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First-hand Accounts of Debate Day
Before sunrise, crews from every local and national television and radio network began gearing up for a long day of news reports. Students had begun congregating around the MSNBC/Hardball stage in front of the Mack Student Center before 5 a.m. When the cable network went live shortly thereafter, so did the students, cheering and holding signs and banners for their chosen candidates. At the same time, WCBS-TV was broadcasting with the WRHU Radio Hofstra University morning show crew at Dempster Hall, and the New York Fox affiliate went live with Good Day New York. The day would continue in this way, creating an atmosphere on campus that melded a major news event with a massive block party.
The Mack Student Center parking lot was transformed for the day into “Issue Alley,” with mobile campaign exhibition buses hosted by CNN, C-SPAN, Rock the Vote and others. Broadcast reporters did live “stand-ups” from newly constructed platforms in front of the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, site of the debate. Credentialed media from across the country and as far away as Kenya, Egypt, Brazil, France, Japan and England checked in at the Physical Fitness Center, which had been transformed into a massive Media Filing Center.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announcement on November 19, 2007, that Hofstra would host the third and final debate gave rise to Educate ’08, a yearlong series of lectures, conferences, artistic performances and exhibitions, town hall meetings and interactive forums focused on the issues, history and politics of presidential elections. Students, faculty, staff and the community participated in a series of important discussions that featured nationally and internationally renowned journalists, political advisers, government leaders, economists and scholars. The goal of Educate ’08 was to provide our students, faculty and the entire surrounding community with access to the newsmakers, scholars and policymakers who have unique insight and knowledge of the American political system. Educate ’08 ensured that students were not only knowledgeable about the election, but engaged in the political process.
Just in the weeks leading up to the event, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass, former U.S. Treasury Secretaries Paul O’Neill and Robert Rubin, and feminist activist Gloria Steinem were guests to campus. Educate ’08 programs continued post-debate with former White House press secretaries Dee Dee Myers and Ari Fleischer, 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, and a massive Election Night Returns Party.
Readying the campus for the October 15 debate was no easy feat. The David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex and the Physical Fitness Center (PFC) underwent dramatic interior changes. The 5,000-seat sports complex was transformed into a more intimate sound stage. The scoreboard was taken down, and air conditioning vents were modified to ensure a precise and comfortable temperature for the candidates. The PFC’s wooden floor was carpeted, and work stations were set up at long tables for more than 700 print and radio journalists. Miles of phone and Internet cables were run and dozens of flat screen TVs set up for many of the more than 3,100 credentialed journalists on campus. Additionally, one end of the PFC became the famed “spin alley,” to which campaign representatives rushed following the debate to get face time with the press and extol the virtues of their candidates.
More than 200 Hofstra Debate ’08 directional and decorative banners and signs were hung from the lampposts along Hempstead Turnpike and on campus, and all around the Mack Sports Complex, Mack Student Center and Hofstra Hall. For those students who were not able to get a ticket for the debate, four Debate Watch simulcasts were set up in the Main Dining Room of the Mack Student Center, the Student Center Theater, Hofstra USA and the Netherlands Café. Each was filled to capacity the night of the debate with students, professors and media eager to interview students about their reactions to the debate. Two simulcasts were also set up for members of the community at the John Cranford Adams Playhouse and Monroe Lecture Center Theater.
In addition to the hard work of the campus community and dozens of vendors working around the clock to ensure the success of the debate, the University gratefully acknowledges the financial support of its local debate sponsors: The Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency, The John D. Miller Fund at the Long Island Community Foundation, and Sondra and David S. Mack. Newsday and The New York Observer were additional supporters of the Educate ’08 initiative.