Weekly Feature

2017-08-09 / Front Page

Candidate forum draws ire of political parties

by KEATON T. DEPRIEST Associate Editor

Joe Heins, campaign manager for the Amherst Republican Committee, expressed in an Aug. 4 statement the organization’s displeasure in a candidate forum planned for the fall and hosted by the town’s Open Government Advisory Board.

In the statement, Heins said the advisory board’s scheduling of the forum is “a hijacking of town government by political partisans to try and tip the scales in their favor in November’s elections.”

Heins’ comments stem from The Bee’s exclusive Aug. 2 story regarding the advisory board’s forum, planned for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, at the Amherst Municipal Building, 5583 Main St., Williamsville.

“First and foremost, it is unprecedented and highly inappropriate for a branch of town government to play any role in a political campaign, let alone stage a candidate debate,” Heins said. “The various boards and committees that are part of town government are meant to serve the needs of the people of Amherst, not to advance the agenda of one political party over another.”

Paul Wolf, chairman of the Open Government Advisory Board, told the Bee that the event will be held in lieu of the board’s October meeting.

Wolf and three members of the advisory board formed a subcommittee that met on June 29 to discuss the forum’s details. He said each candidate on the November ballot for town council and supervisor will be invited to attend the forum.

The chairman said the subcommittee agreed to not screen questions during the forum, adding that “people will sign in if interested in asking a question, and when it is their turn, they will step up to the microphone and ask their question.”

Wolf also said that while there was discussion about possibly inviting an outside organization — such as the League of Women Voters — to moderate the event, the subcommittee decided that was not necessary. According to the minutes of the subcommittee’s meeting, it was agreed by the panel that Wolf would moderate the forum.

Heins said he did not agree with not allowing an outside organization or person to moderate the forum, adding that the Amherst Republican Committee is looking forward to the annual candidates forum held at the Amherst Senior Center and moderated by the League of Women Voters.

“Our Republican candidates look forward to participating in the League of Women Voters annual candidate forum, a time-honored tradition that gives all candidates a fair opportunity to present their platforms to the community,” Heins said. “In the meantime, we will continue to travel throughout our town promoting our plans to protect the taxpayers of Amherst, while at the same time ensuring that we maintain the high quality of life that make this town a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

Heins added that the forum is a way for the Amherst Democratic Committee to advance a partisan agenda.

“Clearly, Mr. Wolf is attempting to use his position in town government to benefit the very people who put him in power,” Heins said.

Jerome Schad, chairperson of the Amherst Democratic Committee, also provided a response regarding the issue, commenting that he feels the advisory board's planned forum is improper.

"Any attempt to set up political debates through the town's Open Government [Advisory Board] by Mr. Wolf is highly inappropriate," Schad said. "Mr. Wolf undertook these actions by himself without any consultation with the Amherst Democratic Committee or me. We would have advised him against doing so."

In response to Heins’ comments, Wolf said that at one of the Open Government Advisory Board’s meetings a resident expressed concern that there were very few opportunities for residents to see all of the Town Board candidates together answering issue-based questions.

Wolf said that after the residential feedback, the advisory board unanimously agreed to turn its regularly scheduled October meeting into a candidate forum to give the public the opportunity to directly ask candidates questions.

“While campaign managers like to create news stories that will benefit their candidates, Mr. Heins’ comments are simply not true,” Wolf said in reply to Heins’ remarks. “It is disappointing that Mr. Heins is afraid to have the candidates he manages appear in a public forum to simply answer audience questions.”

According to Wolf, each candidate participating in the forum will receive:

• Two minutes to conduct an opening statement

• One minute to respond to questions

• Two minutes to recite a closing statement

“The Open Government Advisory Board has been equally critical of Democratic and Republican board members, as there are many open government issues that need to be addressed in Amherst,” Wolf said, adding that he was appointed once by Republican Supervisor Barry Weinstein and once by Democratic board member Deborah Bruch Bucki.

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