Donald Tsang Yam-kuen won few friends by insisting passage of the political reform package would pave the way for universal suffrage, or with his accusations against opponent Audrey Eu Yuet-mee.
That's if the responses of a group who watched the debate at the South China Morning Post office were anything to go by.
Six people from different sectors of the community watched the live broadcast and took part in a group discussion afterwards.
'Donald Tsang only toed the central government's line,' retiree Kwok Chih-yin, 78, said. 'I oppose the government proposal even in my dreams.'
Kwok was upset by Tsang's response to Eu when she asked why he didn't give a road map for abolishing functional constituencies.
Tsang said just that passing the 2012 package would be 'conducive' to the eventual attainment of universal suffrage.
The retiree accused Tsang of cheating the public with his reply.
Ng Wai-fan, an information technology consultant who believes it is better for Legco to pass the reform package, maintained his original stance although he agreed Eu won the debate. 'It is beyond doubt that Tsang was no match for Eu's debating skills. But she often sidestepped some embarrassing questions and then launched personal attacks on the chief executive,' Ng said.
The chief executive's accusation that Eu and her 'companions' had disrupted officials' district visits and triggered a 'de facto referendum' through last month's by-election prompted solicitor Melvin Chan Sheung-tak to smile and shake his head. 'I am disgusted with Donald Tsang's accusation and smearing efforts. It's not something I expect a leader to say,' Chan said afterwards.
Before the debate, five of the six said they opposed the government proposal in its current form and the one-hour exchange failed to sway them. Some even hardened their opposition to the package.
University administrator Wilfred Lai Ming-fai said he was infuriated by Tsang's evasion of key questions such as the abolition of functional constituencies. 'Tsang kept on calling on lawmakers to compromise purely for the sake of compromise,' Lai said.
Jennifer Wan Siu-yan, one of the 'Junior Chief Executives' selected by the Boys and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong for 2007-09, said the debate only reinforced her opposition to the reform package.
'Audrey Eu outperformed Donald Tsang with her use of analogy and examples. I don't think the government proposal can lead to eventual achievement of universal suffrage,' Wan, a Form Two student at Diocesan Girls' School, said.
Stephen Ho Kin-wai, an architect, agreed Eu outperformed Tsang. He rated Eu 80 out of a possible 100 marks while only giving 20 to Tsang.
'But I feel sad for Hong Kong people. Neither Donald Tsang nor Audrey Eu told us the way forward. Both ways [passing or vetoing the proposal] went nowhere,' Ho said.
Lai said both Tsang and Eu would have failed to make the grade if judged against a benchmark for international statesmen.