Its early in the race, some of the sure candidates haven’t even officially declared their candidacy for the mayor of New York City, however, last Thursday night I attended the New York City Mayoral Candidate Forum on Important Health Issues. The forum was sponsored by a slew heath services advocacy groups including the Commission on the Public’s Health System, the Greater Brooklyn Health Coalition, Planned Parenthood of New York City Action Fund, and the Save our Safety Net Campaign. Four of the candidates attended: Tim Allon, Sal Albanese, William Thompson, and John Liu.
The same four questions were asked of each candidate. The questions were long, rambling and incredibly dense, but overall the focus was on delivering health care to the underserved. They addressed the need for access to culturally adequate services, the utilization of community based organizations to deliver preventative and primary care, the privatization of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, and addressing the periphery yet incredibly important social determinants of public health.
Lesson #1: if hosting a forum, debate or symposium for candidates the questions need to be short and targeted. Yes, you are trying to gather the greatest amount of information from each candidate, but by cramming as many aspects of one topic as possible into a single question, the question becomes impossible to digest, not only for the audience, but for the candidates as well. It would have been helpful to receive a printed copy of the questions to review and reexamine as the debate was happening but this shouldn’t be necessary.
Lesson #2: Asking the same questions to all candidates presenting can be good for comparison but can lead to redundant answers, especially in such a crowded field.
Despite some weaknesses–the event was valuable. First off–the sponsoring organizations disseminated a summary of their health care concerns and platforms–a valuable resource when studying the overall picture of health care services within the five boroughs.
The second and perhaps most glaring value was the distinction between the leading candidates and the “long shots.” We all know this race is going to be crowded. The leading candidates all have a strong background in city politics; however, many of the lesser knowns also have their own kinds of valuable city experience. That being said, it was very clear, in the discussion that occurred on Wednesday, some candidates had the experience and intimate knowledge to speak specifically about budgeting, auditing and curbing inefficiencies. They also had more specific critiques of the Bloomberg administration and how they would do things differently.
The most compelling comments came from Bill Thompson, who spoke about utilizing a model developed in Cincinnati for bringing preventative health care and screening services into the schools, and John Liu, who stressed the need for auditing and financial oversight as well as the economic value of job growth in the health care sector.
The bottom line–this symposium probably demonstrated what most of us already know–there’s a lot of riff raff out there–it might be fun to learn as much as we can about as many candidates as possible–however, basically we are looking at 4 viable candidates on the democratic ticket–spend your time here.