Disagreement Over Second Gubernatorial Debate Date Continues

By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
NJ Today

The Buono campaign says it won’t debate the night of Oct. 15.

“The public deserves to see both candidates on stage together at a time when they’re gonna be A. most engaged and B. paying attention,” Buono Campaign Spokesman David Turner said.

The Christie campaign released this schedule yesterday: The first gubernatorial debate Oct. 8, a lieutenant governor debate Oct. 11, a second gubernatorial debate Oct. 15. That’s the night before the Booker-Lonegan special election for U.S. Senate and the Buono camp says the date it agreed to for a second debate was Oct. 22.

Political consultant Steve DeMicco, a Democrat who has negotiated the terms of many statewide debates, sees it as gamesmanship by the Christie camp.

“Well, I think the governor is trying to get these debates behind him as early as possible. And I think he’s also trying to take advantage of the confusion that he created by scheduling a second general election here, unprecedented on Oct. 16,” DeMicco said.

When asked if he thinks Christie is trying to bury the debate in some way, Turner said, “I’m not gonna get into the intentions or machinations of why the Christie campaign would like the debate on Oct. 15th.”

The Christie campaign says it did not ask for a change in the date, that the 15th proposed to it by debate sponsor Montclair State University.

Sources say otherwise, one telling NJTV that the date was changed as a result of a phone call between Christie campaign chairman Bill Palatucci and Montclair State President Susan Cole.

Palatucci said in a phone interview late this afternoon that’s not true. He called Dr. Cole but to expedite negotiations and he didn’t even know what date had been selected.

A spokesperson for Montclair State confirmed the phone call but said the date was dictated by technical and scheduling considerations, not by Palatucci, who merely suggested the week of Oct. 14 looked good.

“All of these debates should really be taking place after the special Senate election on Oct. 16 so that the voters aren’t confused about what they’re voting on,” DeMicco said.

The Buono camp wants a new date or a new sponsor if Montclair State won’t change the date.

“Our lawyers have sent a letter to ELEC requesting either a change of date or change of venue if Montclair State won’t be able to accommodate that. We’re waiting too hear back from ELEC,” Turner said.

“We’re actually putting the cart before the horse here,” said ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle.

At ELEC, Brindle says there is no debate calendar because Buono has not officially qualified for state matching funds yet and he said any date change is up to the sponsor.

“By law and by our regulations, it’s the sponsors who have the final say in terms of when the debates are gonna be held,” Brindle said.

The director says ELEC is not even allowed to change debate sponsors at this point, something the Buono camp raised. So this imbroglio over when to hold a second gubernatorial debate remains unresolved.