So, You Wanna Debate or Something?

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It was such a simple idea.

Instead it made me feel in turns like the dweeb getting rejected for the prom and the ogre turning away people at the gate.

All we (meaning the Voice of the Voter effort) wanted to do was hold debates with candidates for the Monroe County Legislature. After all, there have been plenty of complaints that the Rochester press has paid much less attention to these kinds of races (City Council, County Legislature, Town Board) than for the Rochester mayor’s race.

So the thought was to pick a couple of districts – and the candidates would be thrilled to come.

Then the no’s came rolling in.
Dave Malta, the Republican incumbent in the 8th District, said he wanted to focus on going door-to-door. His opponent, Democrat Chris Gorman, seemed interested, but he would have had to shuffle his schedule around.

Travis Heider, the Democrat in the 14th District, said through a campaign manager that work would prevent him from coming (the taping for the program is Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m). Work also seemed to be the impediment for Phil Zuber, the Republican running in the 21st District.

Bill Smith, the Republican Majority Leader in the 10th District, said he was booked up.
Lydia Dzus, the Republican challenging in the 16th District, never responded to the four phone calls left on her voicemail. Republican Committee Executive Director Mike Barry ultimately let me down easy by saying that she was unlikely to make it.

Then I had to turn around and release those who planned on coming from showing up. Gorman didn’t have to figure out whether he needed to reschedule. Ted Nixon, the Democrat trying to beat Smith, voiced disappointment.

In the end, we opted to have a forum on the role of the county legislature with incumbent Democrat Stephanie Aldersley (Dzus’ opponent) and challengers Alex Zapesochny, a Republican, and Carrie Andrews, a Democrat, in the mix. (Heider and Zuber are their opponent respectively). We also included long-time Republcan legislator Michael Hanna, who will not be running because of term limits. The idea is to talk not just about the legislature’s role, but also about what the future challenges would be… and whether the new term limits for lawmakers are really working.

There is the desire to ascribe motives for why the naysayers wanted to stay away. Many thought that a week’s notice was too little. Maybe it was.

Barry told me that Republican political leaders stress to their candidates that door-to-door campaigning and mailers are key in these races. So maybe that’s a legitmate excuse.

It could have been more politically strategic. If a candidate thinks he or she has the race wrapped up, why chance a gaffe in debate. Or maybe those in closer races didn’t want a televised blunder to submarine their chances. Of course, no one would say that was the motive.

In my rejected heart I kept thinking… "but it’s less than a week before election… wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to put your views (and that of your politcal party caucus) before the voters?" But perhaps that’s just the lament of the spurned.

Don’t those pimply-faced teenage boys rationalize when they’re hosed by a prospective date?

It’s tough to have to relive those awkward high school years.

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