Students, Candidates React to SSU Debate No-Shows - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

10/21/04

Students, Candidates React to SSU Debate No-Shows

Candidates are campaigning...and debating. This time at Savannah State University. Organizers invited candidates for Chatham County offices and seats on Capitol Hill. Our own Dawn Baker was one of the panelists. About 50 students and faculty turned out.

This debate is different. The controversy started before the candidates even introduced themselves. Three candidates didn't show up, saying they had scheduling conflicts, but organizers and students feel it was a slap to the face.

Johnny Isaakson, Denise Majette and Max Burns all bowed out, much to the chagrin of people hoping to hear all sides before election day.

"How dare you? That's enough. That's all I have to say, how dare you?" said student Sharif Deveau.

"We do have black student Republicans, we have black student Democrats and we have black students who are undecided," added fellow student Carline Aliotte. "So if they don't want to come here to inform us, how do we decide who to vote for?"

Organizers say they've juggled their schedule to fit all the candidates, and are frustrated those three didn't make it, Max Burns' absence in particular.

"He was just already booked with commitments for the dates they gave him, and simply could not make it," said Robin Wheeler with Burns' campaign. "He's exchanged letters with them and this is the first we've heard this week of there being such an uproar."

That excuse didn't sit well with organizers. "Anyone that has the excuse that it's large and you can't be everywhere doesn't need to run for the 12th District," said organizer Kenneth McFarland. "We need a candidate that's going to represent all parts of the district."

Burns' challenger, John Barrow, did show up at the debate, but says he can understand how candidates can't please all their constituents at the same time. "To be fair, scheduling is tough, but at the same time, government is about choices," he said. "You got to choose who you're going to be with. You got to choose the opportunities you have to reach out to people."

The biggest complaint from students was that a lot of people presume most people at an historically black school would naturally vote Democrat, and so there's a perception that candidates don't need to waste their time campaigning there. 

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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