Lower candidates differ on debate format

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 LOWER TOWNSHIP – Plans for a candidates’ debate remain in flux as Election Day on Nov. 6 approaches.

“We offered to debate from the day we announced,” said Michael Beck, the incumbent candidate for mayor who is running on the Independents for Lower ticket with Norris Clark (Deputy Mayor) and Jim Neville (Ward 2 council). “Two local newspapers approached me about agreeing to a debate at the end of the month and we agreed to participate, but I learned this week that the other candidates did not respond to the request to set a debate.”

Beck said that reporters for the Cape May Star and Wave and the Cape May County Herald proposed a candidate’s debate to be moderated by the League of Women Voters.

“I learned from our recreation department that there had been a request for the Millman center on Oct. 26, but subsequently found out that the Republican candidates did not respond to the request so the event was cancelled,” said Beck.

The Republican candidates are former Ward 2 councilman Erik Simonsen for mayor, and incumbent Deputy Mayor Kevin Lare and sitting Ward 2 councilman Walt Craig – himself a former township mayor – seeking to retain their present seats on the council.

Chris South, editor of The Cape May Star & Wave, said this week that he and Jack Fichter of The Cape May County Herald approached the candidates regarding a debate.

“We were trying, but received no response from the Republican candidates,” said South, who indicated that he had arranged for the League of Women Voters to moderate the event. “In fact, I need to call the League and cancel our request.”

South said that the Independents for Lower ticket responded and agreed to the public forum on Oct. 26, as arranged by the media representatives.

Craig said he had received no information about a request to debate, but referred questions to Jeff Lindsay, municipal leader for the Lower Township Regular Republican Organization.

“There was some discussion about a debate, but it never came together,” said Lindsay, who indicated that the proposed date was Oct. 25. “We are now in discussions with Denis Brown of Coast Broadcasting and Chris South about a debate on the radio.”

South said he had not spoken to Brown or Lindsay about a radio format for the debate.

“We had to cancel the planned event at the Millman Center because the Republican candidates did not respond to our request,” said South. “We could still organize something, but we’d have trouble getting the word out for the 26th.”

“I haven’t had any discussions with Denis (Brown) or Jeff Lindsay about a radio broadcast,” he said.

Lindsay later clarified that he had exchanged emails between Oct. 9-15 with South regarding the possibility of a debate.

“At least five emails went back and forth, but I never received a date or time certain,” he said. “I just got off the phone and have confirmed that we can debate on the radio on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.”

Beck, who issued the second of three policy papers earlier this week, said he wanted to debate in a public forum and was disappointed that the Republican candidates had failed to respond.

“This type of debate should be in the community, in front of voters, and moderated neutrally – this is what the League of Women Voters does. They want the information to get out in open forum,” said Beck.

“We prefer the radio because it will reach more people,” said Lindsay. “But, if the Independents want some other forum we are certainly open to that.”

Last week, the Beck’s campaign released a policy statement on open government. This week, the campaign focused on public safety issues in Lower Township, including the proposed move of police and the municipal court from the Public Safety Building at the Cape May County Airport back to the municipal complex on Bayshore Road.

Beck said the planned statement for next week would focus on economic development in the township.

The Republican candidates released a four point plan in late September, promising to continue “holding the line on taxes, moving to line item budgeting, investing in roads and flood control first, and making the streets safer,” according to Simonsen.

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