Bailey Ken

Mayoral debate drama: How often Jim Kenney will face Melissa Murray Bailey (and what the sticking point was)

Billy Penn has learned Philly mayoral candidates Jim Kenney and Melissa Murray Bailey plan to have four debates, and a big reason why these haven’t been announced yet is requests from Kenney’s camp.

Both campaigns agreed to a Memo of Understanding, which lays out how many debates there will be, and what will take place during them. Multiple sources told Billy Penn that the Kenney campaign originally requested at least one TV network not air how the other candidate is reacting when his or her opponent is talking. Spokespersons from the Murray Bailey and Kenney campaigns declined to discuss details regarding campaign preferences in the memo.

Lauren Hitt, Kenney’s communications director, followed up via email: “Without breaking the MoU, I can confirm that both campaigns have agreed to a televised debate and you will able to see the candidates’ reactions to one anothers’ responses on TV.  

“We presented the MoU to our sponsors as a suggested format, and told them that any changes they wanted could be made as long as both campaigns agreed. In our negotiations with the debate sponsors we’ve confirmed thus far, several changes were made at the suggestion of the sponsor to enhance the quality of the debate.”

Perhaps the Kenney campaign is a bit worried about their candidate’s often-unfiltered approach — before being reeled in during his mayoral campaign. Kenney was a major wild card on Twitter, from calling Chris Christie a fat ass to saying the Archdiocese doesn’t care about people to labeling the only difference between Fox News and CNN as CNN not having a blonde anchor.

Candidate reaction shots are a typical part of televised debates. Sometimes, however, they can be a negotiating point for candidates, said Larry Ceisler, a longtime political strategist and principal of Ceisler Media.  

“Basically it’s because a candidate wants to know there’s a time when the camera is not on them,” he said. “It’s not that they’re concerned about reactions like, ‘are you kidding me?’ It’s more about being able to relax for a second or take a drink of water.”

Rubio better water

During the Democratic primary, candidates were invited to at least 50 forums, so many that there would often be scheduling conflicts. The primary campaign also included three televised debates.

Hitt said the campaigns and sponsors will announce specifics of the full debate lineup within the next two weeks.

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