D.C. mayoral candidates discussed such issues as the state of public schools, baseball stadium construction and homeland security at the first of two televised debates in the Jack Morton Auditorium Sunday night.
The College Democrats co-sponsored the D.C. Democratic candidate debate along with the Washington Times, radio station WMAL 630 and CBS/WB, a new local television station, which broadcasted the debate live.
Candidates participating in the event included Michael A. Brown, D.C. Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp, councilmember Adrian Fenty, former CEO Marie Johns and councilmember Vincent Orange. WMAL’s Chris Core was the debate’s chief moderator and was joined by a columnist from the Washington Times and a journalist from the co-sponsoring TV station.
The candidates vigorously debated the city’s decision to build a new $600-plus million stadium for the Nationals. Brown took a strong position against D.C.’s deal with Major League Baseball, promising to immediately halt construction on the stadium if elected.
One of the biggest reactions from the crowd came after Core asked Johns and Orange, who are trailing in the polls, their top choice should they not win. They waffled over the moderator’s choice between Cropp and Fenty – both considered front-runners.
“The fact of the matter is, if you vote for me, I’ll win,” Johns said, producing an uproar of laughter among the usually silent audience.
Orange followed Johns by criticizing media coverage of the election.
“I think the media has done a disservice to the District of Columbia,” Orange said.
Core reacted to Orange’s statement by a asking all candidates who thought the media was doing a good job to raise their hand. Fenty was the only candidate to raise his hand in support of the media’s coverage.
The event will be followed by another debate in the auditorium on Sept. 8 – the following one to be sponsored by the University.
The Democratic primary election for D.C., which has yielded the District’s mayor in the past three decades, will take place Sept. 12.
Sean Smith, president of the College Democrats, said planning for the event began early this year.
“We had actually talked with D.C. government about doing this in the beginning of the summer,” Smith said. Ten students from the CDs volunteered at the event, checking tickets and collecting questions from the audience, directed at the candidates in the last round.
The debate was the first SMPA event attended by Lee Huebner, the newly appointed director of the school.
Huebner, who was one of several speakers to talk to the audience before the event went on air, said the debate exemplified SMPA’s aim: to bring together the University, the media and the role of politics and government.
“Tonight, of course, these three worlds intersect,” Huebner said.
He later said he was looking forward to beginning the school year as SMPA’s director.
“I’m anxious for the fall to come,” Huebner said. “I can’t wait to meet students.”
-David Ceasar contributed to this report.