (Although Parker and Hall are getting most of the attention, seven other long shots have signed up to run.)
That may seem like a noble nod toward leveling the playing field for underfunded candidates, but it also gives a distinct advantage to the incumbent mayor by diminishing Hall’s role. A one-on-one debate would have sharply cast the election as a choice between Parker and Hall. Instead, Hall could end up looking like just another one of those unknown candidates buzzing around the mayor like a flock of gadflies.
Forcing Hall to appear on the same set with a slew of minor candidates also dramatically reduces his air time. Most of the questions – and most of the time – will go to the virtual unknowns on the ballot.
The mayoral debate will be moderated by Linda Lorelle of KUHT. Questioning the candidates will be Doug Miller of KHOU 11 News, Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle, Laurie Johnson of KUHF Radio and Pedro Rojas of KXLN – Channel 45 Univision.
The program will be broadcast live on KUHT-TV Channel 8 and KUHF-FM Radio beginning at 7 p.m. We’ll also stream it live on KHOU.com.