Candidate Forums in Short Supply This Election Season

The presidential debates aren’t the only candidate forums that seem to have hit a snag this election season.

A majority of the League of Women Voters of Westchester forums leading up to the general election, which are typically held in October, have had to be canceled this year because of candidates’ non-participation.

Kathy Meany, president of the League of Women Voters of Westchester, said that seven of the 11 forums that were scheduled had to be called off because at least one candidate declined, withdrew or failed to respond to the League’s overtures.

Meany said the disintegration of the forum schedule was likely coincidental.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with the virtual environment,” Meany said. “We ran the virtual candidate forums for all the primaries back in June, in addition to school board (forums), and I have to tell you that they were so well-received. The feedback was positive. We were really delighted about that.”

The League will press forward with four forums in Westchester, starting with the 17th Congressional District candidates on Tuesday night, Meany said. Forums for the 37th, 38th and 40th state Senate districts are still scheduled to be held next week.

Factors that are beyond the League of Women’s Voters control appear to have played a factor, she said. For example, the organization was planning on holding a forum involving Democrat Mimi Rocah and Republican Bruce Bendish for Westchester County District attorney. But on Sept. 21 Bendish announced he was ending his campaign.

Democratic congressional candidates in the 16th and 18th districts, Jamaal Bowman and Sean Patrick Maloney, failed to respond. Three days before the scheduled 18th Congressional District forum, Maloney formally declined, according to a statement put out by League of Women Voters in Putnam County.

Then the Republican candidate in that district, Chele Farley, told the Leagues in Westchester, Putnam and Orange counties that she did not want to participate in a one-person forum.

Republican Assembly candidate Lawrence Chiuli, who is taking on Assemblywoman Sandy Galef in the 95th District, pulled out of that scheduled forum while John Nuculovic, the Republican candidate in the 93rd Assembly District, never responded, Meany said.

She said every candidate has his or her reasons for making their decision. She hopes that the forecast for lopsided outcomes in some of the races was not a factor.

“You would hope that even a candidate that maybe is perhaps way ahead in the polls or holds that view, you would think they would still have the mindset to reach out into the communities,” she said. “That’s actually what our disappointment was.”

The campaign for Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R-Mahopac) in the 94th Assembly District hinted at some confusion surrounding the absence of a League of Women Voters forum. In a statement released by the campaign calling the turn of events “regrettable,” it said four alternative dates were proposed to the Putnam League of Women Voters but there was no record of response from the League.

The campaign then reached out to the League of Women Voters in Westchester through the Westchester Republican chairman about potentially participating in the same forum as Peter Harckham and Rob Astorino, the candidates in the 40th Senate District, but there was no response.

“Voters should have multiple opportunities to see candidates speak about their record and ideas,” the Byrne campaign statement read. “It is unfortunate it appears there will be less opportunity this year.”