Thursday, October 05, 2000

Danville polished, primed for debate

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DANVILLE, Ky. — From the window of their condo, George and Rodi Jackson have a unimpeded view of Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts, the site of tonight's vice presidential debate.

        But even though the historic event will be taking place practically next door to their home, the Jacksons won't be looking out the window today.

        That's because they aren't allowed.

[photo] Debbie Sebastian photographs a fourth-grade group that toured the Centre College debate site.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        “The Secret Service came to see us,” said Mr. Jackson, 77, who like his wife is a retired school teacher from Dayton, Ohio. “They were very nice, very professional. But they told us the day of the debate not to get close to the window, don't open it and don't raise the blinds.”

        “It's kind of exciting,” said Mrs. Jackson, 72, “to do all this stuff.”

        The Jacksons — who moved here to be close to their grandchildren — are like many residents and students in this quintessential small Southern college town when it comes to tonight's political showdown between Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat Joe Lieberman.

   Population: 15,970, county seat of Boyle County
   Founded: 1782
   Major employers: Matsushita Home Appliances Corp.; R.R. Donnelley & Sons.
   Location: 35 miles southwest of Lexington, Ky., on U.S. 34
   Did you know: Danville is the smallest town to ever host a nationally televised election debate.
   Location: Danville, Ky.
   Founded: 1819
   Enrollment: 1,055
   Campus: 115 acres, 17 buildings on National Register of Historic Places
   Tuition: $16,900
   Room: $2,810
   Meals: $2,740
   Gender: 51 percent female, 49 percent male
   Race: 95 percent white, 3 percent African American, 1 percent Asian, 1 percent international students
   Distinguished alumni: Former Vice President Adlai Stevenson, Hard Rock Cafe founder Isaac Tigrett, two U.S. Supreme Court justices, 13 U.S. senators, 43 U.S. House members and 11 governors.
   Did you know: Ranked 42nd among liberal arts colleges nationwide by U.S. News and World Report.
   Source: Centre College; Enquirer research

        Far from put out with the hundreds of reporters, campaign workers, debate staff, volunteers, protesters, gawkers and security personnel scurrying around the campus and the city, residents and students have welcomed the attention a national political debate brings to Danville.

        “Let's face it, this is a small town. Not a lot happens here,” said Beth Williams, 23, an English major from Brodhead, Ky.

        “But this is like, woo hoo, it's a big deal. There is something exciting going on,” Ms. Williams said.

        The county seat of Boyle County, Danville is about 30 minutes southwest of Lexington.

        Rich with history, it was in Danville in 1792 that Kentucky leaders voted to break with Virginia and form their own state, an event memorialized at the city's Constitution Square.

        Centre was founded 27 years later and named because it was in the center of the state.

        The Centre College campus is covered with buildings more than a century old. The red-bricked, white-columned structures fit in nicely with rolling lawns and mature trees that are this week displaying the colorful changes of a central Kentucky autumn.

        The campus looks even better than usual, said Danville High School senior Chris Combs, 18. “I've never seen Centre look so good,” Mr. Combs said as he and Carrie Montgomery, 17, also a senior, walked back to school after taking a tour of the debate site.

        “Everything is really spruced up, and it looks so different,” he said.

        Centre was chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates from more than 100 organizations, cities, universities and others that applied, said Clarence Wyatt, a Centre history professor and special assistant to college President John Roush.

        Mr. Roush, who was named Centre's president in January 1998, has participated in the process of arranging a presidential debate before. In 1992, while a vice president at the University of Richmond, he helped the school hold a debate among President Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

        Just a few weeks ago, as George W. Bush and the Republicans sparred with Democrats over the debate sites and format, Centre and Danville feared they might loose their shot at campaign history.

        “But everybody pulled together, we wrote a lot of letters, we talked to the media, we did everything we could to keep this alive,” said Centre student Cary Hearn, 21, a double major in economics and Spanish from Nags Head, N.C.

        Work has also been done sprucing up Danville's picturesque Main Street and downtown, from cleaning the street lamps to painting the fire hydrants.

        “There's been a lot of work to make things look good,” said Tom Gentry, 56, a professional photographer. “But I've also seen them do things like weld the manhole covers shut for security. It's exciting what's going on, but it's also very serious.”

        The city's Main Street is lined with older but freshly painted stores, banks, three-story office buildings and merchants like Burke's Bakery, which has operated for more than 100 years.

        Some protesters have been spotted in town and a few more are expected today.

        Near campus, Roy and Angie Martin operate an insurance agency. In the spirit of the season, Mrs. Martin has erected two Halloween scarecrows adorned with Lieberman and Cheney signs.

        “We're all excited about this. My son, Jacob, is a student at Centre and he's been working with the Lieberman advance team,” Mrs. Martin, 39, said.

        “I just hope the protesters don't do anything to my scarecrows.”


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