Campus & Community

PBSC gains national exposure as U.S. Senate debate host

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep Val Demings field questions from WPBF 25 news anchor Todd McDermott. Click the image to view more photos. Photo credit: Carol McDonald

Palm Beach State College gained widespread exposure as host of the sole debate between incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and his challenger U.S. Rep. Val Demings, which drew more than 75 media representatives to the Lake Worth campus and national news coverage.

A coalition of nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations arranged the one-hour Decision 2022: Before You Vote U.S. Senate Debate held on Oct. 18 as part of the longest running televised debate series in Florida’s modern history. Alongi Media was the executive producer.

The stage inside the Duncan Theatre was transformed into a red, white and blue backdrop for the debate, which was watched by nearly 400 invited in-person guests and broadcast live on WPBF 25 News, the local ABC affiliate and debate production partner, as well as nine other ABC, NBC and CBS affiliate stations in Florida and simulcast on statewide public radio, on participating TV stations’ websites and/or Facebook pages, and on daily newspaper websites and/or Facebook pages. It also was rebroadcast on C-SPAN.

The candidates, with 60 seconds to give their first response to questions from Channel 25’s evening news anchor Todd McDermott, touched on everything from abortion and border control to voting rights, inflation and gun control. Joining McDermott on stage to ask the candidates’ questions were Rick Christie, executive editor of the Palm Beach Post, and Vickie Chachere, editor of Florida Trend magazine.

“It was an honor for Palm Beach State College to host this debate on our campus and to give our students an opportunity to be a part of the senatorial election and experience democracy in action,’’ said PBSC President Ava L. Parker, J.D. “I am hoping that while we have some of our students voting for the first time, we made the kind of impression that will encourage them to continue to be informed voters and citizens.”

Parker thanked PBSC’s employees in all areas of the college for their commitment to making the event a success – from facilities and security teams to information technology and academic affairs. “We were all in from the beginning and I couldn’t be prouder,” said Parker.

PBSC has hosted Congressional debates in the past and served as the site of campaign stops for U.S. presidential candidates, but this was its first time hosting a U.S. Senate debate. It elevated PBSC’s stature as a leading institution of higher education in Palm Beach County and came as the College approaches its 90th anniversary next year as Florida’s first public community college.

PBSC President Ava L. Parker welcomes the audience at the Decision 2022:Before You Vote U.S. Senate Debate.

Joseph Kleinhenz, president of the Student Government Association on the Palm Beach Gardens campus, attended the debate in person. “I’m proud to be a participant in the College’s initiative to be included in larger events,” said the aspiring stockbroker who returned to school to complete the Associate in Arts degree that he started decades ago.

“The bigger universities get much of the attention and notoriety, but there is so much opportunity for other schools to attract some of these major events, and I think Palm Beach State College certainly is doing that by hosting this debate. It improves our credibility and increases our attractiveness.”

Associate political science professor Phillip Mancusi, who gave several expert media interviews about the debate and the importance of the election, agrees.

“This is probably the highest profile event that we’ve had here. When people see something like this associated with the College, it elevates our status and makes us look good.”

In addition to PBSC as host, the debate partners/sponsors were: The James Madison Institute, AARP Florida, Florida Trend, the LeRoy Collins Institute, the Florida Press Association,  the Florida League of Cities, Florida Everglades Foundation and Florida Realtors.

While the debate was in the Duncan Theatre, the gym was setup as the media filing center and spin room.

“Palm Beach State College has rolled out the red carpet and done everything that we would have done with any of our other debate partners,’’ said Phil Alongi II, chief operating office of Alongi Media, noting that his company has produced more than 150 debates. He made those comments during a briefing where he, Parker and Jim Fogler, executive director of the Florida Press Association, helped welcome members of the media. He applauded all aspects of the College’s work as host, including its security and measures to ensure fairness and objectivity for both political sides. “Everything about facilities has been top notch, and we really appreciate it.”

The College was named the host of the debate in December 2021 after being approached by Ron Sachs, founder and CEO of Sachs Media, who handles communications for Before You Vote.

Parker said after listening to all the ideas, she agreed to proceed. “This has been a true partnership, and I’m happy for our role in making it happen.”

To view more pictures, visit the Flickr album.

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