BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. These days a careful news consumer can, as always, search the newspaper, the airwaves and the Internet for most of what he needs to know! But the rest of us scan the headlines for what's important and lately most of what comes through is news about Afghanistan and anthrax.
To be sure this is a season of crisis, but it's also a time for the conduct of ordinary democracy, and among the stories pushed off the nation's front pages are those involving local elections, and specifically contests for mayor. So we asked a few reporters to bring us up to date on the coverage of some representative races from WDET in Detroit, WCPN in Cleveland and WBUR in Boston. Let's start in Boston.
TONI RANDOLPH: The outcome of the mayor's race here is usually a foregone conclusion given that an incumbent hasn't been defeated in 50 years. But this year the campaign is a little different. Boston City Councilor Peggy Davis Mullen mounted an uphill challenge to two-term mayor Tom Manino because she said she wanted to talk about education and affordable housing.
But despite the challenge, the media still didn't cover the campaign aggressively says University of Massachusetts political analyst Lou DeNatale [sp?].
LOU DeNATALE: In order for newspapers and media outlets to aggressively and daily cover politics, the race has to seem to be competitive and there has to seem to be something serious at stake, like winning.
TONI RANDOLPH: But the Boston mayoral race never seemed close, and there was another campaign competing for attention, one to win a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat. DeNatale says the mayor's race never had a chance.
LOU DeNATALE: It got overshadowed almost immediately by the special election for Congress and then it got buried by the events of September 11th.
TONI RANDOLPH: There has been only one televised debate. It aired after September 11th in what one columnist called "the antithesis of primetime" -- on Saturday night. For On the Media I'm Toni Randolph in Boston.
PRIMA OZA: This is Prima Oza [sp?] from member station WDET in Detroit. Media coverage of the Detroit mayoral race has been overshadowed in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks. Government officials and local media instead have focused on anthrax scares and on bomb threats at the city's two Canadian border crossings.
With the election day rapidly approaching, the campaigns of candidates Gil Hill [sp?] and Kwame Kilpatrick [sp?] are running ugly and often inaccurate attack ads in an effort to pry Detroit voters away from CNN. But many public opinion experts argue that the ads ran too soon for a city still reeling in the aftermath of September 11th.
Dr. Victoria Menzopolous [sp?] is a professor of political science at the University of Detroit, Mercy.
DR. VICTORIA MENZOPOLOUS:I expected that the public wasn't ready for negativism yet. A kinder, gentler nation [LAUGHS] in some ways as, as we pull together to-- try to heal ourselves.
PRIMA OZA: Yet it appears that it's negativism that makes Detroiters sit up and take notice. Detroit political analyst, Mario Moro [sp?].
MARIO MORO: Nobody is willing to discuss the issues! However - if you get your name out there - if you kill your candidate off - then people might like you!
PRIMA OZA: Moro says the city's usual campaign issues such as crime, abandoned building demolition and inadequate city lighting have taken a back seat not only to terrorism but to a 30 million dollar budget shortfall announced recently by the current mayor, Dennis Archer.
For On the Media this is Prima Oza in Detroit.
JANET BABBIN:I'm Janet Babbin [sp?] in Cleveland. Here when the campaign for mayor began, voters had 10 choices. Campaign officials say it was difficult for the media to cover such a large group, but after the terrorist attacks, stories about the mayors race became even scarcer.
Candidates running TV spots pulled them and all formal campaigning went dark for a week. Strategists predicted a low turnout in the primary, but local elections director Tom Gileppa [sp?] says the attacks have the opposite effect.
TOM GILEPPA: The patriotism that people are feeling now--over the, the tragedies that have occurred in the country, you know, got people out!
JANET BABBIN: Forty percent of the voters elected two candidates who face off next month. Former state representative Jane Campbell could become the city's first woman mayor. Political newcomer Raymond Pierce's most recent job was in Washington in the Department of Education under President Clinton.
Even as election day nears, journalist Ted Gupp [sp?] says coverage of the candidates has been dramatically reduced.
TED GUPP:Everything has understandably taken a back seat and crisis has eclipsed mayoral campaigns and all the other stories that are the, the meat and potatoes of Metropolitan newspapers.
JANET BABBIN: Candidates Campbell and Pierce agree they have to answer questions voters weren't asking a few months ago, so they're talking less about traditional campaign issues like crime and education, instead pointing out their courage and strong leadership skills to appease what they see as a nervous electorate.