Sheila Ruth, a progressive Catonsville activist and a former candidate for Baltimore County Council, learned a few days ago that a question she submitted to CNN for a town hall event with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had been chosen to be asked on-air.
And then, a few minutes before the event went live from Washington, D.C., on Monday, Feb. 25, Ruth learned she would get to ask the presidential candidate his very first audience question of the night.
“Before I stood up there, I was nervous,” Ruth said. “Once I got up there, I was just focused on asking the question.”
At least three questions went to Marylanders — including the first two of the night from Catonsville residents.
Ruth asked Sanders how he would defeat President Donald Trump in the general election or, if he were not the nominee, how Sanders would help the nominee defeat him.
“Unfortunately,” Ruth said, the Democratic Party can’t focus exclusively on the issues, because it “must get President Trump out of the White House before he does any more damage.”
In response, Sanders did not offer a specific electoral strategy for defeating the president, but said he hopes “every Democratic candidate will come together after the nominee is selected” and pledged to do so himself.
Ruth said the other question she submitted was about climate change, but CNN selected which question she got to stand up and ask. A question about climate change came later in the evening, from Michele Gregory, communications chair of the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The night’s second question went to Tara Ebersole, Baltimore County Democratic Party chair and the wife of state Del. Eric Ebersole, who represents Catonsville and Maryland’s 12th legislative district. She asked Sanders to clarify his stance on his health care plan.
In response, Sanders said a single-payer, Medicare-for-all program is the “only way” to provide health care in “a cost-effective way.”
It was interesting, Ruth said, to see “how well orchestrated” the whole evening was. A floor manager would tap a questioner on the shoulder to get them to stand, point them toward a mark on the ground, and then tap them on the shoulder again when they should return to their seat.
The crew told the entire audience to be aware of what they were doing, because the cameras could be on them “at any time,” lest they risk becoming a meme.
“But it was really fun, I’m glad I got the opportunity,” Ruth said. “I think it was great that Catonsville had the first two questions.”