West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis has withdrawn from a debate with his mayoral opponent, Zach Baiel. The two were slated to make their case during a League of Women Voters event set for Monday, Oct. 21.
Dennis says an invitation he received this week to provide welcoming remarks at a Purdue event with the Consul General of India conflicts with the forum, which he had agreed to nearly a month ago.
Baiel says the “empty chair” rule typically employed for debates—which stipulates the event is called off if one candidate won’t participate—creates a disadvantage for him.
“Especially if it’s just a two-person race—the incumbent holds all the cards in that regard,” Baiel says. "And so by not engaging, you essentially de-platform any of the other candidates.”
Dennis says he believes residents are familiar with his stance on the issues after 12 years in office.
“If I have to choose doing something that’s purely politics, or doing something that’s going to help benefit the city, help benefit the university, and help benefit the citizens I serve, every time I’m going to choose that,” Dennis says. “If that upsets Zach, I’m sorry. But Zach is not my priority. Being the mayor of the city of West Lafayette is.”
Dennis says while the debate format might help disseminate information more widely and provide an opportunity to watch candidates interact one-on-one, residents can attend city meetings to learn more about what’s happening within their local government.
“We do allow for public comment at every meeting,” Dennis says. “Those circumstances and situations have basically been brought forward. We’re not inhibiting anybody when they decide to come up and have some commentary about what’s going on with the city.”
Baiel says debating the mayor directly provides a more public platform for his candidacy.
“Obviously the mayor has lots of access and availability to speak, get his message out, and be available and be known as the mayor—where someone like myself, or any challenger in the past or in the future, or in other communities, we’re not always afforded that opportunity because we don’t have that office yet,” Baiel says.
Baiel says he’ll continue to try to get his message out by attending public events and meetings, interacting with voters door-to-door, and maintaining a robust social media presence for the campaign.
Dennis says he won’t reschedule the forum. Baiel says he’s happy to reschedule, and to remain flexible regarding the format of the event.
West Lafayette voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, November 5.