Upfront: The Erie Reader 2012 Debate Series

Categories:      News & Politics
Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 at 9:22 AM
Upfront: The Erie Reader 2012 Debate Series by Cory Vaillancourt

Growing up in Chicago, we had the Chicago Reader. In San Diego, it’s the San Diego Reader. In Savannah, it’s called Connect. In Atlanta, Creative Loafing.  Seattle has the Stranger, and San Francisco has the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Closer to home, there’s the Cleveland Scene, the Pittsburgh City Paper, and of course, the Village Voice in New York City.  All of these cities have a robust daily newspaper, however, the presence of alternative weeklies in these cities suggests that there are certain needs to be filled in each and every one of them.

A little over three years ago, I moved to Erie. I didn’t get out much back then, and when I did, I had no idea where to go or what to do with my precious free time – information on live, loud, local music was not readily available, nor was anything substantial on the arts. I also knew little of the issues and affairs of fair Erie – in-depth, interesting, and enjoyable coverage of the people and politics that impact our community was nonexistent. What did exist was a need.

A year ago, Erie got what it needed - the first Erie Reader hit the stands on March 30, 2011. 

I’m sure people were skeptical. I was. A lot of people thought that it wouldn’t last. Nobody reads anymore, they said. Nobody writes complete sentences anymore, they  said. Nobody in Erie cares about local issues or politics, they said. Wrong, wrong, wrong. All wrong. In addition to satisfying the need that existed, namely, the need for an independent alt weekly providing solid arts and music coverage as well as long-form, highly-stylized, issue-based journalism, the Erie Reader also took a firm stance from (pre) day 1 – We Love Erie. We’re not going to join the chorus of detractors, we said. We want to be a two-way conduit of information, we said. We’re  going to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and not mess with Mr. In Between, we said. Oh wait, that was Johnny Mercer who said that last one. Sorry. 

Every issue of the Erie Reader has tried to shine a light on the good things happening in our community; but just illuminating is not always enough. Our community has its own set of unique problems and opportunities, which I like to call problemtunities, and those need to be addressed. In the past, we’ve taken a proactive role in encouraging productive discussion of these problemtunities. Today, barely a year into the Erie Reader’s short life, we are proud to announce that we’ve leveled up; we’re no longer merely encouraging productive discussion, we’re driving it, in the form of the Erie Reader 2012 Downtown Debate Series. 

The first debate takes place on Wednesday, April 11 at 7 p.m., featuring the Pennsylvania State House District 3 Republican Primary race between Jason Owen and Regina Smith. Democrat John Hornaman recently announced he would not seek re-election to this seat; the winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Ryan Bizzarro in November. The debate will be moderated by WICU’s Paul Wagner; the panel will consist of Erie Reader editor Ben Speggen, writer Jay Stevens, and me. 

The second debate takes place on Friday, April 13 at 7 p.m. and showcases the Pennsylvania State Senate District 49 Democratic primary race between John Harkins, Brian Pitzer, Terry Scutella, and Sean Wiley. Republican Jane Earll recently announced she would not seek re-election to this seat; the winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Janet Anderson in November. The debate will be moderated by WICU’s John Last; the panel again will consist of Speggen, Stevens, and me. 

We’re proud to have the support of our co-sponsors – Epic WebStudios, the Jefferson Educational Society, Lilly Broadcasting, the Masonic Temple Banquet and Conference Center, Velocity Network, and the Young Erie Professionals. They’ve been invaluable in helping us bring this event to you. You should thank them, especially the Masonic Temple; both debates take place in the beautiful Grand Ballroom of the Masonic Temple, located at 32 W. Eighth Street. We want this to be an opportunity for you to come out and interact with the people who will eventually go to Harrisburg and deal with the problemtunities in our community, so admission is free and open to the public. 

The basic format of the debates is as follows:

Candidates have been told that they may bring sign-in sheets and whatever campaign materials they may have to distribute during the debate, so this is a wonderful opportunity for us all to pick up their fliers, leaflets, lapel stickers, bumper stickers, signs, buttons, pencils, nail files, and church fans. Bonus points for any candidate who actually has their name printed on a book of matches. 

Each candidate has 3 minutes to make an opening statement. If any of you candidates are unprepared for this, I suggest you check out the “UPFRONT Clip ‘n’ Save Political Stump Speech” I provided you on March 21. Bonus points for any candidate who actually uses this. 

After the opening statements, the questioning will begin. We’re trying to keep everything all fairy-squarey, so everyone will be asked the same amount of questions, and everyone will have the opportunity to weigh in on every question. In the Owen-Smith debate, there will be 12 questions; each candidate will be asked six questions. Of those six questions, three will come from you, the public, via snail mail, telephone, email, Facebook, Twitter, smoke signal, sign language, or semaphore – see this week’s “Tech Watch” column for instructions on how to do some of those things. In the Harkins-Pitzer-Scutella-Wiley debate, there will be 12 questions; each candidate will be asked three questions, one of which will come from one of the methods outlined above. As far as topics go, nothing is really off the table. Candidates can and should expect to receive questions on a variety of subjects, limited only by the bounds of decency and relevancy – so structure your tweets accordingly. 

The candidate who fields the question initially will have 2 minutes to answer; then, every other candidate will have 1 minute to comment on that question as well. We’ll continue in this manner until the discussion has concluded, at which point each candidate will have another 3 minutes for a closing statement. Then, hopefully, we’ll all shake hands, go get beers, and have some laughs; I can think of no more suitable way to commemorate the Erie Reader’s first year while also celebrating our growth as a positive force in the community – a positive force that not only encourages the discussion of our problemtunities, but drives it. 

So don’t forget – 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11 and Friday, April 13, in the Masonic Temple – I want to see you there! You should probably rip out Todd Scalise’s sweet debate poster and hang it on your fridge to remind yourself. 

Cory Vaillancourt is a brilliant writer/complete hack and can be complimented/heckled at cVaillancourt@ErieReader.com.

Erie Reader: Vol. 7, No. 21
Now Available — Pick It Up Today


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