Why It’s “Ask The Mayor” And Not “Ask Someone Else”
We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the creation of WBAA’s public affairs show Ask The Mayor. More than once in the last year, people have asked me why we do the show the way we do. So rather than writing an e-mail back to everyone, here’s a post explaining our rationale. Let me start by posting a (redacted) e-mail I sent to a listener who wanted to know why we don’t talk to members of the Tippecanoe County Council, which represents everyone in the county. He felt that since the mayors of Lafayette and West Lafayette were elected by a minority of county residents, they might not speak for everyone. Here’s my response:
Thanks for your note. I completely understand your point and you’re absolutely right that the county council represents everyone in the county, versus the mayors representing only those people who live within a set of city limits. Your numbers are a little off, though. The US Census Bureau says Lafayette and West Lafayette encompass about 100,000 of the approximately 180,000 people who live in the county (55% or so).
But more than that, consider what a mayor represents versus what a county council represents (and how that translates to crafting a radio program). The Tippecanoe County Council consists of seven people, each elected to represent only a small area of the county (far fewer people than a mayor represents, in most cases). I can’t get all seven people into a room each month outside their scheduled meeting time. I also can’t do the opposite, which is: ask a single council member to talk for the whole body (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done interviews with board members who start answers with “Well, I can’t speak for my fellow board members, but…”).
I CAN, however, do those things with the mayors, who are elected to be the single head of the executive branch of government for each city and to speak for the city as a whole. The mayor sets a policy agenda for a community. The mayor is seen as the person responsible for the direction a city takes. The mayor is often the one who negotiates with both state and county officials to get deals done. So in addition to the greater ease of scheduling, they’re a much better nexus of information and connections than any other elected official I could choose.
Also, many cities have local issues and regulations that supersede those dealt with by a county legislative body (smoking bans and education referenda are good examples of this). The county council isn’t as connected to issues such as education as a mayor is.
We have increased our coverage of local politics in our newscasts, too. Kristin Malavenda goes to several meetings each month, so that WBAA has a presence at these meetings and can do the sorts of questioning of local officials you’re talking about. You’re right that it’s important to civic discourse and we intend to bring that to our listeners during newscasts and feature story segments.
The other comment I get from time to time goes roughly like this: “Why do you talk to the mayors of Crawfordsville and Frankfort? Why not the mayor of [insert town here]?”
The answer is that in the core WBAA listening area (roughly Tippecanoe County and the counties that surround it), we picked the four largest municipalities to fill the four Thursdays that occur in most months. Of these, Frankfort and Crawfordsville are the smallest, both with around 16,000 people. But either one of those is still more people than the four next most populous cities — Monticello (5,300), Attica (3,100), Delphi (2,900), and Covington (2,600) — COMBINED.
This is not to say we haven’t considered changes to the program. There’s an argument to be made about possibly including the mayors of, say, Logansport and Kokomo — two cities which can still hear the AM signal on which Ask The Mayor is broadcast. But the four cities we have now are a nice mix. To wit:
- They’re compact geographically — we can be in any one of the four in half an hour to report on them. This allows us to follow up on conversations had on the show, by doing more in-depth reporting.
- There are many similarities between them — particularly between the two in Greater Lafayette and between Crawfordsville and Frankfort. This helps to have a conversation extend from week to week, all while establishing a narrative that links the four communities on the program.
- The four mayors are all easy to reach. I can pick up the phone and call any of them, with a reasonable expectation that they’ll either take my call right away or call me back in short order.
- The mayors are diverse politically — while it’s nominally three Republicans and one Democrat (at least right now), there are issues for each man where they break with their party’s platform. This makes for more interesting discussions that don’t devolve as often into partisan blabber.
Please don’t take any of this to mean we do not appreciate your feedback — quite the contrary. We welcome it and it helps us think critically about how we sound on the air. But don’t assume either that we entered into this program willy-nilly — much thought and discussion preceded it (as did my hosting of a similar show for several years on another public radio station). We hope you’ll continue to listen and, yes, even critique the show.