The Debate about the Debate Continues

I asked Anne Milling, of Women of the Storm (the non-profit organization which was the official proponent of the New Orleans debate) to clarify the issues involved.
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New Orleans remains baffled and outraged by the decision of the Commission on Presidential Debates to bypass the city's application for a debate next year. Following up on questions asked by commenters to my previous post, I asked Anne Milling, of Women of the Storm (the non-profit organization which was the official proponent of the NO debate) to clarify the issues involved. Here's much of her response:

ONE SIGNATURE: The New York Times (11/24) said, The central problem was that while nine groups participated in the proposal, only one, a nonprofit advocacy group, signed the bid. The context of the story attributed the opinion to Mike McCurry, CPD's newest board member. From our initial inquiry, we were emphatically told by Janet Brown, the Commission's executive director, that there could only be one signature--one entity which must accept legal and financial liabilities. The application was sent to CPD with one signature; getting other signatures would have not have been a problem. Our application was submitted in concert with four universities. Officials of our city, state, convention center and hotel/motel association pledged the necessary resources through letters which were included in our application. I personally pledge the full cooperation of all city departments to ensure the success of the debate, said Mayor Nagin in his letter. If selected, we will work tirelessly to meet every need and requirement of the Commission, wrote Governor Blanco. We are pleased to offer as an in-kind contribution our state-of-the-art space for the debate and the media that will cover it, pledged Warren Reuther, chair of the board for the Morial Convention Center. Others made similar commitments.

If multiple signatures were necessary, then why was that not asked of us?

SPECIAL ATTENTION: It has been publicly and privately stated by Commission members that New Orleans received special attention with three or four staff visits.

This is totally erroneous. In addition to Mr. Slutsky's quick review of our damaged university campuses and walk-through of the Convention Center prior to our application being filed, only ONE staff member, Tammy Johnson, took part in the formal visit on June 19. We emphasize that, during this visit, the mayor, lieutenant governor, university presidents and the heads of the Hotel/Motel Association and Morial Convention Center were all present. Not a question was raised or a concern expressed. It is our understanding that we were the ONLY venue of the 16 applicants that had just one member of the CPD team at its official site visit. At least two of the sites selected for presidential debates hosted three-member CPD teams, according to media coverage.

Is this what the CPD considers special attention?

NO QUESTIONS BETWEEN MARCH 31 AND SEPTEMBER 24: On September 24, I received the first communication by e-mail (attached) from Ms. Brown, asking that a number of people from the city and state come to Washington immediately the same people who were available to the one CPD staffer who made the formal visit June 19. Coincidentally, when I received the e-mail, I was in Washington at a bank meeting with my husband so I offered to meet with her and CPD attorney Lew Loss on September 26. The following was discussed at that time: (and, yes, given the short notice of the meeting, I was the only one at the table!)

Money was no object, as significant commitments had been made by national foundations and corporations.

Although essential commitments by the city, state, convention center and hotel/motel association were clearly stated in our proposal (see attached letters of commitment) and those groups represented at the official site visit, we would have been delighted to have each entity sign an affidavit immediately, or, if necessary, meet in a designated city with Ms. Brown and Mr. Loss. Additionally, at the request of Ms. Brown, I gave them the name of our attorney, Bill Hines, of Jones Walker, which has offices in Washington and New Orleans.

On parting, Mr. Loss and Ms. Brown assured me they would get back in touch, perhaps that afternoon, with necessary paperwork for signatures from our public partners, which would certainly allay any concerns.

I waited and waited for the forthcoming legal documentsonly silence. On September 27, I e-mailed Ms. Brown and Mr. Loss because I had heard nothing. (e-mail copy attached). Finally, on October 3, I sent another e-mail (attached), again reiterating our desire to do whatever was necessary to assure the total commitment from our city and state. The response--silence!

Were mayors, governors and hotel/motel associations required to sign affidavits in other venues? Why was it suggested that the written word of our public officials, incorporated in our application, was not sufficient?

NEW ORLEANS REJECTED: On November 19, CPD Co-Chair Paul Kirk in his phone conversation to me stated: New Orleans is not ready! though we just hosted conventions of 20,000 ophthalmologists and 25,000 Realtors and will host the Sugar Bowl and BCS championship in January and the NBA all-star game later in the year! What an incorrect, unsupported and damning statement this was to a city on the mend!

Frank Fahrenkopf stated to the presidents of Loyola and Xavier Universities, Technology is lacking. Our state-of-the-art convention center is ranked in the top five in the United States and will host a major cable/telecommunications convention next May the same center that, in March, CPD's lead producer pronounced ready to hold the debate tomorrow.

Mike McCurry was quoted in The Times-Picayune (11/20) as saying that we lacked financial support and that no one wanted to impose on the poor people of New Orleans. The leadership of the Commission knew that financial support from across the country was more than adequate (and that we had pledged not to solicit money in New Orleans).

How could men of such stature abuse their positions by clearly misleading the public with such untruths? How could anyone imply that our application did not meet or surpass all requirements?

Then those requirements became guidelines as the process unfolded! Even guidelines were ignored most blatantly in choosing Oxford, Mississippi, with 650 hotel rooms, less than 22% of the requirement that the Commission sets out in its published guidelines.

DISTORTIONS CONTINUE: Throughout the Thanksgiving holiday week, CPD representatives continued to misrepresent New Orleans and our application. Who could commit the convention center, the hotels, the financial obligations and the public services like police and emergency personnel ? asked Ms. Brown in The New York Times. Anne was the only person at the table, claimed Mr. McCurry.

Once again, we urge you to read our application and review the e-mails.

We question whether Ms. Brown and Mr. Fahrenkopf informed you that the Mayor of the City of New Orleans, the director of the Convention Center and our newly elected Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, phoned to underscore their written commitment?

We're not even sure about when or whether Commission board members met to review applications. Did you together weigh the merits of the 16 competing sites?

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