Three minor-party candidates for Maryland governor are demanding to participate in the first televised debate of the campaign on Monday, a request that comes as the Democratic and Republican campaigns are solidifying plans for another match-up later in the month.
On Friday, Green Party nominee Maria Allwine, Libertarian Party candidate Susan Gaztanaga and Eric Knowles of the Constitution Party accused WJZ-TV and the Baltimore Jewish Council, sponsors of the debate, of "electioneering" by excluding them.
The three said in a letter they were "to put it mildly, dismayed, offended and angered that you have deliberately chosen to exclude us."
The letters were addressed to WJZ General Manager Jay Newman and Jewish Council Executive Director Arthur C. Abramson. It was forwarded to the Maryland State Board of Elections and the Federal Communications Commission.
Abramson said he learned of the request only on Friday and could not accommodate it.
"Due to the significant time limitations inherent in the televised format of the upcoming debate, as well as the desire to maximize the educational value of the event, The Baltimore Jewish Council has determined that participation in a debate should be limited to those candidates who have received support from at least 10 percent of the voters in any major, independent poll conducted within 30 days prior to the debate," he said in a written statement.
Most major polls conducted recently have measured the support only of Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
The O'Malley and Ehrlich campaigns continue to negotiate on whether there will be additional debates, with Ehrlich predicting "four or five of them" before the Nov. 2 election. On Friday, the two campaigns committed to an hourlong debate Oct. 21 on WOLB, the candidates' spokesmen said. It will air live from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., with Larry Young, a former Democratic senator, hosting.
Young thanked each candidate on his show Friday "for keeping your word." Both have been guests in recent months.
Whether to include third-party candidate in debates and other forums is a question that emerges each election season. In the 2006 race, they were not included in the two televised Ehrlich-O'Malley debates.
Allwine, the Green Party candidate, is making her fourth bid for office and her first run for governor. She received 17 percent of the vote for Baltimore City Council president in 2007. Constitution Party candidate Knowles, an Annapolis bartender, has said he is running because he does not believe that O'Malley is upholding the U.S. Constitution, though he has provided no specific examples.
Gaztanaga, who lives in Baltimore and is running as a Libertarian, has a three-point plan: eliminate the state sales tax; keep the Maryland National Guard in Maryland; and allow anyone without a criminal record to carry a handgun.
The lesser-known candidates have been invited to a League of Women Voters forum at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 in the Cultural Arts Center at Montgomery College's Takoma Park campus. All three have said they will attend, said Diane Hibino, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, though she said Knowles might have to work that night.
Neither O'Malley nor Ehrlich has booked attendance at the forum, which is to be televised on the Montgomery College station.