Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Debate Over Debates at the Akron Press Club: My Take

At the October 26 Tom Ganley event at the Akron Press Club, Tom Ganley was asked (about 40 minutes into the event) about his decision to reject offers from both the Akron Press Club and Cleveland City Club to participate in a debate with his opponent, Congresswoman Betty Sutton. At first, Ganley said that "the playing field wasn't fair." He asserted that he would not be "welcome and severely attacked." When pressed by the moderator, M.L. Schultze, the News Director at WKSU and a board member of the Akron Press Club about what would have been unfair to him about the atmosphere at the press club, he then stated that "I don't think this atmosphere would have been unfair to me" and that "there were some conflicts with some of the times we were talking about here." (By the way, Ganley is the only candidate that has appeared twice within about a year in front of the Akron Press Club in recent memory. His other appearance occurred October 1, 2009 when he was a candidate for Ohio's U.S. Senate seat. You can watch the video here).

Since I was intimately involved in the negotiations on behalf of the Akron Press Club and Bliss Institute, I have a few things to say on the record concerning the debate controversy. On July 28, 2010, I approached both the Ganley and Sutton campaigns about the possibility of a debate organized by the Akron Press Club and Bliss Institute. I told both campaigns I was gauging their interest and willingness to get into serious negotiations about a possible debate. The Sutton campaign agreed just over a week later. The Ganley campaign would never commit to a debate. There was no scheduling issue--we never even got to the stage where we could discuss possible dates. On August 30, the Ganley campaign officially rejected out offer.

As far as the fairness issue is concerned, the Akron Press Club and Bliss Institute has hosted a number of debates over the last few election cycles including a 2006 debate in the 13th Congressional District and a 2008 debate in the 16th Congressional District. We have never heard complaints that we were somehow biased or unfair in the way we conducted those and other events. Quite the contrary. We pride ourselves on our neutrality--any hint of bias or unfairness would be counterproductive and hurt our ability in the future to host these types of events which we view as a public service above all else. I, personally, have worked very hard in the past, and would have done so in this case, to ensure that both campaigns were okay with the rules and regulations before proceeding. No debate would have commenced unless both campaigns signed off on everything following what would have been intense negotiation insuring the fairest process possible.

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