As I wrote a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of judging a middle school Public Forum debate, my first in fifteen years. My default judging style is what debaters call a “hypothesis tester,” which means I evaluate the resolution as a hypothesis, and the affirmative’s plan as a test of that hypothesis. This approach allows both affirmative and negative teams to be far more strategic, and leads to decision-making that can consider multiple different, and even contradictory, branches of argumentation at the same time. Since my re-introduction to that mode of thought, I’ve been realizing that it might also be a good way to evaluate mayoral candidates — particularly in a ranked-choice election, where you must make strategic, and sometimes contradictory, choices.
In this metaphor of the election as a debate, the resolution is simple: “Resolved: candidate X would be the best mayor to lead New York City.” Each candidate is effectively an affirmative team, arguing for a particular set of issues and strengths that tests the hypothesis that they are the right candidate. As the judge, you can get a long way just testing the various candidates’ plans against each other, as if one candidate’s platform is an affirmative case, and all the rest are negative counter-plans.
I believe that’s a much more realistic way of evaluating candidates than the typical approach, which is to vote for whomever comes closest to your exact views, because it considers a candidate’s platform as a series of arguments testing the proposition that they will be good leaders, rather than centering their ideology. However, there is a major shortcoming to the approach: it assumes you are neutral. That’s a good quality for a debate judge. But as a voter, you should have pre-defined ideas about what issues you think are most important for the future of the city. Thus, you’re not only the judge in this metaphor, you also get to write the resolution.
For me, the most important issues facing the city are affordability, equity, and emissions. So, I might rewrite the resolution to be: “Resolved: New York City should be more affordable, equitable, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.” This has the benefit of narrowing the universe of policies I need to consider, and allowing me to play out the candidates’ platforms as cases that test my resolution. One small, but important note, is that while I have notions of what I mean by all three terms in my head, I’m going to stick to my hypothesis tester roots and try not define them too tightly, allowing the candidates themselves to debate their meaning.
I’m running out of time for today, but tomorrow, I’ll use the candidates’ websites and The City’s incredible “Meet Your Mayor” project to run the candidates’ platforms against my resolution. For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to do this exercise for the top four candidates according to most polls: Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang, as it’s almost guaranteed one of them will win, making ranking other candidates less impactful.
To be continued…