Nov 17 2011

Candidates Say Yes To Forum and then Back Out


After City Counts Participants, Forum in City Hall is Canceled – 

What started as a great idea by the Piedmont Civic Association — to hold a forum on November 29 for all School Board and City Council candidates to provide  an early opportunity to present their candidacies to voters and allow voters to pose questions to them — has failed.  What happened?

Initially, three candidates accepted the invitation to participate in the PCA forum, responses were being awaited from 4 more, and only 1 candidate declined.  The PCA was informed of rumors that the League of Women Voters objected to the PCA forum, (they did not!) and that the Forum moderator had endorsed one of the candidates (he had not!)The rumors were  false.  

The facts were very different.

Prior to the announcement of the PCA Forum, the President of the Piedmont League of Women Voters, Sue Kawaichi, was asked if the League would like to co-sponsor the event. She declined, stating that the League has specific format rules to follow and that the League planned to hold its own candidates  forum in January. In a phone conversation with a PCA Editorial Board member, Ms.Kawaichi expressed no problem with PCA holding a second candidates’ forum, and in an email, dated November 11, to a PCA Editorial Board member, she stated:

“……the league does not object to any other community group sponsoring a candidates forum.”

The PCA also sent an email to all candidates to clarify that the President of the League had expressly stated in writing that the League had no objection to the PCA forum. 

The moderator for the forum, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Andrew Cheng, was selected by the Editorial Board based on his qualifications, objectivity and neutrality as a Judge.  He confirmed to PCA that he had not and did not endorse candidates because of his position as a judicial officer. Nonetheless, one candidate who declined to participate in the forum informed PCA that the Judge’s name was on another candidate’s campaign literature.  PCA had no prior knowledge of this error, and it has since been rectified:  a campaign worker had mistakenly listed the Judge as an endorser of a candidate through an incorrect transfer of another supporters name.

The Forum was to be an informative, non-partisan, fair and equitable event, held in the City Council chambers and moderated by Judge Cheng, a longtime Piedmont resident.  All candidates were invited to participate.  All candidates were to have equal time to present themselves and to respond to questions posed by the moderator and by the audience.  (Format rules were posted and can be read on the PCA website.)  The Forum was going to be televised on KCOM, streamed live on the City’s website and the video available on PCA’s website. PCA also planned to allow moderated questions to be asked via email by viewers watching at home.

Over the weekend,  the City Administrator responded to the rumors  he had heard that “only 1 candidate was participating in the forum,”  by asking the City Clerk to contact the candidates and take a head count, without informing or asking PCA what the response had been to our invitation.  Tuesday evening at approximately 5:30 p.m., the City Administrator and City Clerk called a member of the editorial board and the forum was cancelled, as the Chambers could not be used with only one candidate appearing.

The PCA Editorial Board sincerely regrets that Piedmont voters will now have to wait until the League’s forum on January 12, after early voting has already begun and endorsements have been collected, to hear the candidates for City Council and the School Board discuss critical civic issues.  We believe that the loss of the opportunity for the candidates to introduce themselves to voters on November 29 and for voters to learn about their goals and objectives is very unfortunate for the citizens of Piedmont. We fail to understand why all candidates did not want to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the PCA Forum to have an unbiased, fair, nonpartisan discourse on the issues facing our city.

A Little More History

In response to the November 5 invitation from PCA, three candidates promptly indicated their pleasure in participating.

“Yes I will be there – thank you for providing this important community service.”

“Absolutely! Thank you for organizing this.”

“Hello, I would be delighted to attend. Thank you for putting this together.”

Another candidate asked a question about the League of Women Voters forum in January.

“I do not want to undercut their Forum by participating in an earlier PCA Forum.  Have you had any discussions with the League representatives about perhaps jointly sponsoring this earlier Forum so that it does not undercut their later Forum?”

PCA responded with an email to all candidates to clarify that the President of the League had expressly stated in writing that the League had no objection to the PCA forum.

Inaccurate Piedmont Post article

A front page article on the PCA forum was published in the Piedmont Post on November 16, 2011.  It contained a series of omissions and unwarranted implications.

The article stated that the moderator’s name had been posted on a candidate’s website, but omitted any reference to the listing being an error.  This information was easily discoverable from direct sources, if not known to those associated with the newspaper.

The article juxtaposed a statement on the League’s decision not to co-sponsor the PCA Forum with a statement that the League values non-partisanship, creating the impression, but avoiding the assertion, that the two were related.

At the same time, the article overlooked the fact that a candidate was listed on the League’s website as a board member for more than a month after the candidate announced.  (Also an error, also removed without comment.)

The article stated that PCA “declined to answer” any questions about the event.  This was based on a 6 p.m. phone call from the reporter posing 3 questions just hours before publication of the article.  Due to the late hour and the demand for an immediate response from PCA, it was impossible to provide a response that evening. In fairness, the reporter should have said her tight deadline did not allow an opportunity for PCA to comment.

The article indicated the League of Women Voters’ January forum would be held “prior to” the election, without acknowledging the LWV’s forum occurs after absentee voting begins, and therefore after many voters have voted.

Due to this series of inaccuracies, the article incorrectly suggests that the PCA forum was not intended to be a non-partisan event.  In fact, both the moderator and the format rules were non-partisan.  The forum was specifically designed to allow each participant full opportunity to present themselves and their views to the voters.  Those rules are shown below.

Format Rules Provided to Candidates

PCA provided the following information on the format to all candidates and the information was posted on its website:

  • Brief introduction to the Forum by PCA (3 minutes)
  • The School Board Panel will be followed by the City Council panel
  • Each candidate introduces himself/herself at the start of their panel (2 minutes each)

Moderator Questions

  • 3-4 questions will be presented by the moderator to the panel
  •  2 minutes for each candidate to respond to each question
  • 1 minute for followup from each candidate after initial round of responses
  • Additional questions will be presented by the moderator from the audience as time allows
  • Depending on time, PCA also may allow home viewers to ask questions of the candidates via email. These questions will be written out and given to the moderator to address to the candidates.


  • Each candidate will be alerted to remaining time via large “30 seconds remaining”, and “Thank You” cards

Notes and Materials

  • Candidates may refer to notes and materials they bring with them, but no computers

The audience will be instructed not to applaud during any part of the questions and answers.  At the conclusion of the forum, all candidates, the audience, at-home voters and voters will be thanked for their participation and for their attention to the electoral process.  The League of Women Voters Candidate Forum, which takes place in January, will be announced.

. . . A seat and placard with each candidate’s name on it will be provided whether or not they are present.  The forum will be simulcast through the City’s website and by KCOM, with frequent repeats.  In addition, the video will be posted on the PCA website so that voters have ample opportunity to learn about the candidates before they vote.

PCA looked forward to providing an informative forum, and looked forward to the participation of all candidates.


5 Responses to “Candidates Say Yes To Forum and then Back Out”

  1. You quote the Piedmont League of Women Voters president, Sue Kawaichi, as declining to have the League co-sponsor your forum partly because the League already has a candidate forum scheduled in January but also because “the League has specific format rules to follow.” Since the League has been sponsoring candidate forums for years, I suspect that the format rules it has developed are fair, balanced, effective, and functional. How do your format rules differ from the League’s?

    Editors Response: Traditionally, the Piedmont League has chosen to use a particular set of debate rules. The national League of Women Voters, however, offers examples of a wide variety of equally permissible types of non-partisan debate formats: formal, cross-talk, cross-questioning, etc. with many variations. See Types of League Debate Formats. PCA forums for candidates are neutral, open to all candidates, free of any editorial content whatsoever, contain no endorsements – and are consistent with the fair, balanced, effective and functional format examples national LWV offers. (See PCA format rules.)

    A primary reason PCA wanted to offer the community a forum on November 29 was to allow voters, many of whom cast their ballots absentee, an opportunity to hear the candidates before absentee voting begins. The League of Women Voters Forum is scheduled for January 12, after early voting by absentee ballot has already begun.

    The Piedmont League had no objection and saw no conflict between their candidates forum and a PCA forum, which would have added an additional opportunity for all candidates to present themselves and their views to the voters.

  2. Thanks for the whole story. “Rumors” – sounds like someone got fooled and it wasn’t PCA. Hopefully this event can be salvaged.

  3. I think this little city with all of our out-sized egos, myself included, should take a collective breath, and engage in listening to each other. It’s not about “good” versus “bad,” or “winner” verus “loser,” it’s about listening to the gradations of beliefs, concerns, and solutions.

    I am embarrassed by our collective short-sighted, “he-said-she-said” petty behavior. We need one another, folks.

    Denise Bostrom

  4. That format ( sounds very much like that followed by LWV. And when you consider the rules, there was very little extra time for questions from the audience or online viewers. Was that a concern to the candidates? Without naming anyone, can you summarize why candidates withdrew from the Forum?

    Editor’s Note: The time for audience questions would have depended on the length of answers by the candidates. (Format response times shown are maximums.) No candidate identified the format as the reason for withdrawal.

  5. It is a significant loss to our city in general and to every single child and teenager attending all of schools we all work so hard to sustain and enhance, that this forum was cancelled. Let us work together to see that at the next election, both forums, individually or combined are scheduled
    to occur BEFORE the citizens have started to mail in their ballots.
    Nancy “Sunny” Bostrom

Leave a Comment