Election South Orange

UPDATED: Discussions Break Down Over Topic(s) of Sole South Orange Village President Debate

Updated May 9, 2019: The SO Forward campaign held a town hall on May 7 after the Sheena Collum for Village President campaign said it could not agree to terms for the debate format. After the NAACP Oranges & Maplewood Unit stepped out of sponsoring and moderating, the South Orange Chamber of Commerce hosted the town hall with James Harris of Montclair moderating. Sheena Collum campaign manager Celina Herrero read a statement from Sheena Collum early in the town hall, calling SO Forward’s labeling of the event as a debate an “outrage.” Herrero stated that the Collum campaign had not been contacted by SO Forward, the Chamber, or Harris about the new terms for a debate. Village President candidate Deborah Davis Ford, however, said that Collum had reneged on a promise to debate agreed upon on April 23. Davis Ford then made an opening statement, took questions from Harris and then questions from the audience. Meanwhile, Collum responded in real time to Davis Ford’s assertions on line as WZYE 95.9 FM broadcast the event on Facebook Live (see video below).

Although the two candidates for South Orange Village President had agreed to debate on May 7 on the topic of fire department shared services, Thomas Puryear of the NAACP Oranges and Maplewood Unit tells Village Green that the debate is off — at least as originally planned.

“As you know we were originally asked to moderate an ‘interaction’ between both candidates, with the only topic for discussion would be the fire department’s proposed consolidation,” wrote Puryear in an email on May 5 responding to Village Green’s query about the debate’s status.

“At some point, one candidate wanted to expand the session into a debate on various topics, while the other candidate wanted the interaction to be as originally planned,” continued Puryear. “Since there was no agreement, our Unit declined to participate in matters. There exists a possibility that the ‘interaction’ will be held even if only one candidate participates. We will not be participating in any endeavor.”

According to Rachel Ford, campaign director of the SO Forward, Deborah Davis Ford will be on hand at The Baird at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7 to debate incumbent Sheena Collum. Ford said that the debate would be recorded.

In an email response to Village Green on May 4, Ford wrote, “It is not cancelled. We will be there.”

However, the Collum camp — which asked for the debate along with other debates on other topics — says that Collum will not be there.

Although Collum had originally agreed to the sole debate on the topic of fire services, her campaign said she asked that the topics be expanded when no other debates on other topics could be scheduled and the SO Forward campaign put out a negative mailer attacking Collum’s record on redevelopment.

Collum shared a message to Puryear that read in part: “Trustee Davis Ford continues to send very negative and blatantly false mailers to our community but won’t have an open discussion with me on them. For several weeks, members of our press and community have tried endlessly to pull together a ‘debate’ and have an honest and transparent discussion on all issues of importance to our community: taxes, redevelopment, crime, equity, affordable housing, capital improvements, shared services, schools, etc.”

Collum continued, “I hope Trustee Davis Ford changes her mind and welcomes all opportunities to discuss all issues with our residents.” Collum ended, “I apologize to you and your unit and am mindful of your very valuable time. I would love to have you moderate a debate.”

In an email on May 2, Rachel Ford wrote to Puryear, “On April 23rd, when Celina [Herrero, Collum’s campaign director] and I met, both our campaigns agreed to a single debate on the fire issue, moderated by the NAACP. Our team is ready to proceed with what was agreed upon on that date. For reference, I am including the Village Green article from 4/23/19 that includes their campaign’s agreement to the May 7th debate.”

Ford concluded, “We remain committed to the Fire Merger Debate on May 7th.”

In a May 1 email in the exchange, Puryear commented, “If there is no agreement on the terms of a planned interaction, there is no need for us to proceed.” On May 2, he wrote, “From the joint conversations earlier our Unit believes that the planned interaction will not be held. Best wishes to both candidates.”

On May 5, Rachel Ford wrote to Village Green, “Deborah is honoring the agreement that we made.”

On May 7, Collum responded to an email from Village Green asking if there had been any compromise on terms. Collum wrote, “Deborah has not indicated that she’s willing to discuss anything but fire services. If she is, we’ll be there.”

Ford did not respond to a follow-up email asking who is hosting the debate in place of Puryear and the NAACP Oranges & Maplewood Unit.

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