Dan Osterman

Dan Osterman

No matter who wins tomorrow’s election, it would be good for them to remember one thing: brevity.

Well, maybe two things, the second being mercy.

Mercy, that is, for those attending or watching City Council meetings, which are recorded and broadcast for posterity and to reach those who can’t, or won’t, make it into council chambers. Those broadcasts can get a bit long. Perhaps it’s hard to tell from behind those desks, councilors, or with those cameras on you.

There’s a famous Columbia Journalism Review piece from 1961 that compared presidential news conferences from the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with those from the days of John F. Kennedy.

Before television, reporters’ questions to FDR averaged 14 words. In the JFK administration, the first to air news conferences live, the average length was 50.

The phenomenon didn’t end with the novelty of televised government, and it’s never been limited to reporters, as shown by members of the U.S. Congress who give lengthy, eloquent addresses to c-span’s cameras and governmental transcribers — but empty chambers. The phenomenon appears to live on at 795 Massachusetts Ave., where councilors sit down to business and time sits down with them … then lies down as things get a bit slow … and is soon snoring away as speeches stretch toward the millennium.

Councilors may let their speeches ramble a bit, and repeat the sense of others’ comments because they feel they have a prettier turn of phrase, because there are so few watchers in council chambers. Bloviating will not attract more, however. Tedium is the enemy of participatory government.

The cameras aren’t going to be shut off, so the councilors, whether incumbents or insurgents, might consider practicing a little self-control.

Say things once.

Say them concisely.

Go home and enjoy life.

Mercy, councilors present and future, mercy.