Following a last-minute scheduling change and Southeast Supervisor Michael Rights' exit at Monday's candidate forum, constituents learned there would be no debate between Rights and opponent Tony Hay.
The Eastern Putnam County League of Women Voters hosted the forum, which featured candidates for the Towns of Patterson and Southeast, at the . The schedule originally pitted Hay and Rights against each other at the 7:40 p.m. time slot, the first that would feature any Southeast representatives.
Rights was in attendance at the start of the event. Before the debates commenced, League President Eileen Reilly notified the candidates of last-minute changes to the schedule, which organizers opted for in order to feature "smaller offices" first, she told Patch. The shift pushed the incumbent and the Putnam County legislator to the final act.
Around 9 p.m., after Southeast Town clerk and Town Board hopefuls had already gone head-to-head, Reilly announced that the supervisor debate would not take place. Dozens of folks were still present at that point, and chatter filled the room as Reilly spoke.
“I apologize to all of you,” she said into the microphone as she wrapped up the event, explaining that Rights had left the building. “It’s very disappointing, very unprofessional.”
Moderator Bruce Apar, mayor of PennySaver community and a local blogger, pushed for the switch in scheduling, too. He likened the original lineup to having presidential candidates debate prior to their vice presidential counterparts.
None of the candidates — including Rights, who mingled with a number of attendees before the event started — voiced any disagreement to the changes, according to Reilly.
On Tuesday, Rights spoke with Patch over the phone about his exit. He referenced two other Putnam County hopefuls who also did not attend the forum.
“With [Putnam County executive candidate] MaryEllen O’Dell and [Patterson Town Councilman] Joseph Capasso, I declined to debate a representative of [ex-State Sen. Vincent] Leibell’s machine,” he said.
When asked whether he had initially shown up intending to debate, Rights said, “That’s my statement. Have a nice day,” and hung up.
Moments after Monday’s forums came to a close, Hay said he was disappointed, and wanted “the chance to be known.” League guidelines prohibit debates if fewer than two candidates are present.
“A lot of people don’t know my background, and I wanted to tell them [about it], for the first time, basically, and to counteract all the lies that Mr. Rights, Bock and Yee have been spreading,” he said, flashing an inch-thick manila folder that he planned to reference throughout the debate. It was packed with documents, notes and photos — including one that appeared to be of Rights standing with Leibell.
Around the same time, Robert Bock, who is running for Southeast Town Board and is affiliated with Rights via the Revive Southeast campaign, said he was unsure why the supervisor left the event. He was aware that running mate and current Town Board member Dwight Yee would be unable to attend, but he could not speak for Rights.
“He was supposed to be here,” he said. “What happened, I can’t tell you.”