In Bucks County congressional race, an old story plays out: A debate over debates

    Christina Finello, left, is challenging Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, right, in the 1st Congressional District outside Philadelphia. (Finello courtesy of Finello campaign, Fitzpatrick courtesy of AFGE/Flickr)

    (*This story was updated at 10:10 a.m. on 7/30/20 to clarify remarks from the Fitzpatrick campaign)

    By Davis Giangiulio

    A disagreement over debates is dominating headlines in a key congressional race in suburban Philadelphia.

    It’s happening in the Bucks County-based 1st Congressional District, where Democratic hopeful Christina Finello decided to pull out of a debate sponsored by WBCB-AM 1490 in Levittown. 

    Finello, the former deputy director of the Bucks County Department of Housing and Human Services and a member of the Ivyland Borough Council, faces incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in one of the most closely watched House contests in the country.

    WBCB-AM detailed the timeline of the move in an article on Monday.

    • The radio station began working with both campaigns in the middle of July and was planning on having an August debate. The Finello Campaign instead insisted on a debate two weeks before election day.
    • Fitzpatrick campaign officials urged for a debate before Labor Day, but the Finello campaign did not believe voters would be engaged.
    • The Finello campaign proposed a compromise date of September 21. This would be difficult for Fitzpatrick. However, the campaign accepted.
    • When the Finello campaign was informed that the Fitzpatrick campaign accepted, they said they had already scheduled other events for that date, the station reported.

    Fitzpatrick lamented the failure to agree on a debate date in a tweet Tuesday morning.

    The WBCB-AM debate was not the only forum in the works this campaign season. Lower Bucks County Community College is holding a debate on Oct. 6. Another forum, this one sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Bucks County and the Bucks County Chamber of Commerce, is slated for Oct. 12.

    However, the date for those forums are weeks after voters can start requesting mail-in ballot applications and casting their ballots. 

    With a large number of voters expected to use mail-in ballots this year, the Fitzpatrick campaign told the Capital-Star that it believes *that not having a debate before the September 14 start date is unfair to those voters.

    “Clearly there should be at least one debate before people start casting their ballots,” said a Fitzpatrick campaign spokesperson to the Pennsylvania-Capital Star. They added, “For [Finello] to say with a straight face that she does not have a single hour free anytime in the next two months … is an insult to the intelligence of our entire community that she seeks to represent.”

    Ali Anderson, the Finello Campaign Manager Ali Anderson pushed the blame for the WBCB debate’s failure onto Fitzpatrick.

    We offered over 20 dates when Congress was not in session for the WBCB debate … Unfortunately, the Fitzpatrick campaign refused all those opportunities,” said Anderson. She also said they look forward to holding “Brian Fitzpatrick accountable” at the two scheduled debates in October.

    WBCB News Director Rick Rickman  said it was “unfortunate” that Finello did not intend to participate in a debate with the station this year. The station has held debates in the past in  all but one election cycle since 2004. Rickman says that the radio station “would welcome Christina Finello” if the campaign has a change of heart.

    Davis Giangiulio a rising high school senior, is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia suburbs.