Nominees in three local races will face off in the area’s traditional Candidates Night forum on Monday, Oct. 26 – but the details of the event are still uncertain, depending on the state of COVID-19 at the time.
“We plan to take all COVID-19 related precautions, including social distancing measures on the stage for forum moderators and candidates,” Laura LeBeau, news director for WLBR-AM 1270 and WFVY-FM 100.1, said in a press release.
“Additionally, the auditorium seating has already been marked for social distancing, and audience attendance will be limited to comport with PA Department of Health public gathering guidelines,” she said. “However, if Lebanon County officials deem it necessary, we will proceed without an audience, but still broadcast the forum from the Municipal Building that evening. That decision will be made closer to the actual event, itself.”
A decision is likely in the first or second week of October, LeBeau said.
Candidates Night will feature candidates running in the 101st and 102nd State House races and the 9th Congressional District race.
The event is sponsored by WLBR “Big WiLBuR 1270” and LebTown.com. LeBeau and LebTown reporter Chris Coyle will co-moderate the forum, which will be broadcast live from the auditorium of the Lebanon Municipal Building at 400 S. 8th St., Lebanon.
Davis Shaver, editor and publisher of LebTown, said the online news source is “honored to be joining WLBR in organizing and hosting this year’s Candidates Night event.”
“Laura LeBeau and Chris Coyle are two of the most vital journalistic voices in Lebanon County,” Shaver said, “and this will be an opportunity for them to get candidates on the record regarding the issues that matter most to our readers and listeners. Both our organizations depend on the trust – and financial support – of the community, and our team is humbled to be helping fulfill this crucial civic role leading up to the general election.”
LebTown is looking into the possibility of live-streaming the event, he noted.
According to LaBeau, the forum will begin promptly at 7 p.m., with the 9th Congressional District forum running from 7:03 to 7:40, the 101st District forum from 7:43 to 8:20, and the 102nd District forum from 8:23 to 9. Candidates will provide opening statements, followed by a 35-minute question-and-answer session “on a range of topics germane to their offices,” presented in “a modified Presidential Debate format.”
“Topics are determined by the event moderators and are not given in advance to the candidates,” she said. “They are allowed to refer to pre-written notes or a speech for their opening and closing statements, but not during the question portion of the forum.”
In Lebanon County this year, Democratic challenger Calvin “Doc” Clements is attempting to unseat Republican incumbent Frank Ryan in the 101st Legislative District, which represents Cornwall, Lebanon, Mount Gretna, Palmyra, and North Cornwall, North Londonderry, South Annville, South Londonderry and West Cornwall townships, and Democratic challenger Matt Duvall is attempting to unseat Republican incumbent Russ Diamond in the 102nd Legislative District, which represents Cleona, Jonestown, Myerstown, Richland, and Annville, Bethel, Heidelberg, Jackson, Millcreek, North Lebanon, South Lebanon, Swatara, Union and West Lebanon townships.
Also, Democratic challenger Gary Wegman is attempting to unseat Republican incumbent Dan Meuser in the 9th Congressional District, which includes portions of Berks, Carbon, Columbia, Lebanon, Luzerne, Montour, Northumberland, and Schuylkill counties.
As of Sept. 16, LeBeau said all the Democratic candidates have confirmed their attendance.
“Frank Ryan and Russ Diamond are a tentative yes, pending their legislative schedule,” she said. “They will be in budget negotiations for the second half of the FY 2020 budget.”
Meuser’s campaign manager “said he’d try, but would not commit,” LeBeau added.
LeBeau, in an email to candidates, noted that COVID-19 has made for “interesting times in the world of politicking and campaigning.”
Because of social distancing requirements, she explained in an email to LebTown, only about 50 of the auditorium’s 325 seats will be available for use – assuming they can have a live audience at all.
She hasn’t yet determined how those seats will be made available to the public, she said.
“The County Administrator has advised that the audience option may be pulled, if infections spike in October,” LeBeau said. “If that occurs, we will still do the forums from the Municipal Building, but without an audience.”
Candidates Night “has been a tradition at WLBR for decades,” LeBeau said. “In fact, this is my 18th year moderating it.”
LeBeau said the 9th District forum will likely focus on issues surrounding the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as police-involved shootings and policing, particularly in communities of color. In the State House forums, she said, topics will include Gov. Tom Wolf’s handling of the pandemic in Pennsylvania, as well as tax reform, job creation, agricultural issues and the current push to legalize recreational cannabis.
“So there’s a lot on the docket to explore,” she said.
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Calvin Clements, Matt Duvall, and Frank Ryan are current advertisers on LebTown. The campaign of Gary Wegman is a former advertiser on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here. Furthermore, this article includes quotes from and pertains to LebTown