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The Buffalo News

Steve Miller
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

WASHINGTON -- A new Citizens Debate Commission set up shop Monday, complaining that the presidential debate format is nothing but an insider's "Beltway sham."

The panel also announced Canisius College in Buffalo as the potential site of an Oct. 3 debate, one of six it hopes to organize.

Commission members represent a broad ideological spectrum, including Alan Keyes, a former presidential candidate who also was ambassador to the United Nation's National and Social Council, and John B. Anderson, the 1980 independent candidate for president.

"Canisius and Buffalo are ideal for a presidential debate," said the Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, Canisius College president. "The citizens of Western New York would welcome a public forum . . . to address what can be done to spur job creation and economic development."

George Farah, the organization's executive director, has set the bar high for his group. At a news conference, Farah said the debates will be held only if Sen. John F. Kerry, the probable Democratic candidate, or President Bush, the Republican standard-bearer, participate.

Still, the effort can succeed "because the American people are turned off by the current commission system -- literally turned off, " said Chris Shaw, a commission spokesman. "In 1980, 60 percent of the voters watched (the debates). But by 2000 it was only 30 percent."

Since 1986, the Presidential Debate Commission has organized presidential debates.

Other proposed debate dates and sites are Sept. 22, Columbus, Ohio; Sept. 28, Swarthmore, Pa.; Oct. 11, Northfield, Minn., and Oct. 15, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A vice presidential debate is planned for Oct. 7 in Salem, Ore.