Recently the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the venues for the Vice-Presidential and Presidential Debates in 2008. New Orleans, although a contender, was not included among the final four. Notwithstanding the Commission's stated reasons for choice of venue, its motives remain highly suspect.
In 2008, the three presidential debates will be held at University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS; Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY; and Belmont University in Nashville, TN. The vice-presidential debate will be at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.
Commission guidelines mandate that "host cities must meet extensive requirements, along with specifications covering details like financing and security and the number of hotel rooms within 30 minutes of the site". (Two hundred of the three thousand rooms should be one- or two-bedroom suites). New Orleans stands on record with 24,000 hotel rooms.
Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., Republican co-chairman of the commission, said the decision was based on technical criteria, not politics. Paul G. Kirk Jr., Democratic co-chairman of the commission, said New Orleans "did not measure up". Michael D. McCurry, commission member, said "in the end ... the commission was not confident that New Orleans could stage a seamless production". Notwithstanding the endorsement from Anne Milling, founder of Women of the Storm the commission felt "a nonprofit could not guarantee the necessary financial, technical, security and logistical support".
Pardon me, but the commission expects a "seamless production" hardly two years after a natural disaster, unprecedented in the history of the nation? Maybe the commission should adjust its standards and ask New Orleans to produce to the best of its ability - all things considered. If New Orleanians cannot expect the 'powers that be' to guarantee the necessary financial, technical, security and logistical support for their daily existence, why should the commission expect a nonprofit to deliver the same? There's an old saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". Adapted to modern times and applied to New Orleans, the saying can now read, "When in New Orleans, roll with the New Orleanians".
Furthermore, a recovering New Orleans has successfully hosted events in recent months. The Morial Convention Center's schedule of events for 2007 bears witness to this fact. In 2007, New Orleans hosted not only Mardi Gras but also Jazzfest. In 2008, Eve Ensler is slated to host "V to the Tenth" at the Superdome in April. The NBA All-Star game and NCAA football championship are also scheduled to be held in New Orleans.
Typically, smaller colleges aspire to host the debates due to the publicity generated. Hofstra's president, Stuart Rabinowitz, acknowledged he had seen increase in admission at some colleges after they held debates. Similarly, New Orleans stands to benefit from the post-debate publicity. As Anne Milling notes in a statement posted on the website of Women of the Storm, "we maintain that our city is the perfect backdrop for those individuals vying for the highest office of the land to discuss and debate domestic issues which affect the entire nation - crisis response, disaster recovery, education, health care, housing, and a deteriorating infrastructure. Those issues will persist for New Orleans and America throughout the next administration and beyond."
New Orleans has indicated that it may ask the commission to reconsider its decision. Lets hope they do. Moreover, let's hope the commission amends its position to include New Orleans as a host venue for the debates. After all, if Oxford, Mississippi made the final cut, why not New Orleans?