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presidential debate

Voters wait outside the first Presidential debate at Hofstra University. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It amazes me how socially indifferent so many young people are today. Every semester I take an informal survey on how many of my students are registered to vote; how many know who is running for elected office and what his or her social platform is about. The number of students who are not registered is most disturbing. Probably a little more than half are registered to vote and less than 20 percent of those students are planning to vote. Most of them have no idea what the candidates stand for.

However, the most shocking issue was their indifference. Many expressed that voting was a waste of their time because their vote does not count. A number of students expressed that our political system is so corrupt and inept, they wanted nothing to do with it. They expressed frustration that from their perspective government only paid attention to special interest groups and not to the real needs of their constituents.

As we continued this conversation, it became apparent to me that too many of our students are academically bankrupt when it comes to government, social policy and human affairs. Many of these students believe that special interest and community opinion on issues is shaped by what CNN or Fox News reports. Their lack of understanding of our political system is a poor reflection on our educational system. We definitely need to do more to educate and engage our students in our political process. They are our future leaders.

The debates this presidential election year were a disgrace. They were not true debates. Neither candidate really answered the questions posed within the time frame that was established. The moderators were too timid and did not keep the candidates on task. Thankfully “fact finders” clarified and corrected all the misleading and blatantly false statements that were made. Neither candidate made a strong case for his/her political agenda or what they really were going to do to change and transform America if elected president. Instead of watching two well-educated candidates debate the serious issues facing our nation, we heard countless ad hominem attacks directed to each other. At times, it was very entertaining but lacked any real substance or helpful information.

One of my graduate students asked if those who run for public office are the best that we have to offer! It’s an interesting question. Another question was why don’t the best of the best choose public service as a possible career? Look at what we do to those who choose to serve our nation. Our focus is never on their ability to lead and serve and the political agenda they advocate for; but rather we focus on exploiting their family and every misstep or imperfection they possess. Why would anyone in their right mind want to subject their family to that kind of public scrutiny that is genuinely unconscionable? If we want the best of the best to lead us, then we must treat them with dignity and respect. We must work harder at attacking the issues and not the person. As a nation we deserve the best to lead us.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Supporters for both candidates are out early on debate day at Hofstra. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

A historic political event, which carried what felt like an unprecedented level of uncertainty, took place close to home Sept. 26.

Hofstra University was the place to be, as thousands of reporters, protestors, students and politicians flocked to the Hempstead campus to witness a debate featuring the first female presidential nominee of a major political party in United States history and one of the most powerful businessmen in the world. Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R) were the main attraction, but there was so much more to be seen and heard on campus in the hours leading up to show time.

Major news outlets from all over the world covered the event.

The scene was already buzzing around 10 a.m. Businesses set up booths to hand out free debate gear, and MSNBC, Fox News and CNN were already warming up their outdoor stages for a full day of coverage.

Some students carried signs with Clinton and Trump’s name, while others raised humorous, homemade signs with messages like “Mom, please come pick me up, I’m scared.” Freshmen to seniors visited the photo booths and interview stands set up, and seemed enthused and excited to be a part of the historic day.


One of the more popular activities of the day was an inflatable, replica White House for students to jump around in. In the early morning it lit up the parking lot and seemed like a spot students would enjoy a carefree few minutes after the stations focused on national issues were seen.

But soon enough, the inflatable White House became a backdrop for a serious scene.

Dozens of #BlackLivesMatter supporters stood silently arm in arm, in front of the White House. Observers around the area were silent as well.

It was a reminder early on that this debate was not just an exciting event, but also would spur a serious conversation about the state of America, and how it we will be led into the future.

Bernard Coles, a senior at Hofstra, said he wasn’t confident the issues important to #BlackLivesMatter supporters would come up at the debate.

“We’ve been talking nonstop about Brangelina for the past week so I’m not very optimistic about it coming up but I hope so,” he said in an interview. He also said he feels Clinton best represents the #BlackLivesMatter cause.

Black Lives Matter protestors make their presence felt at Hofstra University on debate day. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Black Lives Matter protestors make their presence felt at Hofstra University on debate day. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“I feel a thousand times more confident in the direction Hillary Clinton would take the country. She’s been trying to listen to us and support us and represent us for decades and I don’t understand why people are forgetting that.”

Although #BlackLivesMatter was not directly referenced Monday night, moderator Lester Holt asked a question entirely focused on race relations. Both candidates talked about solutions they have proposed to help improve the criminal justice system, while also touching on their personal relationships with ethnic communities.

About a half-mile from the center point of campus was the free speech tent, an area heavily guarded by police where supporters of lesser-known presidential candidates Jill Stein (G) and Gary Jonhson (L) protested their exclusion from the event.

Entrance to the free speech tent required passage through a metal detector and a search of belongings. Officers on horseback lined the street, and at the tent, a man dressed in a polar bear costume spoke out on global warming, and an “election frog” croaked “Rig it, rig it.”

Chris Roy, a Stein supporter, said it was a disgrace that she was not allowed into the debate arena.

“I’m thoroughly disgusted and disturbed and furious,” Roy said in an interview. He questioned why two parties are allowed to make the rules for other minor parties, and said Trump and Clinton should be speaking up to allow the other candidates in.

“She [Stein] is the only one that is in the trenches fighting with the people,” he said. “They’re [Clinton and Trump] both just totally corrupt. They don’t speak out for open debates, which is awful. When you turn on the television all you see is Hillary and Trump.”

Stein has been the presidential nominee for the Green Party for the last two debates, and was escorted off the premises Monday after reportedly failing to present the necessary credentials.

Costumes are used to emphasize political talking points. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Costumes are used to emphasize political talking points. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Like Stein, Johnson is not new to the presidential campaign circuit. He has been the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate for the last two elections.

Both candidates have been vocal about being denied the opportunity to debate.

Neither reached the 15-percent polling threshold on national surveys needed by the Commission on Presidential Debates to qualify.

Hofstra students throughout campus donned “Make America Great Again” hats and “I’m With Her” pins, and at the end of the night everyone argued over which candidate had the most success.

After leaving the scene of the debate, and walking out of what felt like a bunker, it seemed like all issues discussed during the day had been forgotten and all that mattered was Clinton and Trump’s performances.

Hofstra’s campus gave a voice to more than just the typical election season rhetoric, and helped remind a reporter like me that this election season is about so much more than just the two candidates who stood on the stage for 90 minutes.