I actually have little Paragon experience; it’s just what a lot of local players cite when talking about widebody love, so I tip my hat to its prestige. Stellar Wars is on my preliminary list for inclusion, I just went back and checked to be sure.
I do think you are correct in the role name recognition plays. I thought Popadiuk would beat Nordman in round 2 based off recognition (and I was wrong in that regard), but Tony did note he thought Gomez beat M. Ritchie because Gomez has more modern games people recognize. I think your theory about Dialed In and Batman 66 could continue to hold that true. But, all four remaining designers have recent titles to their credit, so in that regard I imagine the recognition is relatively equal.
Stern is, in my view, the only one to blame for the resulting issues on the ballots. While I feel a public vote was a mistake broadly, I think it could have been executed better while still holding a public vote (no repeated votes per day, don’t list the number of votes received thus far publicly, etc.). Coupled with the ability to purge votes, I think they opened themselves up to foul calls that could have been easily avoided. They may not care, and that’s their choice. It was enough for me not to participate (and they probably don’t care about that, either!) in either submitting or voting.
I personally like Stern games. My only NIB purchase was a Stern, and if I were to buy another NIB then it would likely be a Stern. I hope they do well; that’s why it always stings a bit when they do things I think hurt their rep.
Anyway, thanks for all the comments!