ALBANY—Tonight, public broadcasting affiliate WMHT will televise a forum for candidates vying to replace Kirsten Gillibrand in Congress. The station has been planning for weeks,
months, but it will not be attended by Republican candidate Jim Tedisco.
Susan Arbetter, who is moderating the debate with Times Union State Editor Casey Seiler, wrote to tell me that both campaigns were informed that WMHT was producing a forum on Februrary 3—two days after Scott Murphy was designated as the Democratic candidate. On February 13, the date was set; Murphy's campaign accepted the invitation that day.
"These debates are held to educate the voters, WMHT & the Times Union will do everything it can to ensure that tonight's program is both insightful and worthwhile," Arbetter wrote. "As a journalist, it is not appropriate for me to comment on Jim's decision to forgo the WMHT/TU debate. The beauty of the American political process is that candidates can run their own race."
In lieu of the debate, Tedisco is instead having a "Jim Tedisco in 3D" town hall at his headquarters this evening. During this event, which he's calling the "People's Town Hall," he apparently "speak with voters in-person, thousands on the phone, and answer questions from voters on Facebook," according to the media advisory.
I plan to catch the tape of the WMHT/TU debate and instead attend Tedisco's forum.
When asked if he is ducking, Tedisco and his surrogates have repeated that both campaigns "agreed to four debates." He was asked Monday if there would be any harm in agreeing to the fifth, given that WMHT would not and could not halt production, so the event would go on anyway, with Murphy and Libertarian Candidate Eric Sundwall participating.
"We agreed to four," he said. "Is there anything wrong with breaking an agreement? If he wants to have a fifth, maybe I want to have a sixth, he'll have a seventh, we'll have an eighth. We agreed to four debates; is there anything wrong with agreeing to four debates? And living up to that? And then going out and making a deal to have a fifth debate? I could have gone out and made a deal with another station to have a fifth debate also. You've got to live up to your word, and if you can't live up to his word in terms of debates, maybe he can't live up to his words on a lot of things as a congressperson in the 20th Congressional district."
UPDATE: Tedisco spokesman Josh Fitzpatrick called to say that WMHT was invited to carry another debate—sponsored by radio outlet WROW—live. Arbetter confirmed she was approached along with cable channel Capital News 9, but declined to air the event once News 9 signed on.