ABOVE: Gerry Wayne Monroe, Dr. Karla Brown and president of the HISD Board of Education Wanda Adams at the recent Forward Times Gloves Off: HISD District IX Trustree candidate debate
If you were not in the place this past Wednesday, October 4, let me be the first to tell you that the gloves truly did come off at the recent Forward Times Gloves Off: HISD District IX Trustee candidate debate between incumbent Wanda Adams, and challengers Gerry Wayne Monroe and Dr. Karla Brown.
Before the event even began, many people like myself, looked at this as Adams’ political race to lose. Although Monroe and Brown seem to have some momentum on their side, Adams has 10-years’ worth of positive name recognition with registered voters. It’s always an uphill battle to challenge a popular incumbent for a seat; but this time, Adams has two formidable opponents who could force a sleep-inducing December runoff, especially with no Mayor or City Council races to push turnout at the top of the ballot.
All candidates were in true form, and as expected, Monroe was fiery and charismatic. Adams was reserved and calculated. Brown was ironically somewhere between the two, as she literally sat between her two opponents.
Though Monroe won high marks with those in attendance, he skipped details in some of the answers he provided, especially when asked about policy and governing from the board. His answers were more “broad strokes” than the detailed policy angles that we heard from Adams and Brown. You can say what you want about this, but I think it actually worked to his advantage.
People didn’t seem to want to hear the complicated terms often associated with education policy. They wanted to hear someone tell it straight, and that’s just what Monroe did.
And just like Muhammad Ali, Monroe bobbed and weaved around several left hooks, like the issue that arose concerning his failure to vote in the past 10 years, as well as his somewhat combative reputation. Like a pro, Monroe used them to his advantage on debate night, by refusing to go on the defense. He rolled with the punches. There was an audible GASP from the audience as the fact that he hadn’t voted in 10 years was revealed, but it didn’t hit Monroe as hard as one would’ve expected. He didn’t come in pretending to be some polished politician. Monroe was simply Monroe. Those who came to debate supporting him got exactly what they wanted. From dropping a Suge Knight reference, to his charismatic responses that made many wince, laugh, or jaw-drop, Monroe seemed comfortable on the stage. This was his arena. A crowd of people and a free-form debate? It’s the thing candidates like Monroe dream of, and based on her reactions to Monroe’s answers, I think it’s pretty clear that Trustee Jolanda Jones is on #TeamMonroe as well.
Brown arrived to the venue before either of her opponents did, and was already working the room, handing out push cards before the debate even began. In the crowd was State Representative Dr. Alma A. Allen, one of Brown’s heavyweight endorsers. Rounding off the list of those supporting the budding politician are City Councilmembers Dwight A. Boykins and Larry Green.
Brown was the perfect combination of Monroe’s “tell-it-like-it-is” approach and Adams’ sincerity and knowledge. In my opinion, she dropped the ball with one of the EASY questions I asked her: “Are teachers paid fairly?” Brown answered a firm “Yes,” later adding that $52k just out of college is a good salary in her opinion.
Wow! In a room full of teachers, parents, grandparents and community leaders, it was THIS response that took some points away from Brown in my estimation.
Brown answered questions with expertise, and it was clear that SHE knew what she was talking about. Additionally, she wasn’t afraid to make an emotional connection with the audience when answering questions about students in the district. Of the three, Brown’s strong field game has the potential to pick up some much needed votes leading up to Election Day.
Last but not least, Wanda Adams was true to form last week, too.
Adams has never been a “put her fanger in ya face” kind of lady. She was poised. She was prepared. And remember, this isn’t Adams’ first rodeo.
Adams arrived to the debate about 20 minutes late, and shared her reasoning for being late, saying she didn’t get off work in time to make it at the beginning. Adams did let me know that she would be late ahead of time. I gave her points for “telling it like it was” instead of ignoring her lateness.
She did, however, emphasize the point that she had a 9 to 5 job that paid her and that people should lobby the state legislature to make trustees paid employees. The debate didn’t start until 6:30 pm, which was an entire hour and a half from the time she got off her 9 to 5 paid job.
This was Adams’ debate to lose. At the end of the day, if she was able to walk out of that room unscathed after attacks from her opponents and their supporters, she would at least hold her position in a runoff or perhaps hold a firm lead. It was clear that Adams’ colleague Rhonda Skillern-Jones was an Adams supporter, based on her reactions while sitting in the audience.
Adams recognized early-on that the audience wasn’t responding well to her complicated explanations and jargon terms, and so she adjusted.
Though there were many left hooks and jabs thrown from her opponents, Adams didn’t get hit bad enough to take an ‘L’. She handled it and took the high road – popular or not. Adams dodged a question from Monroe, where he asked, “If the voters don’t want you, and elected officials don’t want you, why are you running?” She was also hit with questions about voting to increase contribution limits to board trustees from $500 to $2,000. Brown also came at Adams with questions about the controversial renaming of Lawson Middle School.
So, who won? I guess it depends on what you were looking for.
Clearly, Monroe took the room, but will that translate into tangible votes? Brown has a firm base, too, but between Adams’ name recognition and Monroe’s charisma, it’s hard to see where she’d squeeze an outright win. Adams was clearly the most at-risk to be knocked-out, as her two opponents teamed up against her, but neither of them hit her hard enough to blacken an eye or bruise a jaw. It was going to take some heavy blows to get a TKO, but neither hit that hard. They hit, but not hard enough to have a referee countdown from ten.
So listen, when it was all over, Adams sashayed out of the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center virtually unscathed. Her make-up was still intact after a grueling debate that resembled a boxing match.
What the vote total will look like on election night, however, is another story. Stay tuned!