Front Seat To History
CP had a seat at the second of three presidential debates. TV viewers could tell Tuesday night’s mat
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 19:10
Tickets to presidential debates are not easy to come by, but providence landed a ticket to Tuesday night’s debate in this reporter’s lap.
On Monday, I learned that I would have the chance to watch Barack Obama and Mitt Romney cross verbal fencing foils. I drove approximately twelve hours and roughly 600 miles in the span of two days. I became good friends with the Adirondack Northway and the New York State Thruway, although I do not think they or anyone else enjoyed my many renditions of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep.
While the journey was mentally taxing, the destination made the road shorter and sweeter, and I observed a spectacle that will remain etched in my memory.
As a correspondent for two newspapers, I determined that two different stories needed to be written to give readers a better sense of what I saw and heard Tuesday night. The first was an objective report for Thursday’s online edition of the Press-Republican. The second, the subjective account of a 22-year-old student, is the one which you are now reading.
I left Plattsburgh at 11 a.m. Tuesday and arrived in Bayside five hours later. By 5:30 p.m. my mother and I were on our way to the Meadowbrook Parkway. She told me we ought to get to Hofstra as early as possible because security at these events puts any airport to shame.
Security was the reason Tuesday classes were cancelled at Hofstra, and the campus was abuzz with law enforcement officers talking through walkie-talkies. It seemed there were squad cars parked at every entrance, exit and intersection, and they exuded a no-nonsense philosophy.
After we found the parking lot, we walked inside Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and joined the hundreds of people who seemed to be waiting in line to wait in line. We collected our tickets and joined the crowds waiting for food or further developments.
Many were dressed to impress, wearing suit jackets, neckties, and wing-tipped shoes and designer coats, dresses, and high-heels. It was not hard to pick students out. The most recognizable outliers were the volunteers that helped us find our way around.
Among them was Zachary Englis. Englis, an 18-year-old freshman from Mineola, responded to a campus-wide email searching for volunteers to help at the debate, and was randomly chosen to greet guests and direct them where they needed to go.
Englis said he was excited that the Commission on Presidential Debates had chosen his school as a host for the second consecutive election and the school was well-prepared. He said students throughout the college had made an effort to stay up to date on the election and student organizations set up tables in “issue alley,” where students outlined the platforms of each campaign.
He said that in the lead up to the debate high-profile figures such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and political talk show host Chris Matthews had spoken at the campus in the last month.
Englis said local and national media attention brought more excitement than disruption.
“The world is focused on Hofstra, and it is cool to experience that,” he said.
Despite volunteering at the event, Englis was not given a ticket to the debate and said he would watch it elsewhere on campus. Though he had been one of the 6,500 students who entered into the raffle for a seat in the audience, he was not one of the 200-300 chosen.
Raffle-winners were not easy to find. Some students had used connections and pulled strings to find tickets.
Hersh Parekh, a 25-year-old graduate student who studies law at Hofstra, obtained a ticket to the debate through the New York State Democratic Committee. He said he believes having political speakers on campus helps increase student knowledge about the subject.
“I am big fan of seeing young people engaged in one way or another,” Parekh said as he shuffled toward a platter of fresh fruit.
Parekh attended a point-counterpoint discussion between Republican strategist Karl Rove and former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Oct. 11, but he said the energy surrounding this debate was incomparable to anything else.
After we had eaten and drank, the lines lead us through metal detectors and out into the crisp autumn night. As we waited for the coach bus to take us to the debate site, I finally found the winner of a raffle ticket.
Senior Matthew Spataro, a wrestler whose regular training facility had been transformed into a debate hall, said the debate had its pros and cons. but he said he was not too worried about the fact it was “damn near impossible” to get his car onto campus.