Thursday, October 19, 2000

Senator refuses to debate for cable

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — State Sen. Jack Westwood shocked a crowd of mostly east-side Covington residents Wednesday night when he refused to participate in a political debate because it was being taped for cable television.

        Just moments before Mr. Westwood, an Erlanger Republican seeking re-election, was to debate Independence Democrat Jaimie Henson before a crowd of about 50, the Westwood campaign informed organizers that the senator would not participate.

        Marc Wilson, Mr. Westwood's campaign manager, said allowing the hourlong debate to be videotaped and then shown repeatedly on Kenton County cable access channels would give Mrs. Henson an unfair political advantage.

        “She does not have the name recognition of Jack Westwood,” Mr. Wilson told the Rev. Richard Fowler of Ninth Street Baptist Church, the African-American church that sponsored the event.

        “We don't need it,” Mr. Wilson told the Rev. Mr. Fowler as they, along with representatives of Mrs. Henson's campaign, negotiated in vain to salvage the debate.

Producer showed up
        “I don't understand this,” the Rev. Mr. Fowler said during the discussion, which took place in front of the church's altar. The debate was to take place in an adjoining multipurpose room.

        “You have agreed to debate in a public forum, why won't you do it if there is a television camera present?” the Rev. Mr. Fowler said.

        Mr. Wilson said he and Shannon Pratt, Mrs. Henson's campaign manager, had negotiated that the event would not be taped.

        But Ms. Pratt said the Henson campaign had no control over the independent cable access producer, Terry Whittaker of Elsmere, who showed up to record the event.

        “I just came down on my own,” said Ms. Whittaker.

        Mrs. Henson was invited by the Rev. Mr. Fowler to take questions from reporters and the audience by herself, which she did. Her appearance will be replayed on Channel 22 public access in Kenton County, but the times have not been set.

Both parties upset
        “I believe what was done was a disservice,” Mrs. Henson said, “not only to your community ... and to all voters in Kenton County.

        “Anything that I am saying to you tonight I'm going to say to anybody else in this district,” she said. “I don't change my story ... and I have no problem being taped tonight or any other time that I'm talking.”

        Democrats and even some Republicans in the audience questioned Mr. Westwood's move, since Mrs. Henson will still get the cable access exposure the Westwood campaign sought to quash.

        “I wish he would have stayed,” said Ted Smith, a Republican political consultant from Park Hills.

        East-side resident Pam Mullins, a former Covington city commis sioner, said she was disappointed in Mr. Westwood.

        “Particularly because he was one of the legislators I have been able to talk to” about issues in the neighborhood, she said. “I'm very disappointed as a constituent that he did not stay and address the people of Covington.”

        Mr. Wilson said Mr. Westwood will try to hold a forum so east-side residents can express their views.

        Democrat Sally Davis, the head of constituent services in Northern Kentucky for Gov. Paul Pat ton, said Mr. Westwood's actions “are typical of how Republicans in this district treat the people that they actually serve.”

        “There was no reason for Jack Westwood to walk out of this debate,” Mrs. Davis said. “Frankly, I think that he probably felt when he walked in here tonight that there were a lot of people who were going to ask him a lot of straight questions about what he had done, and he couldn't take the heat.”


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