Debate night in Cleveland Heights
The air was steamy and the room was at maximum capacity. The atmosphere at Nighttown, where jazz and folk music fill the air most nights, was noisy with debate punctuated by roars from a capacity crowd. It was Oct. 3, the first presidential debate night of 2012, and eager voters from different walks of life and points on the political spectrum were gathered at long tables to watch the political show on large-screen TVs.
They had come together to hear the candidates and to raise funds for the Friends of Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library, donating $5 each to attend Nighttown’s first-ever Presidential Debate Night, co-sponsored by Patch.com. According the Kaye Spector, editor of Patch, the evening had evolved from an event traditionally held at the home of Plain Dealer columnist, Regina Brett, and her husband, Bruce Hennes, who played a major role in bringing the event to Nighttown this year.
Clad in sparkly beads and campaign pins, partygoers took part in a presidential trivia game before the debate began, with opportunities to win assorted gift cards from local businesses. Some feasted on Nighttown’s legendary lobster pot pie or clam chowder, while sipping candidate-themed cocktails, such as the Mint Romney and the Ciroc Obama.
Just as the clock struck nine, the mood in the overcrowded restaurant switched gears. As the debate face-off between Democrat President Barack Obama and Republican Governor Mitt Romney unfolded, Obama lovingly wished his wife, Michelle, a happy 20th wedding anniversary. Romney wore a red tie, Obama opted for a blue one, reflecting the colors associated with their respective parties. Their winning smiles and confident demeanors set the stage for a refined discussion.
The crowd did not hold back from reacting as the debate progressed, but remained respectful of other people’s opinions. Kaye Spector noted that an NBC cameraman was sending live feed to the network from the event—one of several similar gatherings across the country—to show how Americans were reacting to the debate.
With a welcoming handshake between candidates, moderator Jim Lehrer began the debate by reviewing the topics to be covered: domestic issues, health care and the economy. Both candidates spoke about the personal ideals and values that shape their views on these key issues. Obama said that investing in education and training will open more job opportunities and decrease unemployment rates. Romney talked about how middle-income families are being crushed by tax rates.
Cheers went up as both candidates mentioned the Cleveland Clinic among the nation’s best at providing great care at lower cost, and citing the importance of providing competitive wages and incentives to medical providers based on performance.
As the debate came to a close, the candidates shared their views on the role of government. Both spoke of the responsibility to keep Americans safe and to protect liberties, while dealing with the economic and political strife our country is experiencing today.
“Both candidates need to get down to fixing these problems. I am a big Obama supporter, but I was a little surprised at how well Romney did,” said Monica Plunkett as the debate concluded. “This is an amazing event and has a real community feel. I am really proud of Cleveland Heights. People are really showing they care and it makes me proud to live here.”
Indeed, the night was such a success that Nighttown and Patch.com announced plans for another Presidential Debate Night on Oct. 22, when the candidates face off for the third time, with a focus on foreign policy.
Erinn O'Rourke and Annie Cestra
Erinn O'Rourke and Annie Cestra are communication students at John Carroll University.