Sparks fly at mock debate Turnout is light, but highly vocal

October 16, 1992|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

In Friday's Howard County section, the name of Jim Kraft, chairman of the Howard County Democratic Party, was misspelled.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

The fur flew last night at Kings Contrivance Village, as Howard County political leaders and a citizen activist faced off in a mock presidential debate that generated more sparks than the first presidential and vice-presidential contests combined.

In what at times threatened to degenerate into a free-for-all, the "candidates" and audience members spent nearly an hour sparring over the deficit, national health care, defense cuts and, of course, the "character issue." In the sports parlance frequently used to assess these events, there were no knockdowns, no fumbles, but lots of sound bites.


The most spirited moments came between former Howard County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Craft, who represented Bill Clinton, and Jose L. Palacio, an audience member and CPA from Columbia.

"Can you tell me any reason to vote for a man who was dodging the draft while I was dodging bullets?" asked Mr. Palacio, who described himself as a Vietnam veteran.

"Sir, I don't want to refight the Vietnam War here tonight," responded Mr. Craft, adding that Mr. Clinton had spent his adult life in public service.

When Mr. Palacio accused Mr. Craft of failing to answer the question, he said: "I'm sorry I didn't answer to your satisfaction, but I don't think anyone ever will."

The debate, which took place in Amherst House, included cookies and other refreshments and served as a sort of tailgate ** party preceding last night's televised debate.

In addition to Mr. Craft, James Oglethorpe, Howard County coordinator for Ross Perot, represented the independent candidate, and state Del. Martin G. Madden, a Republican from Jessup, represented George Bush.

The event -- which drew 18 people, mostly Republicans -- was organized by Village Manager Anne Dodd and moderated by Ed DiCarlo, a member of the village board.

The debate began smoothly, with the three men giving five-minute, issue-oriented introductions. As though scripted by the candidates' handlers, each hammered away at the key points from his campaign.

Mr. Craft attacked the $4 trillion debt under the Reagan-Bush administrations. Mr. Madden reminded people of the years of stagflation under the last Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. Mr. Oglethorpe emphasized that the two parties' finger-pointing was a primary reason for the country's problems.

Mr. Craft and Mr. Madden waged much of the debate between themselves. Mr. Madden blamed skyrocketing legal fees for much of America's health-care crisis and some of its economic problems, while pointing out that Mr. Craft is an attorney, as is Mr. Clinton.

Ninety percent of the money in the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund, which is supposed to pay for the clean up of environmental pollution, goes to attorneys' fees, Mr. Madden said.

"What's that got to do with George Bush fixing the economy?" shot back Mr. Craft.

At one point, after a 15-minute uninterrupted argument between the two, Mr. Oglethorpe jumped in and asked, "My turn?"

"I think I have a little idea of how Admiral Stockdale felt," Mr. Oglethorpe said, referring to Mr. Perot's vice-presidential candidate who spent much of the vice-presidential debate as a bystander.

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