The next televised debate in the governor's race likely will feature two candidates and an empty lectern.
Baltimore Fox affiliate WBFF-TV announced "finalized" debate plans Monday that include only two of the top three Democrats in the race: Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur. The pair are scheduled to face off next Tuesday without the candidate leading the polls, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who has declined to participate.
Brown's campaign consistently has told debate organizers the lieutenant governor has no plans to attend, but the Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate plans to leave an empty lectern on the stage in his place.
"We're trying to give him until the very last minute," Fox 45 news director Mike Tomko said.
Tomko said that to allow for the possibility of a last-minute addition, the station plans to produce the show as though Brown might change his mind up to two hours in advance of the debate.
The candidates' campaigns clashed last month when Brown announced plans for three debates — two televised and one on radio — that did not include the Fox 45 broadcast.
Brown's campaign manager, Justin Schall, said the candidates only agreed to three debates. He said Brown's campaign turned down the Fox event after the candidates agreed to two other televised debates and a radio-broadcast debate on WOLB with host Larry Young. Schall said several media organizations and political groups also asked to host debates.
"Seeing as how we had to literally turn dozens of people down, it would be unfair to do anything but honor our agreement," said Schall, adding that Fox organizers have been well aware Brown did not intend to participate. "We have made it clear to them for months"
The other two campaigns contend the agreement was for three televised events and accused Brown of ducking the debate.
"Voters deserve to hear from all the candidates," Gansler campaign spokeswoman Katie Hill said.
Mizeur's campaign manager suggested that the debate is worth having regardless of whether Brown attends.
"Debates are an important method for voters to learn more about the candidates, and the voters shouldn't be penalized just because one candidate chooses not to participate," campaign manager Joanna Belanger said in a statement.
Anchor Jennifer Gilbert will moderate the Fox debate, which begins at 8 p.m. Tomko said the station set a 6 p.m. deadline for Brown to change his mind, and has sent Brown emails and certified letters to keep him abreast of debate planning.
All three candidates took part May 7 in the first televised debate of the race. Another debate on June 2 will be hosted and aired by Maryland Public Television.