Third party supporters segregated, Strickland supporters absent at Cincinnati gubernatorial debate

Aman Ali

University of Cincinnati Lieutenant Jeff Thompson argues with protestor Connie Harris after a group left their designated protesting area and moved in from of the venue where the dabate was to be held. AMANDA SOWARDS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

The sidewalks on the University of Cincinnati campus were empty. Ted Strickland and Ken Blackwell were scheduled to debate there in two hours, and not a single demonstrator was there.

Police stood outside the Patricia Corbett Theater, the debate’s location, and were unsure where all the sign carriers they were expecting to see had gone. Campus security had been trained to handle this event, but perhaps the training wasn’t necessary.

But a little over an hour before debate time, the demonstrators came pouring in.

More than 50 Ken Blackwell supporters lined up along a sidewalk about a thousand feet from the theater. They were donned in construction hats and yellow T-shirts saying “Concrete Finishers for Blackwell.” But what seemed like a group of local contractors showing up to support Ken Blackwell was actually a group of college students.

Matt Kocsan, Ohio State’s College Republicans president, said the Blackwell supporters he was with were College Republican members from around Ohio.

“We organized a statewide effort to get College Republican members from all around the state to show up,” Kocsan said. “We brought a bus from Columbus with about 25 people on it. This election season we’ve been getting a lot of good stuff done like this.”

He explained the “Concrete Finishers for Blackwell” on the T-shirts was a response to Ted Strickland’s comments at the gubernatorial debates in Cleveland on Sept. 20.

“Ted Strickland said if he didn’t have an education, he’d be doing concrete like the rest of his family,” Kocsan said. “The Democratic party likes to tout itself as a party of labor, but Strickland was basically saying, ‘If you’re a concrete finisher, you’re an uneducated idiot.'”

Kocsan said College Republican chapters from Ohio State, Miami, Franciscan, Capital and Youngstown State had shown up for the demonstration. They stood on the sidewalk with signs and cheered as vehicles drove by.

“OK, listen up you guys!” Kocsan told the Blackwell supporters on a megaphone. “Back in ’04, I got death threats for doing stuff like this. So I want to see you guys get them tonight. Come on!”

Blackwell’s supporters had shown up in full force and had the largest party turnout that night.

But half an hour after Blackwell’s team had arrived, the stars had arrived – two men dressed as chickens. At the last debate in Cleveland, the arrests of two poultry prodded protesters identifying themselves as “Ken” and “Ted” got heavy media play in newspapers and on TV stations across the state.

The chickens were representing the campaign for Bill Pierce, Ohio’s Libertarian gubernatorial candidate.

“This debate isn’t open to the public,” said Mark Noble, Pierce’s running mate. “These guys don’t want to debate us, so essentially we’re calling them chickens.”

Pierce’s campaign supporters, about a dozen people in all, stood next to Blackwell’s team outside the theater, but police quickly asked them to move. Campus security said all third party demonstrators were required to be at the top of a hill about an additional thousand feet farther from where Blackwell’s supporters were standing.

Pierce said it was the first time on his campaign trail that his supporters weren’t allowed to demonstrate in the same area as parties.

“All the parties were outside mixed together in Cleveland, and there really wasn’t any friction,” Pierce said. “But it looks like now they’re trying to marginalize us both figuratively and literally.”

About five supporters of Bob Fitrakis, Ohio’s Green Party gubernatorial candidate, were also asked to move to the top of the hill.

“The police claim that all the parties were made aware that they could stand in designated places,” said Eric Wise, one of the people supporting Fitrakis. “But I don’t think that Pierce or Fitrakis knew anything about this.”

After Blackwell pulled into the theater, around 15 minutes before the debate was scheduled, the make-shift construction workers left as well as the other demonstrators.

Amidst all the signs showing support for Blackwell, Fitrakis and Pierce, not a single one had Strickland’s name on it.

Contact public affairs reporter Aman Ali at [email protected].