Debate Debate: Suozzi v Press

You might think that the Suozzi campaign would want to focus at this point on the decent performance of their candidate at the debate last night, rather than harping on a nearly incomprehensible dispute over the rules.

But you’d be wrong.

Here are a couple of (trimmed!) excerpts from an email Dan Gerstein sent out today criticizing NY1, which hosted the debate, for not being explicit enough about banning written notes, and for “changing the rules” at the behest of the Spitzer campaign. The email also condemned Eliot Spitzer for threatening to back out of the debate and then “openly lying” about it afterwards.

The Spitzer campaign spread a lot of misinformation last night about the Attorney General’s threat to storm out of the debate last night right before it started, and the falsehoods are continuing today. We would like to clarify a few important points.

• In NY1’s initial invitation and other written communications to our campaign about the debate rules, we were told that the candidates could not use “visual aids, props and charts.”

• If NY1 wanted to ban private notes, as opposed to materials meant for public consumption, why wouldn’t they say something explicitly about candidate notes?

• Tom was objecting because he thought it was wrong for the Spitzer campaign to bully NY1 into changing the rules as we understood them at the last minute.

NY1’s Bob Hardt sent over a response:

“We have never allowed written materials to be used in any of our debates and we weren’t going to make an exception to our longstanding rules. If the Suozzi campaign was unclear about what constitutes a visual aid, they had plenty of time to ask NY1. Finally, if there were any uncertainties about that rule, it was made very clear to the Suozzi team more than four hours before the debate that their briefing book wouldn’t be allowed on the podium. We told them that we were providing both candidates a pad of paper and two pens.”

The full Gerstein email is after the jump.

MEMO

TO: Political reporters

FR: Dan Gerstein
Suozzi Campaign Senior Advisor

RE: The Rage Behind the Stage

The Spitzer campaign spread a lot of misinformation last night about the Attorney General’s threat to storm out of the debate last night right before it started, and the falsehoods are continuing today. We would like to clarify a few important points.

In NY1’s initial invitation and other written communications to our campaign about the debate rules, we were told that the candidates could not use “visual aids, props and charts.”

Below is the formal invitation to the debate that was sent to us via e-mail and sets out the rules. You will see that it says nothing about notes. Nor did any other written communication we received from NY1 about the debate rules, all of which consistently used the words “visual aids, props and charts.”

In our view, “visual aids, props, and charts” meant materials that could be used for stunts or for public consumption.

If NY1 wanted to ban private notes, as opposed to materials meant for public consumption, why wouldn’t they say something explicitly about candidate notes?

Even if you assume that the intent of the “visual aids, props and charts” line was to preclude candidate notes, it was far from obvious from that language and our interpretation was more than reasonable.

At worst, this was an honest disagreement over unclear language. And it certainly did not justify a hostile hissy fit from a man who styles himself the governor-in-waiting of New York — let alone a threat to back out of the one debate to which he has committed.

As for the timing, contrary to what the Spitzer campaign said, the first we learned that NY1 intended to ban private notes was at the midday pre-debate walk-through on Tuesday.

And immediately upon being told about that change in the rules as we understood them, we told NY1 that was not what we had been led to believe and we had a problem with that change.

Now let me be clear: Tom Suozzi did not need the notes. His performance in the debate showed he does just fine on his own. The last thing anyone who knows Tom Suozzi would accuse him of his not being able to talk on his feet about the issues intelligently.

Tom was objecting because he thought it was wrong for the Spitzer campaign to bully NY1 into changing the rules as we understood them at the last minute.

In fact, Eliot was the one who really could have used the notes. Maybe that way he could have avoided having to make things up throughout the debate and tell one lie after another about CFE, property taxes, death penalty, his travels, and a long list of other matters.

Today Eliot released a statement denying that he threatened to back out of the debate, saying, “”That’s certainly not the way I remember it.”

That statement simply is not credible. Either Eliot Spitzer is openly lying that he could not remember what happened less than 18 hours before. Or he is having another “Whitehead” episode, where he curiously suffers a memory lapse after losing his temper and making a threat.

The bottom line: Is this a pattern of behavior that New Yorkers want in their next Governor?

From: Edward Pachetti [mailto:xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx ]
Sent: Friday, May 12, 2006 5:49 PM
To: [kim devlin email]
Cc: Bernadine Han; Dan Jacobson; Robert Hardt
Subject: NY1 News Invite to the First Democratic Debate for Governor

May 12, 2006

Dear Mr. Tom Suozzi:

It gives me great pleasure to formally invite you to participate in the first Democratic debate for Governor of the 2006 Primary Election Season. This will be sponsored by NY1 News and is scheduled for Tuesday, July 25th at 7:00pm. The debate will last sixty minutes.

For more than a decade, NY1 has made it its mission to provide viewers with a better understanding of the issues and the candidates running for political office. We believe live, televised debates go a long way towards achieving that goal. To that end, we have decided to carry the debate live on NY1 as well as on Time Warner Cable’s other owned and operated news channels in Upstate New York: Capital News 9 in Albany, News 10 Now in Syracuse and R News in Rochester. The debate also will be simulcast live on NY1 Noticias with Spanish interpretation.

The following is the format of the one-hour debate. Dominic Carter will be the moderator. He will be joined by three or four panelists in questioning the candidates. Those panelists will be drawn from the ranks of NY1, NY1 Noticias and Capital Tonight. Each candidate will have the opportunity to make a 60-second opening and closing statement. The speaking order will be determined by a coin toss. Each candidate will have an opportunity to respond to questions. Answers will be limited to 90-seconds. Rebuttals by the other candidate will be limited to 60-seconds. 30-second re-rebuttals will be allowed at the discretion of the moderator. Candidates will be permitted follow-up questions as they consider necessary. Each candidate will be permitted to ask two questions of the other candidate with a 90-second response. Candidates also will be asked a series of questions to which only answers of “yes” or “no” will be accepted. Visual aids, props and charts are not allowed. An audience will be invited to attend. If only one candidate intends to take part, that candidate will be offered the option to proceed with the debate. These ground rules are non-negotiable.

The debate will be held at Pace University’s Lower Manhattan campus: 1 Pace Plaza, New York, NY.

To RSVP or if you have any questions about the debate, please contact NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt via email at xxxxxxxxxx and by phone at xxx xxx xxxx.

Thank you and we look forward to your participation.

Sincerely,

Bernie Han
Vice President of News
NY1 News