A scheduling mix-up by the Ralph Becker campaign left Dave Buhler alone on the stand in a room full of lawyers.
Members of the Salt Lake County Bar Association were expecting a chance to cross-examine the two candidates for Salt Lake City mayor Tuesday at the Downtown Marriott. But Becker failed to show up, leaving Buhler to field an hour's worth of questions solo.
"Somebody once told me that an important key to success is showing up," Buhler said. "If you don't show up, you don't have a voice."
In a telephone interview shortly after the debate, Becker said he didn't know it was being held until his campaign headquarters got a call from the bar association about 20 minutes after the debate had begun.
"I feel terrible about it," Becker said. "I would never miss something like that. I just never got any notice of it."
David Everitt, Becker's campaign manager, said the debate was scheduled via e-mail shortly after the primary but somehow didn't make it into the candidate's appearance schedule, likely due to turnover among volunteers following the primary.
"It was a scheduling snafu," Everitt said.
Still, Becker's absence led to speculation that the heavy favorite had better things to do than make another joint appearance with his competitor. The most recent Deseret Morning News poll shows Becker with a huge lead over Buhler, with 51 percent of Salt Lake City registered voters saying they favor the longtime Democratic state legislator and 33 percent who say they'd vote for the Republican Salt Lake City councilman.
"There are those who want to call this race, frankly," Buhler said. "They want to call it and say Ralph's won. I'm the underdog, and I'm comfortable with that. But I think it's really up to voters to decide. They ought to have an opportunity to compare us, look at our records and hear from us both."
When asked by debate moderator Chris Vanocur if he thought Becker was "ducking him," Buhler responded, "I hope not."
"I think that would be unfortunate for the voters," he said. "The election is three weeks away. People should have a chance to see both candidates and make a decision."
With Becker absent, the event was more like a job interview for Buhler — which is how the candidate hopes voters approach the election.
"I think what this race really boils down to is not who wants to be mayor the most but who will do the best job for you," he said.
Members of the Salt Lake County Bar Association asked most of the questions, wanting to know where Buhler stands on the $192 million public safety bond (he supports it), how he will deal with crime in Pioneer Park (he's proposing a pilot crime-camera program) and who he's supporting as his replacement on the City Council in District 6 — Roger McConkie or JT Martin (he's staying out of it).
Buhler also was asked who he felt did a better job as mayor of Salt Lake City: Rocky Anderson or Deedee Corradini? His answer: Corradini.
"They each had their strengths, but as far as actually getting things done for Salt Lake City, I think Mayor Corradini (did a better job)," Buhler said, citing accomplishments during her administration such as light rail, the new Salt Lake City Library and the intermodal hub.
"I give Rocky credit for being a great environmentalist, a great advocate, but as far as actually getting projects done, I think Mayor Corradini was a better mayor."
And if elected, Buhler said he'll be "even better than both — in my humble opinion."