No debate for Wright State — community reacts

Published: Tuesday, July 19, 2016 @ 2:37 PM
Updated: Tuesday, July 19, 2016 @ 5:57 PM

WSU debate cancellation stuns business owners hoping for financial boost

Local politicians and community groups have been reacting to news that Wright State has withdrawn from hosting the first presidential debate in September.


Former state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield:

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“It’s news to me. It’s really sad. I think the region has a great story to tell. But, I think, given the events of the last couple, three weeks, around the world, it’s obviously become clear to leaders of that institution and organizers of that event how tough it is to put on a world-class and worldwide event. I know they were trying to plan for thousands of people. I know it was weighing on them and I was hopeful it was going to come to fruition. I think the state passed on their request for certain items. But I think other state agencies were, behind the scenes, being very helpful. And probably after this event here in Cleveland, they will probably turn their attention to security and other sorts of needs that they have. I was just hopeful they were going to see their way all the way through September and have the event.”

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley reacts in a statement:

“I was disappointed to hear of Wright State University’s decision to withdraw as a host of the first presidential debate this fall. We were looking forward to the opportunity to showcase our region, highlight the economic progress we are making and focus national attention on the issues that matter most to our constituents,” she said. “However, as the swing region in perhaps the most important swing state, we will fortunately have other opportunities to interact with presidential candidates in the coming months and impart on them the needs of working families in Ohio.”

Dayton Development Coalition President and CEO Jeff Hoagland said the coalition supports the university’s decision.

“We know the university has been working closely with a team of security experts to plan for the debate, and we trust their judgment,” Hoagland said. “Their concerns regarding the escalating security risks and the associated costs are understandable, and we know this was an incredibly difficult decision.”

TIMELINE: Wright State University and the presidential debate

Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Phil Parker said: “This was a great opportunity for the Dayton region to show the world what is has to offer. As a chamber, we were excited to help promote the event. Giving up this event is a blow to our region.”

The Dayton chamber previously estimated the debate could deliver up to $25 million to the region’s economy.

Montgomery County spokeswoman Cathy Peterson also said this is a disappointing loss.

The #DiscoverDayton16 effort had spent about $50,000, Peterson said, but some of that money for things like billboard reservations may be able to be recouped.

A website created by the campaign,, will remain active as a resource for journalists and the general public about what Dayton has to offer, she said.

Earlier this month, officials said the debate was expensive, but worth it.

Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said the news came as a “shock” to him. He is also head of the county Republican Party.

Plummer said he had attended a host committee meeting July 7, when high-ranking Wright State officials and FBI representatives were present. There was no indication during that meeting that the school was not going forwarded with the debate, he said.

“Absolutely not,” Plummer said. “Everything was full speed ahead.”

The city of Fairborn released the following statement about Wright State’s decision to withdraw from hosting the first presidential debate this year:

“The city of Fairborn is disappointed to hear the news that Wright State University has withdrawn from hosting the first presidential debate for 2016. We understand the reasoning behind the decision of the Wright State Board of Trustees and Dr. Hopkins, citing the safety and security of the campus and community. We comprehend the challenges they faced with hosting this debate as well as making the decision to withdraw. Fairborn fully supports Wright State University in its decision.”

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, a WSU graduate, said he was “very disappointed” about the loss of the debate.

“Wright State was going to have a great opportunity to allow a lot of students to really see democracy at its best,” he said in an interview from the Republican convention in Cleveland.

Ohio Senator Keith Faber (R-Celina) told this outlet, “It’s a shame that security concerns have gotten so expensive, and made it so difficult for a public university to host something like that requiring new construction.”

State Representative Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) said: “I am very disappointed to hear that Wright State had to pull out of hosting the debate due to security costs. The threat of radical Islamic terrorism is affecting us right here in the Dayton area. A presidential debate is a demonstration of democracy and it shouldn’t be cost prohibitive because of security concerns.”

Several local groups had joined forces to promote the Dayton region leading up to the debate including the Dayton Development Coalition, Montgomery County, the city of Dayton, UpDayton, the Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Dayton-Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Val Beerbower, spokeswoman for downtown partnership, said the effort, dubbed #DiscoverDayton16, wasn’t a complete waste now that the debate isn’t happening.

“It stinks that we’re not going to host the debate, but we still got some work done on some collaborative efforts to promote Dayton,” she said. “It was a good exercise in some ego-less, cross-sector promotion.”

The partnerships that were forged through this effort will be of value in promoting Dayton in the future, she said, and some of the ideas can be applied to future large events.