News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 5, 2007

Debate format allowed candidates to shine

By Max Jones

TERRE HAUTE — The Tribune-Star has been teaming up with the League of Women Voters of Vigo County and other local organizations to sponsor candidate forums and debates for years. It’s a worthwhile service to provide newspaper readers, who research shows also happen to be among the most likely voters any time there is an election.

Thinking back over all the events we’ve sponsored, I can’t recall one that was any better than the mayoral debate Tuesday night between incumbent Kevin Burke and challenger Duke Bennett.

Let me quickly acknowledge that the room we used in the basement of the Vigo County Public Library was too small for such a large audience. There weren’t enough seats for everyone, and the crush of people trying to get in made the room too warm. On top of that, it was difficult for everyone to hear for a while until the audio system was properly adjusted.

Despite the flaws, it was still the best local candidate forum/debate I have ever witnessed or helped conduct.

The debate format was a key reason for the event’s success. In addition to directly answering questions posed to them, candidates had ample opportunity to respond and rebut to their opponent’s comments. The debate on any topic did not end until the candidates had no more to say. Neither could lob any verbal bombs into the discussion that the other did not have an opportunity to address or rebut. That’s good for the candidates and the audience.

Speaking of the audience, they are another reason the event turned out so well. More than 250 people were counted as attending, which is more than double the number which attended the mayoral forum at the library during the primary election season.

Give the candidates some credit, too. They are classy individuals who showed considerable courage and commitment to their causes. It’s not easy participating in such an event. It was a pressurized situation with a lot at stake. To do well requires practice, preparation and the ability to stay keenly focused for a lengthy period of time.

Both candidates did an excellent job and deserve the support they’ve won from their supporters.

Who won the debate? Either side can lay claim to victory. And rightly so. Both took full advantage of the opportunity to articulate their platforms, elaborate on their philosophies of local government, and present a vision for the future of this city.

Next up will be an Oct. 30 forum at the library featuring candidates for City Council. More on that as the event draws near.

Also, the Terre Haute Neighborhood Association will conduct a mayoral debate on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at Sarah Scott Middle School.

All this leads up to Election Day, which is Nov. 6.

Bouquets

• To Clabber Girl Corp., Marla DeHart, Greg Gibson and Tim Dora for being the big winners of this year’s Chamber of Commerce awards. All have been important players in the resurgence of downtown Terre Haute.

Coming Sunday

The U.S. Supreme Court’s entry into the fray over Indiana’s voter ID law will do nothing to calm the partisan nature of the debate over this bad practice. See Perspective, Page D2

You can say that again

“Please ignore the naysayers and the negative slander, and help this community be the best it can be.”

— Terre Haute developer

Greg Gibson, when accepting the “Vision — A level Above” award from the Chamber of

Commerce on Wednesday