Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer attended a presidential debate host committee meeting July 7. High-ranking Wright State officials and FBI representatives were present, he said, and there was no indication that the school was not going forward with the debate.
“Everything was full speed ahead,” said Plummer, who heads the county Republican Party. “It was the first debate. We’d have been in the world spotlight here in our region. It was good for the community and it’s unfortunate that they backed out of it.”
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Plummer was one of many area leaders who expressed shock and disappointment Tuesday after Wright State President David Hopkins announced that the school would not be hosting this fall’s first presidential debate.
Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer said he had sent some people from his office to Cleveland for this week’s Republican National Convention to check out the security layout, unaware that the debate would be cancelled at WSU. Hopkins cited fund-raising and security concerns.
“I’m convinced we could have had enough manpower — where the money’s coming from I wouldn’t have any idea,” he said. “We would’ve been able to get the manpower, but fund-raising is always an issue.”
The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce previously estimated the debate could deliver up to $25 million to the region’s economy.
“This was a great opportunity for the Dayton region to show the world what it has to offer,” said Phil Parker, president and CEO of the chamber. “As a chamber, we were excited to help promote the event. Giving up this event is a blow to our region.”
News of the cancellation quickly reached state leaders at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, whose district includes WSU’s Lake Campus in Celina, said he understands why the university passed on the event, which came with a price tag of up to $8 million.
“Asking one institution to bear that much financial burden is almost impossible in this day and age,” he said, noting that Ohio is still “the heart of it all.”
“The candidates are going to need to come to Ohio a lot,” he said.
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Several local groups had joined forces to promote the Dayton region leading up to the debate, including the Dayton Development Coalition, Montgomery County, the city of Dayton, UpDayton, the Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Dayton-Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The effort, dubbed #DiscoverDayton16, wasn’t a complete waste now that the debate isn’t happening, said Val Beerbower, public relations and communications manager for the downtown partnership.
“It stinks that we’re not going to host the debate, but we still got some work done on some collaborative efforts to promote Dayton,” she said. “It was a good exercise in some ego-less, cross-sector promotion.”
The partnerships that were forged through this effort will be of value in promoting Dayton, she said, and some of the ideas can be applied to future large events.
Montgomery County spokeswoman Cathy Peterson also said this is a disappointing loss. The #DiscoverDayton16 effort had spent about $50,000, she said, but some of that money for things like billboard reservations may be able to be recouped.
A website created by the campaign — www.discoverdayton16.com — will remain active as a resource for journalists and the general public about what Dayton has to offer, she said.
Statements of understanding and support for Hopkins’ decision also came from groups such as the Dayton Development Coalition and the city of Fairborn.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the city was looking forward to the opportunity to showcase the region.
“However, as the swing region in perhaps the most important swing state, we will fortunately have other opportunities to interact with presidential candidates in the coming months and impart on them the needs of working families in Ohio,” Whaley said.
Staff writers Nick Blizzard, Sharahn Boykin and Cory Frolik contributed to this report.