Sussex GOP's Dawn Fantasia to Debate 3 Democrats on October 30

Mr. Tomlinson,

Please have the Herald correct the false information being shared by our Democrat opponents.  The extraordinarily late start in the process of organizing a General Election debate was caused entirely by the Herald itself, as you have stated yourself, due to “staffing issues”.  The Herald began contacting Republican candidates regarding their availability for this debate two weeks prior to the first proposed date, and less than a month before the General Election, which caused the need for the Herald to exclude candidates for major races in Sussex County. Initiating the process a month out, the candidates for Congress had to be excluded in both the 5th and the 11th Districts.  In contrast, the locally-organized Ogdensburg candidates’ night, which started the process much earlier, had the involvement of these very important races and allowed all to make changes and accommodations to our professional schedules.

When you contacted me and my running mate, Josh Hertzberg, we immediately discussed your proposed dates.  Our Democrat opponents have falsely implied that we “changed” the proposed date or dates, and locations, of the debate.  We don’t know the information you had shared with them, but we were simply responding to the Herald’s proposed dates.  The first date, October 24th, fell on the evening of the long-standing Sussex County Economic Development Symposium and Mayors’ Reception, and the second, October 23rd, on the night that Josh and I, as elected members of our respective municipal governments, have public meetings to attend.  These public meetings are advertised in the Herald, so the Herald should not have suggested that date in the first place.  Our Democrat opponents, ignorant of this, sent out a press release suggesting that Josh and I should be absent from our public duties due to this last-minute scheduling of a political campaign debate. 

I suggested an alternative date of October 30th.  Josh said that he would be travelling out of state for his job (the income from which provides for his family) and was expected to return to New Jersey that night and would try his best to make it back on time, but that he would be at the mercy of the airline and its scheduling.  We reached out to Gary Chiusano, the County Surrogate, who (like the congressional candidates) had been initially left out by the Herald.  After discussing it with him, he told us that it was impossible for him to schedule it, with just three weeks remaining before the election.  On October 16th, I sent you an email informing you of this and suggesting several alternatives that could be arranged in the event that Gary and Josh could not attend. This included the format of a candidates’ night that somewhat replicated the event in Ogdensburg so that Josh and Gary could send a representative on their behalf, as this would not be an effective option in a formal debate. I also suggested the written questions format that the Herald has employed in past years' election cycles, but somehow was eliminated this year by the Herald.

 I received no reply to my email. 

Four days later, yesterday at 3 p.m., after the Democrats sent their press release containing gross misinformation, you left me a voicemail to the effect that the Herald was going ahead with the debate on the date of the 30th whether we can make it or not.   You also stated (based upon my email) that you understood “if you’re not comfortable showing up if Josh was not available”, and regardless, the Herald was proceeding forward with the debate on October 30th. 

Let me be crystal clear. I never claimed to be “uncomfortable” debating four men or indeed, forty men.  Thinking of the Herald and its reputation, I only suggested that it might appear “unfair” to have one-third of the Republican team, me, facing three Democrats and an Independent.   But if the Herald has no problem hosting such a potentially lopsided event, I have no problem with this.  I would suggest that moving forward, the Herald take care to maintain professional and timely communication with ALL candidates and make decisions that are free from bias, as situations like this certainly contribute to the widely-accepted belief that the media continues to experience challenges with neutrality. 

Josh will make every attempt to be there on time.  Again, that depends on the mercies of air transit.  If the pilot fails to get him back to New Jersey on time, he will ask someone to stand in for him.  We know that in a formal debate, a stand-in is not the same as having the candidate there, but it if the circumstances created by the Herald cannot be helped, that is the best we can do. As such, I expect to see you and whatever number of opponents you have invited at the Herald debate on the evening of October 30.  I will be there. 

One last point:  You did not address my request that other media besides the Herald be invited to participate in the debate.  As we would like as many voters as possible to be provided coverage of what the candidates have to say and want to leave nobody out, I suggested that Rob Jennings, of the Star-Ledger, along with reporters from the Straus newspaper group and WSUS be invited to attend.  Please advise if the Herald intends to share this debate with additional news providers.  Thank you.

Dawn Fantasia

Republican Candidate for Sussex County Freeholder