Editor’s Note: Stoughton’s Jeffrey Cramer, a junior at Hofstra University, site of the second presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, shares his behind the scenes debate experience as a media volunteer. Cramer is a 2010 graduate of Stoughton High. At Hofstra, he is a Broadcast Journalism major with a minor in Marketing and Sociology.
My Experience at the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University
For any college student, you always dream of being able to be a part of a historic and worldwide event. I had the chance to cover the second Presidential Debate at my school, Hofstra University. I know this sounds cliché, but I can honestly say it was the best experience of my life and I will never forget it. From the moment the university announced that it would be hosting another debate (we hosted the 2008 debate) I knew I had to get involved. I signed up to be a Media Volunteer and was assigned to a local news organization, News 12 Long Island. I also was assigned to be a reporter for the student-run radio station on campus, 88.7FM WRHU. In the weeks leading up to the debate, campus preparations were underway and the vibe on campus was really starting to be felt.
This debate was very different than the one Hofstra University hosted in 2008 because a sitting president was coming to campus. Obviously, this presented more security implications and credentialing. After being selected to be a debate volunteer, I had to submit all my information for a background check. After everything was approved, I received my Secret Service credentials which allowed me to go in and out of the “perimeter” as they called it. This was the immediate area near the debate site. I also had credentials to be inside the Media Filing Center, better known as Spin Alley. This is the area that each party’s constituents come to directly after the debate is over to do interviews and “spin” their take on the debate. It really is the place to be. Thousands of journalists from all over the world come and file their stories during and after the debate.
I started working with News 12 the weekend before the debate essentially being their “intern.” I helped them with whatever they needed from running cables to satellite trucks, editing video, helping with interviews and the occasional coffee run. News 12 had a stand-up location in front of the debate hall itself and also had an area in Spin Alley.
In the days leading up to the debate, the campus became a political firestorm. Campaign signs were everywhere, international and national media was converging on campus, and campaign members were spread out everywhere making sure Hofstra was ready for their candidate to come.
The security on campus was something I have never seen before. There were Secret Service agents everywhere the eye could see, Nassau County police, State Police, Homeland Security members, Hofstra’s own Public Safety and bomb-sniffing dogs. Road Closures and security check-points were placed all around campus, and helicopters hovered above campus. One of the coolest things I have ever seen was on the day of the debate when Marine One, the president’s helicopter flew over Hofstra and landed right next to the debate site.
Debate Day was an experience in itself. For me, the day started at 4 a.m. when local and national morning shows were broadcasting on campus. They needed students to be in the background shots. You could really feel the sense of pride (no pun intended) and the unity of Hofstra and the students were really engaged. They knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Throughout the day, the debate site and the Media Filing Center was energetic and journalists were preparing vigorously for the night. There were also many rallies and protests all over campus. I was sent to cover the Democrats Of Hofstra’s rally for WRHU. I interviewed many students and the leader of the club who were giving me their thoughts on Obama and what he had to do that night in order to secure a victory.
With just hour until the Debate, I was really excited and a little nervous for the world’s spotlight to be on my university. I watched the debate in the Media Filing Center with the other journalists. Right before the Debate began, you could literally feel the energy inside and everyone knew Hofstra was ready. When moderator Candy Crowley said “Good Evening, Live from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York” I couldn’t have been prouder of my university. I can’t describe the feeling of knowing that the President of the United States was 100 feet away from me and standing on the campus that I have come to know over the past three years.
With about twenty minutes remaining in the debate, spin alley started to fill up with media and campaign members. Within minutes of the debate’s finish, Congressmen, Representatives and Senators came into spin alley to start their interviews. I had the privilege to interview some very important people such as Chuck Todd and Kristen Welker of NBC News, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Former Governor George Pataki of New York. The atmosphere inside this place was crazy with thousands of journalists trying to get the best interviews they could. It started to wind down around midnight. Although I was up from about 4 a.m., it had felt like I just got there and was ready to do another debate.
This really was an experience that I will never forget and I am truly proud to be a Hofstra student. The mood and atmosphere on campus was like I have never seen before and I believe that every Hofstra student had some sort of role in making this debate great. There are so many stories and pictures to go around but one thing is for sure; October 16, 2012 will always be remembered by a Hofstra student for the rest of their life.