On doing, or not doing, debates

By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]

When Pam Limes declined my invitation to participate in a Times-Gazette mayoral debate with Drew Hastings I was not surprised. A little disappointed, yes, but not surprised, and certainly not upset about it.

Why did I think she would say no? Is it because I worried that she thinks The Times-Gazette is biased in favor of her opponent and the debate would not be fair, as a couple of her supporters have since suggested on her behalf on social media?

No. I think that for her part, Pam has seen that our coverage of her from the day she announced her candidacy last year through her primary race against Steven Williams in the spring to this very day has been fair and respectful. I think she knows that any debate or forum we hosted would have been more than fair to her in its format and in how it would have been conducted.

John Levo was Drew’s opponent in 2011 and is one of Pam’s supporters this year. I know John could have, and maybe did, tell Pam that she had nothing to fear from participating in a debate sponsored by The Times-Gazette.

I have great respect for John, and after the 2011 Times-Gazette debate he sent me a note that meant a lot to me, writing, “Gary, you are a man of your word,” and saying that he felt the event was all that I had promised it would be. Pam has many other supporters who are friends of mine and who I know would have told her the same thing.

So based on her own experience to date with The Times-Gazette, and what I think would be the opinion of most her supporters – except those who think that a newspaper is only being “fair” if it is in constant attack mode against Drew Hastings – I don’t think Pam turned down my invitation because she thought the debate would not be fair.

In fact, as much as a couple of her supporters want to offer other reasons for her, I fully believe that the reason she turned us down is the simple reason she offered herself.

When Pam first responded to my invitation, she led off with something about an AAUW debate in 2013 – with which The Times-Gazette had no connection – mentioning the fact that most Republican candidates for city council chose not to participate in it. I could be wrong, but I suspect that line was influenced by others.

But after getting past that comment, she then wrote, “I also have to do what is best for me and my campaign so I respectfully decline the invitation to participate in the Times-Gazette candidate forum/debate.”

I wrote back and asked her to reconsider. I expressed my confusion about her reference to the AAUW event two years ago, and added, “I think you will find this event a wonderful opportunity to bring attention to your candidacy, your ideas and your plans as mayor.”

Her second reply left out any more references to 2013, but she basically repeated her previous explanation, writing, “Again, I have to do what is best for me and my campaign so I respectfully decline the invitation to participate in The Times-Gazette mayor forum/debate. To get my message out to voters, I have other avenues that work best for me and that is what I plan to do.”

I don’t think Pam is interested in participating in any debates with Drew Hastings, period. She might still change her mind, but as she said, she has other avenues that work best for her, and that’s what she plans to do.

Pam has a campaign plan, and debates are probably not part of the plan. I think she and some of her supporters look at Drew’s career as a standup comedian and his comfort level with public speaking and understand that no matter who is on the right side of the facts and issues or who is sponsoring the debate, he’s likely to come away looking better in that format than she would.

I still think Pam should have accepted my invitation. If she’s going to be mayor, she’s going to have to do uncomfortable things sometimes, including advocating her positions and defending her decisions against face-to-face, up close and personal, and sometimes heated opposition. Participating in our debate would have been a chance to demonstrate a lot of poise.

But I respect Pam’s right to run her own campaign, to stay focused on her plan, and to let the chips fall where they may. I don’t take her decision to turn down my invitation the least bit personally.

I am proud of the fact that The Times-Gazette has treated both candidates for mayor respectfully. I have been critical of Drew on this page when I felt criticism was warranted. But I haven’t made a career of it, which, to a few, means we are biased.

I do not hesitate to admit that I think overall Drew has done a good job as mayor, that he has grown in the job, and that he’s made some tough but correct decisions. That doesn’t mean I think he’s done a perfect job. He hasn’t, but neither has anyone else who’s ever been mayor.

Having said that, it’s very possible that Pam Limes could be a good mayor, too, and if she wins, our coverage of her administration will be as fair as it has been to the Hastings administration, and as it was to another Pam Limes supporter, Betty Bishop, when I was editor here during most of her administration, a fact to which I am sure she would attest.

But either way, what is much more important to me than who wins the mayor’s race is that The Times-Gazette provides our readers with coverage of this campaign that is fair, respectful and comprehensive, and that when the election rolls around our readers will feel satisfied that they were provided with the facts and information they needed to make an informed decision.

That’s why I would have liked to have hosted a debate. That’s why we will invite both candidates to reply to questionnaires, provide guest columns, and participate in video presentations for our website, along with our general campaign coverage.

Labor Day is here, and that’s when local campaigns traditionally get rolling. Roll on.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.


By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]