Candidates taken aback by short notice of debate

The idea to hold an event in the Juniper-Poplar Residence Hall Room 1317 – where the “Speed Date Your Candidate Debate” will be tonight at 7 – originated a couple of months ago, said Michael LeBlanc, supervisor of Student Government (SG) Election Rules Commission (ERC).

“It’s a new place, and a lot of freshmen live there, and we’ve gotten a lot of good responses from the freshmen class and we wanted to tap into that,” LeBlanc said.

But there’s one problem, some SG presidential candidates say: Why were they informed of an additional election debate just two days before it was scheduled?

The planning for tonight’s debate started once the ERC received confirmation for a room reservation Feb. 8, Leblanc said. He said at the time the debate was just in planning stages and nothing was officially scheduled.

But last weekend presidential candidate Andrew Cohen and vice presidential candidate Matthew Diaz created an event on their Facebook group advertising it. According to Facebook, the event was created no later than Saturday around 2 p.m.

“The supervisor of elections sent us all an e-mail saying that there will be a debate, so if other candidates aren’t checking their e-mail diligently, that’s their responsibility, and I can see that he sends it to all of us,” said Cohen, SG director of University and Community Affairs.

But LeBlanc sent all candidates an e-mail Monday around 3 p.m., informing them of tonight’s debate.

“It was short notice, and I admit that openly, but it’s kind of just what we were dealing with and that’s kind of what we always deal with in elections,” he said.

Presidential candidate Tim Moore said he saw the e-mail Monday night.

“I didn’t know that that was going to happen until then,” said Moore, a junior majoring in business management. “We actually had stuff to do until this came up, but we’ll be there.”

When vice presidential candidate Scott Howard, running mate of Christopher Leddy, saw the event Saturday, he didn’t think much of it. That was until, on the same day, he checked the official SG Web site and saw an ad promoting it.

LeBlanc said he held off advertising the debate because he was still sorting out details, but “the marketing team may have moved forward with it even without my go ahead.”

It was odd seeing it “because it’s already advertised on the (SG) Web site,” said Howard, a junior majoring in physics and philosophy, who added he saw LeBlanc had confirmed via Facebook this weekend that he would attend the event.

When asked if he did, LeBlanc said: “I may have, I don’t know. The only reason that I would have done that is I was planning on making that official.”

Moore said he wasn’t aware of the Facebook event made for the debate, and an earlier notice would have been better for him and running mate Jonathan Davila.

“I don’t know on behalf of everyone else, but we had some organizations that we were planning on going and talking to at the same time, so it’s going to look really bad on us to say, ‘Hey, you know we got to cancel because of this thing,'” Moore said.

USF graduate student Ken Getty, campaign strategist for presidential candidate Cesar Hernandez and running mate Spencer Montgomery, said LeBlanc mentioned the debate in passing at the office Friday.

“In the packet, when we sign up for elections, it says there’s going to be three debates … At this point, you’re changing the contract that we signed up for originally,” said Getty, SG director of Student Life and Traditions.

Presidential candidate Daniel Dunn said he’s also wondering about a Web site advertised on Cohen and Diaz’s posters showing a link where studetns can vote online. Dunn said to his knowledge the link hadn’t been finalized yet.

LeBlanc said the link was decided upon a while ago.

“I think it really speaks for the integrity of the election when you have one campaign getting all the information,” Dunn said.

The reason why tonight’s debate was originally in limbo last week, LeBlanc said, was because the candidates were invited to USF’s College of Democrats’ (COD) meeting at the same time.

Cohen, who leads in the latest straw poll results, said by creating the Facebook group after LeBlanc “speculated” the debate could be held, he was just trying to get people to attend.

“To help myself and, of course, to help all the other candidates to get as many people to this as possible,” Cohen said. “I guess I thought it would just happen … I was just trying to help increase the amount of people at the debate.”

Candidates were expected to speak at COD’s meeting, and the organization was going to endorse a candidate.

To fix the scheduling conflict with COD, Ralph Reid, a senator for the College of Arts and Sciences and president of COD, said any representative from each campaign could represent them at the organization’s meeting.

Students will have an opportunity to talk to candidates for a certain period of time tonight and will be split into groups, LeBlanc said.

“I think the Speed Date Your Candidate thing is really going to allow students to understand what the person that is going to lead them is going to be like,” he said.