Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Clashing Forums Mark Finale of 2005 Campaign

There was no one-stop shopping Tuesday for voters seeking candidate viewpoints.

The League of Women Voters forum, a tradition for 85 years for city candidates, got competition this year from a new group, Women Across the City, which invited all candidates on the ballot to participate.

The League’s forum at the Plainfield Public Library attracted about 140 people to hear incumbent Mayor Al McWilliams and independent candidate Bob Ferraro answer questions about the mayoral contest.

Republican Al Coleman Jr. gave his views on issues in the 2nd & 3rd Ward at-large race for an un-expired term.

About a mile away at Washington Community School, about 180 people heard 2nd & 3rd Ward incumbent Rashid Burney and mayoral candidate Sharon Robinson-Briggs speak.

The line-up there also included Assemblyman Jerry Green, seeking his eighth term, and Assemblywoman Linda Stender, Freeholder Rick Proctor and County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, all seeking re-election. Elliott Simmons, unopposed for a 4th Ward seat, also appeared.

Not counting the 10 gubernatorial candidates on the ballot, the roster came up a bit short of the 16 other names on the printed ballot.

The reason given for the alternate forum was that the League of Women Voters was allowing McWilliams to speak, even though he is not on the ballot. McWilliams lost the June primary to Robinson-Briggs and lost a bid to run as a Republican in the general election. He and his supporters are now waging a write-in campaign.

The League took the position that McWilliams is likely to get at least 15 percent of the vote on Nov. 8 and so he was entitled to take part in the annual forum.

All three mayoral candidates for a four-year term submitted information for the League to publish, further confusing the reason for the last-minute alternate forum.

By coincidence, the ground rules for audiences at each forum were identical, prohibiting heckling and spelling out rules for submitting questions.

At the Washington School event, women organizers dressed in red in an echo of Robinson-Briggs' campaign signs.

At the library, Democratic Party stalwart Helen Miller was also dressed in red but said she was in the right place. Each audience appeared to contain both partisans and opponents to those on the dais.

The turnout - both in numbers and in who showed up - seemed to be more of a litmus test than the questions asked.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: elections

UPDATE (11/3/05) - In our original report we did not mention that Councilman Rashid Burney attended both forums on Tuesday night, beginning at the library and then moving on to Washington School. He was the only candidate to go to both events. BTK