Secty State: Brunner (D) Delivers Knock-Out Blow in Debate
I attended the debate today between Jennifer Brunner (D-Columbus) and Greg Hartmann (R-Cincinnati) at the City Club of Cleveland and witnessed what I believe to be the effective end of whatever chance Hartmann still had of winning this contest.
Today's damage began before the debate started, with the Toledo Blade publishing a strong endorsement of Brunner. This completes a sweep of all of Ohio's major newspapers not located in Hartmann's home town: Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Dayton Daily News, Lorain Morning Journal, and Youngstown Vindicator.
Adding to the bad news for Hartmann is the publication of his deposition from a lawsuit about his negligence in leaving consumers' personal identifying information exposed on his Clerk of Courts web site, which resulted in massive identity theft by a gang of criminals. This deposition is devastating to Hartmann's claim of skillful management of the clerk's office, including as it does repeated professions of unfamiliarity with office rules and procedures and the scope of his own authority (for example, "Q: Who decides what records you maintain? A: I don't know").
The third blow, putting Hartmann down for the count in my estimation, was delivered by Brunner personally at the end of the opening statements. Hartmann began by portraying the Secretary of State's supervision of elections as a "management function" and called management the "experience" that he brings to the race, relying heavily on his performance as a County Clerk and his private sector businesss background. Brunner emphasized her service as a deputy to the secretary of state and her 13 years of practicing election law, and as an example of her public service and management skill she talked about helping to establish an Adult Drug Felony Court while she served as a judge. In rebuttal, Hartmann talked about his purported independence and again emphasized his management experience as his "advantage" over Brunner.
With five minutes for rebuttal, Brunner swung hard and connected. She started with her string of endorsements, all calling her the best equipped candidate to deal with the challenges facing the Secretary of State. Then she referred to Hartmann's negative advertising and expressed regret that the contest had sunk to that level, but recalled that she had promised to fight back if attacked. She zeroed in on Hartmann's purported management expertise, revealing that his private sector experience amounted to two years running a tiny (only a handful of employees) business in California that failed, resulting in 11 lawsuits. (The business was called Airline Distribution Services Inc., and Hartmann was in charge of west coast operations.) As was reported in the Dayton Daily news recently, Hartmann has declined to pay a judgment entered against him and the company jointly in favor of Pepsico, Inc., a debt which now amounts to $29,768. (Hartmann disdains the matter as a corporate debt, but the judgment is entered against him personally along with the company.) Brunner offered this debt as an explanation for why Hartmann's $1.1 million house is not owned by him directly but in the name of a limited liability corporation. As to Hartmann's management of the Clerk of Court's office, Brunner detailed the huge problem with identity theft caused by Hartmann's leaving consumer information on the official web site, exploited by a ring of thieves to cause large losses to Ohioans.
It was devastating.
Brunner wasn't entirely negative in her rebuttal. She buttressed her management credentials by explaining that her judicial docket involved thousands of cases, and that she raised three children and three foster children at the same time. ("If that's not management I don't know what is," she said, to much applause.) She defended her proposal to publish a "social health index," which Hartmann had criticized as an example of her lacking "laser focus" on the Secretary of State's essential functions. Finally, she stressed that she was born, raised, and educated in Ohio. (Hartmann moved to Ohio nine years ago.)
It was a masterful performance. The balance of the debate was interesting, but my sense was that Hartmann never really recovered from the opening statements. In his closing he again emphasized his "different perspective" based on his private sector experience, but he was just embarrassing himself at that point.
UPDATE: Ambercat, who was at the debate, had this to say about Hartmann in a comment over at BSB:
He's really just George W. Bush in different garb. Connected rich kid putting together political career on skimpy resume.Precisely.