Debate crowd comes to see Bernie, and more
By ANDY CLARK
STAFF WRITER | November 15, 2015
Chris Graff opened an evening of politics at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday night, acknowledging that the Democratic presidential debate would be very different “than if it had been held 36 hours ago.”
Graff, former longtime Vermont bureau chief for The Associated Press, said CBS changed the debate rules Saturday to emphasize foreign policy after terrorist attacks killed more than 120 people Friday in Paris.
“It would be interesting for us to see how the transition to foreign policy questions would affect Sen. Bernie Sanders,” said Graff, author of “Dateline Vermont,” a memoir of his 30 years in journalism.
“We as Vermonters can learn much from how Bernie Sanders is being treated by the press, much like Sen. Jim Jeffords and Gov. Howard Dean,” he said. “They speak authentically, which we take for granted here. The nation embraced them, because they all spoke directly and honestly and exude authenticity.”
The debate’s 9 p.m. start time was too late for press deadline, but people arriving for the event were interviewed.
Among those in attendance was Maria Davis of Rutland, an independent whose reason for attending was “I love Bernie.” Likewise, her friend Caitlyn Frazier of Rutland, who favored Sanders, said, “I’m anxious to see how Sanders approaches the crisis we witnessed last night in Paris.”
Danielle Payton of Shoreham, a student working toward a bachelor’s degree in social work at Castleton University, had a lament: “I wish Castleton students would be more interested in politics.”
That’s what the Project 240 program, which aired the debate Saturday night, is intended to address.
Payton came with fellow Castleton student Matthew Smela, a philosophy major. “I’m for Bernie, but I want to hear from (Hillary) Clinton and much more from (Martin) O’Malley,” Smela said. “In the last debate, he kept saying how he rescued Baltimore.”
Payton agreed and added she had seen some of O’Malley’s ideas on the web, which “were awesome.”
Marsha McLean, a management consultant from Pawlet, was collecting Vermont primary signatures for Clinton. She said she worked for Clinton, then the secretary of state, at the Department of State from 2009 to 2011.
The crowd in attendance — about 125 — attended the event for a range of reasons. Some had no cable television, some came for the discussions, and a few representatives of Sanders and Clinton came with signature petitions in hand for the Vermont primary.
The Paramount Theatre and Castleton University sponsored the event as part of a collaboration, Project 240, designed to elevate public discourse around the 2016 general election while bringing the community together for a series of events in celebration of the nation’s 240th birthday next year.
Bruce Bouchard, executive director of the Paramount, said Saturday night’s airing was the first such event in a grand theater in the country.
Graff’s role in the event was twofold — to deliver formal remarks and to engage the audience in discussions before and after the televised debate. He prepared his audience to think about differences between Washington, D.C., and Vermont.
Next up in the Project 240 series is “The American Experience,” hosted by Ken Burns, at 7 p.m. Nov. 21. Tickets are available from the Paramount Theatre box office for $35.
The next televised debates at the Paramount are Jan. 17 for the Democrats and Feb. 6 for the Republicans. Both are free of charge.