Commissioner- Security main issue in decision

October 14, 2003|HERB BROCK

A couple of weeks ago Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, opened a package from Centre College and out popped a "candidate." That "candidate"must be eager because there won't be a debate for nearly a year.

But the candidate and the package he came in represented the eagerness of Centre and the Danville community to be named one of the winning applicants for a 2004 debate site. And, in a reprise of Centre and Danville's campaign that led to the college hosting the 2000 vice-presidential debate, a major component of the current effort is the massive lobbying effort by local schoolchildren.

That effort has included a deluge of letters, poems, art, videos and audio tapes - and a photo album from John Erwin's fifth-grade class at Toliver Elementary School measuring about 3 feet by 2 feet and containing photographs of the aforementioned candidate. Actually, the man is a life-size cardboard cutout of a man with a nametag with "candidate" written on it. The students placed him in front of various buildings on Centre's campus and around Danville and photographed him. With each photo is a rhyming couplet.


After checking out the candidate and the work of other students in the Danville and Boyle County school districts and Kentucky School for the Deaf, Brown called Centre President John Roush and said, "Let me tell you, in post-hurricane Washington, D.C., looking through these materials, what an upper." She said the photos, letters and songs were "just phenomenal."

Does Brown's reaction to the schoolkids' words and art indicate that Centre and Danville's campaign will result in another debate victory? Not so fast.

Yes, Centre did receive highly-publicized accolades from Brown and the commission for its application for a 2000 debate site, one that featured a lot of community involvement. Yes, it did receive well-publicized plaudits for its ultimate handling of the verbal match between Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican Dick Cheney, during which the college and community, along with transportation and lodging facilities in Lexington, were able to provide a secure and comfortable setting for candidates, dignitaries and more than 2,000 media representatives.

But Centre isn't the only one tooting its own horn. There are 13 other colleges and communities, plus National Public Radio, which are touting their attributes in their own campaigns to be named one of four sites or two backups for the 2004 presidential and vice-presidential debates.

Brown has publicly lauded Centre for the work it did in applying for and then hosting the 2000 debate and has cited the input from local schoolchildren into the college's 2000 and 2004 applications. But in the recent interview, she said that all she could state publicly about the 14 applications for the 2004 debates is that they are addressing "issues of importance" to the commission and that "there are different ways communities are expressing their support for holding debates."

The main "issue of concern" to the commission, she said, is security.

"There are a lot of security concerns in this post-9/11 world we have lived in since the last debates in 2000," she said. "When we look at prospective sites, we and the Secret Service are focusing on facilities, transportation routes, crowd control, all the issues that involve security. And we also are looking at facilities for the debate itself and for the media."

In other words, community input into an application, such as that from Danville, Boyle and KSD kids, is an impressive reflection of local support, but the debate commission, in post-9/11America, wants to make sure that any photographs of candidates - of real ones, that is - show that he or she is surrounded by adequate security.

The cost of security is one of the major expenses of a debate, and all expenses are covered by the host. In 2000, the total cost of the vice-presidential debate for Centre amounted to $550,000, Brown said. "The host raises the money and gives it to us and then we pay the bills," she said.|None***

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