January 25, 2008

Local Democrats Organize Presidential Forum

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The Tompkins County Democratic Committee held a presidential forum last night in the Women’s Community Building in anticipation of the New York State Primary on Feb. 5. The forum featured representatives of the four Democratic candidates in a proxy debate in which they explained and defended their respective candidate’s stances on numerous issues.
Standing before the assembled audience of Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Senator Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.), former senator John Edwards and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) supporters, J.R. Clairborne, a member of the Ithaca Common Council and the moderator of the forum, expressed the importance of the evening’s event and the upcoming elections.
“This is a night meant to bring the relevance of national politics to Ithaca,” he said. “We have a very important election this year. It is very important that people become educated, become engaged and vote.”
Clairborne then allowed the candidate representatives to give an opening statement, including that of Kucinich, who had withdrawn from the election only hours before.
The representative for Kucinich, Eric Lerner, a former Tompkins County legislator, took Kucinich’s withdrawal in good humor.
“I have to say, I’m pleased to have an opportunity to speak since Dennis himself has been excluded,” he said.
“It’s a funny thing,” he continued, “when all the candidates are speaking of change, the one pushing for the most radical change has been forced from the table.”[img_assist|nid=26848|title=Campaign colors|desc=Roselyn Teukolsky, a representative for the Hillary Clinton campaign, distributes material at the Democratic Candidates Forum.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Without a candidate to endorse, Lerner instead focused on the problems of the current American government, noting the implementation of a corrupt health care system and incidences of torture he described as “gift wrapped with Orwellian double speak.”
Lerner also criticized Democrats in Congress and accused them of being unable to organize and reprimand President George Bush.
“They let so many of Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney’s lies go unchallenged,” he said, “I’m truly sorry I won’t have Dennis Kucinich to vote for this year.”
Roselyn Teukolsky, a math teacher at Ithaca High School, represented Clinton and spoke of her numerous positive qualities.
“She is smart, warm, funny and wonderful.” Teukolsky said, “Her values are our own.”
Teukolsky also addressed the topic of Clinton’s gender.
“I’m not voting for Hilary because she is a woman, but I am excited that there is a candidate that is a woman,” she said.
“I could speak [for] the entire evening about Hilary,” Teukolsky concluded. “She is not going to be a good president, she is going to be a great president.”
Edwards, who was represented by Prof. Emeritus Milton Esman, government, began by noting that all the candidates were fair choices for the nomination.
“I consider all the candidates highly qualified for the presidency. I would be comfortable voting for whomever wins the nomination,” he said, inciting a loud applause.
“I will not,” Esman continued, “indulge in pointing out the invulnerabilities of the other candidates. Though, I must say that the sniping we’ve heard from two of the candidates [has] not done the Democrats any good,” he commented, receiving further applause.
Esman then highlighted what she alleged are the strengths of Edward’s platform, heralding his commitment to withdraw from Iraq as well as his priority of restoration of social and economic justice to the United States.
“Edwards, I believe, both in the areas of foreign and domestic policy will restore the United States to sound footing,” he said.
Brian Hunt, an upstate field coordinator for the Obama campaign, received the loudest applause when introduced as the representative of Obama.
“The next president will face many daunting problems,” he said. “Clearly the Bush administration has failed us.”
Hunt went on to explain that he believes the country is in need of someone who could galvanize it into action.
“We need someone who can get solutions by drawing on the strengths of commonality,” he explained, “someone who will abandon the strategy of intimidation.”
Hunt alleged that Obama is the only candidate capable of unifying the country.
“Only Obama,” he said, “has the personal credibility to be an honest broker between politicians of either side.”
Following their main statements, the representatives fielded a variety of anonymous questions from the audience. The selections included questions on foreign policy, the search for alternative energy, illegal immigration and other contentious topics that have taken center stage in the campaign.
Representatives were also asked whether or not any of the candidates would impeach Bush and Cheney if they were elected president.
“To be frank, I am not sure how Obama would handle this question,” Hunt said. “I can’t answer it.”
“The word impeachment carries special meaning for my candidate,” Teukolsky said. “She would most likely not impeach them. Let them [Bush and Cheney] die a natural death.”
According to Esman, Edwards would most likely concur with Clinton’s stance.
“I don’t think Edwards would impeach them. Edwards is looking to the future, not the past,” he said.
As the forum concluded, Clairborne commented on the difficulty of the choice the Democratic Party is facing.
“We have quite a choice to make on Feb. 5,” he said. “We have the problem of varying levels of excellence. That’s a good problem to have.”
Barbara Blanchard, a member of the audience, agreed.
“I came here because I was hoping to hear things that would help me make up my mind,” she said, “and I’m leaving more confused. It’s a wealth of riches,” she said.