Loretta Winters said she was ‘barraged by comments’ from Democratic challenger Alex Law about the construction of the primary debate, and circulated an e-mail announcing its cancellation Wednesday.
By Matt Skoufalos
UPDATE (11:50 a.m. Thursday, June 2): The Norcross campaign provided the following statement.
Congressman Norcross is disappointed that today’s event has been canceled as he enjoyed the previous meetings he had with his challengers. Under the circumstances, he respects the decision. The NAACP, JCRC, and Islamic Center of South Jersey would have certainly hosted an outstanding debate, and he looks forward to appearing at their debate during the general election.
Citing personal conflicts with the Alex Law campaign, the head of the Gloucester County NAACP has pulled out of Thursday’s scheduled Democratic Congressional debate between Law and incumbent Donald Norcross, effectively canceling the event.
Loretta Winters, President of the Gloucester County NAACP and Second Vice-President of the New Jersey State Conference NAACP, circulated an e-mail Thursday evening advising that “the 1st Congressional Debate that was scheduled for Thursday, 6:30 pm at Rowan College at Gloucester County is canceled.”
NJ Pen was to have provided live streaming coverage of the event in conjunction with the New Jersey News Commons, and with the support of staff at the college’s Fine Arts Center. The event was to have been the only publicly covered debate between the two candidates ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary elections.
In a phone conversation Wednesday evening, Winters said she “can no longer continue to be disrespected” by the Law campaign. Winters felt slighted by a criticism Law made of the venue, which she said was provided for free by the college.
“I wanted it at the college because I wanted the youth there,” she said. “I don’t know of a 2,000-seat arena in Camden or Gloucester County.”
“I was looking forward to this because we’ve never had a Congressional debate, or any debate, in Gloucester County,” Winters said. “I was very happy. But it started off with, ‘How many seats does the venue have?’”
On Wednesday, Law posted on his Facebook page about the availability of streaming for interested voters:
“Despite my best efforts (I had arranged a venue with up to 2,000 seats), Loretta Winters of the Gloucester County NAACP insisted on a tiny venue with no tickets available to the public. If you want to see the debate, this stream is the only way to do it!,” he wrote.
When asked whether she believed that the two parties could or should still debate in the absence of either her personal involvement or the involvement of her organization, Winters said, she’s “not stopping the debate” from taking place, and that the campaigns are free to find alternative arrangements, but that she’s “had enough.”
“I’m not going to continue to be barraged by his comments,” Winters said of Law. As one of the lead organizers and the president of the organization sponsoring the venue, Winters said she is free to choose “to not have the debate.
“I have the prerogative to step away from it,” she said.
In a joint press release advertising the debate, Winters previously had said, “an active and informed citizenry is the keystone to a strong democracy,” and discussed the NAACP’s “long-term commitment of providing opportunities for voters to access the candidates and their positions on the important issues that affect our communities.” The statement described the debate as an opportunity for voters to “measure the candidates in an authentic setting.”
Law, however, described the process of organizing the debate as one of concessions to Winters’ choices of time, place, and manner. He said that Winters stonewalled repeated requests to open the event up to broader media or public attendance, and denied personally attacking her.
“I didn’t say anything that she hasn’t said repeatedly in our meetings,” Law said. “I felt it necessary to communicate to everybody that it was very clear that it’s a small venue and there’s no tickets available to the public.”
After Winters’ e-mail began circulating Wednesday night, Law said he’d made multiple attempts to contact her directly and through intermediaries, to no avail. He said that his campaign “did not mean to insult her personally” and is “certainly willing to apologize for any statement she might have been offended by.
“We’re happy to cater to her so we can make the debate happen,” Law said, adding, “It is extremely likely that we could find another venue.
“I personally think that voters deserve a chance to see the debate,” he said.
David Snyder, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of South Jersey and a co-organizer of the debate, said he was doubtful it could be rescheduled before Tuesday’s primary.
“We understand the decision made by the NAACP to withdraw from being a participant in this debate,” Snyder said. “We are disappointed that the constituents will not have the opportunity to hear from both candidates on their views. We were hopeful that this event would have taken place.”
“Canceling 24 hours in advance is not ideal,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Norcross campaign declined to comment Wednesday evening.
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