They covered a wide variety of issues, from the economy and COVID-19 to immigration, abortion rights and racial inequity. But the debate among three candidates for New York's 27th Congressional District at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute had none of the interruptions and other problems witnessed in recent nationally-televised political debates.
Republican incumbent Christopher Jacobs, Democratic challenger Nathan McMurray and Libertarian challenger Duane Whitmer stood on the same stage in what has been the only three-way debate thus far in that race.
"Thank you guys for having me," said Whitmer. "It means a lot to be invited to something like this. As a third party candidate, we're often ignored. And it's a battle we have to face."
Whitmer spent much of his opportunities stating that the two-party system has failed the American people, and was best demonstrated in the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic bailouts passed.
"They bailed out their friends. They bailed out their donors. They bailed out the corporate elites," he said.
The 27th District lacked full representation upon the resignation of previous seat holder Chris Collins, who left in disgrace and pleaded guilty to charges related to an insider trading scandal. Jacobs, who was elected to the seat earlier this year in a special election, says his staff had to work to get the office back up to speed.
"I realized how bad it was when I got into office. All the offices had been closed. All the employees and congressional staff were let go," he said. "We've been very busy getting the operations back up and running."
In his opening statement, McMurray described himself as someone other than from an elite background. And he recalled when Collins sought re-election while his federal charges were pending.
"You may remember, two years ago I stood on this stage with an empty podium," he said. "He wasn't here. That's because his party protected him."
The candidates faced questions on several topics including the government's handling of the COVID pandemic, how to trim the national debt, health care, whether to legalize marijuana, racial inequity, abortion rights, immigration, sanctuary cities, foreign policy and ethical conduct of elected officials.
They also faced one last question whether they truly support their party's presidential candidate.
Whitmer, in several of the topics, traced the problems of that issue to the War on Drugs. He also says Obamacare was another example of government's inability to build, and that the key to improving the nation's healthcare system is more reliance and trust in the free market system.
McMurray and Jacobs often times used their alloted time for certain topics to revisit health care and abortion, trading points and criticisms.
But what this debate lacked was any of the interruptions or boorish behavior seen in the presidential and vice presidential debates aired in recent weeks. That's a point of pride to Ted Lina, the St. Joe's instructor who first introduced these annual debates in 1984.
"The candidates want to come here, because we are non-partisan," Lina said. "We do not ask 'gotcha' questions. And if we treat the candidates fairly, I think they are more likely to treat one another fairly and respect the rules of the debate."
Matthew Schneggenburger, a senior at St. Joe's, was among the student panelists who asked direct questions to the candidates. He says the class spent the past several weeks researching the candidates and preparing questions for them.
Lina, in the spirit of keeping the debate non-partisan, would not suggest a winner. Instead, he praised all three candidates for their performances. Schneggenburger kept his opinion neutral as well.
"Honestly, I thought it was pretty equal," he said. "Everyone did a good job of expressing their views, without any one dominating over the other. I thought it was pretty equal.
"It's really important that we're actually able to hear the candidate's views and policies, rather than arguing with each other, going back and forth."