U.S. Senate debate held at Arthur Zankel Music Center

Posted by Jesse Shayne

On Oct. 17, the debate between incumbent Democratic senator Kirstin Gillibrand and her challenger Republican Wendy Long, took place at the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College immediately following a pro-choice rally outside.

The debate was sponsored by YNN and NY1 (branches of Times Warner Cable) and was moderated by Capital Tonight host Liz Benjamin and Inside City Hall host Errol Louis.

Journalists from the New York Times, the Associated Press, the Albany Times Union and a slew of other news outlets were present, along with 575 spectators-about half of whom were Skidmore students and faculty members, the other half comprised of invitees of YNN and NY1, Skidmore trustees, members of the political world and the public. The event was broadcasted on YNN, NY1 and News 12. It was also streamed on C-Span's website and aired on WNYC Radio.

President Phillip A. Glotzbach started the event with a speech to the immediate audience-prior to the live broadcast-where he emphasized the importance of debates for political and educational purposes and as the foundation of democracy. He thanked the producers and senators and also mentioned the significance of the event to Skidmore.

Liz Benjamin and Errol Louis then took the stage and warmed up the audience with jokes and questions. They asked those present in the auditorium to raise their hands in support of either candidate, to which Gillibrand received an overwhelming majority.

The debate then began, as did the airing, with one-minute opening statements from both candidates. Gillibrand stressed the importance of job growth as the number one concern of the election, and mentioned her belief in fighting for the middle class.

Long emphasized the significance of equality and noted the struggling economy of New York-a testament to Gillibrand's service in her opinion.

The candidates were then asked a number of questions by the moderators pertaining to issues such as the recent attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, the effectiveness of the stimulus package passed under President Barack Obama, gun control, abortion (and the constitutionality of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade), tax-cuts and the economy.

Gillibrand and Long both came out aggressively, interrupting each other often and going over-time on their answers quite frequently. Both stuck to party lines, advocating for their respective party's presidential candidates and their platforms.

"It was interesting how a lot of the issues directly overlapped with the presidential campaign," said Xan Goldberg '13 who was a student assistant at the event.

A lightning round of yes or no questions followed the initial round. Many of the questions contained references to pop culture icons such as twitter and Fifty Shades of Grey, but some were more serious. The candidates were asked if they believed in reinstituting the death penalty in the state of New York to which Gillibrand responded in the negative and Long the affirmative.

A cross-examination round of questions followed in which Gillibrand asked Long if she was willing to break Grover Norquist's GOP anti-tax pledge and Long asked Gillibrand about the recent sexual harassment scandal involving New York State Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez.

The moderators then took back over and asked questions about health care, Iran, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, hydro-fracking in upstate New York and immigration. The hydro-fracking issue received more discussion time given recent consideration to allow New York hydro-fracking by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

When Long came out in support of fracking with an emphasis on job creation and energy independence she received boos from the audience. Gillibrand took a more modest approach stating that she would not allow fracking in New York until studies have proven it to be safe.

After the last round of questions the candidates made their closing statements and left the stage. Both Senate-hopefuls stuck around to receive questions from the media afterwards.

The event was a collaborative effort between many parties-YNN, NY1, the campaigns and the college. At times the audience applauded and booed despite being asked to remain silent by the moderators, but overall it went smoothly.

"Hosting the debate was a real team effort among Campus Safety, Special Programs, the Communications Office, and, of course, our colleagues at the Zankel Music Center," said Executive Director of Communications Dan Forbush. "It was a great opportunity for our students, giving them a front-row seat in a key political race, and it was a great opportunity for the College to show off Zankel to a vast new audience."

The college placed an emphasis on student involvement in the debate by reserving about 200 tickets for the student body, which were distributed on Oct. 3.

"It was easily accessible for students and free, which was nice," said Leslie Valasquez '14.

Student involvement ranged from spectating to helping run the event. Zankel student ushers were present as were volunteers from the student body recruited by Associate Director of the Office of Campus Life, Robin Adams, who sent out an email asking for student assistance for the event a couple of weeks prior. Xan Goldberg was one of those students.

"It was kind of like being an intern or a production assistant for the event," Goldberg said. "It was a great opportunity for someone who is interested in production and politics to get some experience,"

Members of the public seemed impressed by Zankel, which opened in 2010. The moderators and politicians all thanked Skidmore for hosting the event, and noted the allure of the auditorium.

"Zankel is an outstanding venue for this kind of event," said Forbush. " We know that YNN is so pleased both with the building and with how things went that they will be considering Zankel for similar events in the future." 

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