ELIZABETHTOWN - A debate between the candidates for Essex County District Attorney scheduled for this August has been canceled, organizers said this week.
The debate - a joint effort between the Republican Women of Essex County and the Democratic Women of Essex County - was to be moderated by the Essex County League of Women Voters.
It had been tentatively scheduled for Aug. 27 - prior to the primary vote in September and was to be held at the Elizabethtown Central School.
But, organizers backed out this week saying they could not get both candidates that remain in the race to agree to participate.
The two candidates who remain in the race are first-term incumbent Julie Garcia, and Clinton County Assistant District Attorney Kristy Sprague.
Garcia received the endorsement of the the Essex County Democratic Party Committee for the post, while Sprague garnered the backing of the Essex County Republican Party Committee.
Both candidates are Republicans, and plan to face-off in a Sept. 15 primary vote for the GOP line.
Rita FitzGerald, president of the DWEC, and Gaynelle Gutierrez, president of the RWEC, said the groups extended an invitation to both candidates, but Sprague declined to participate.
"Our invitation was sent out to all candidates. As time went by, the candidates narrowed down to only two - Kristy Sprague and Julie Garcia. A second invitation was sent out. Ms. Garcia accepted; Ms. Sprague did not. The debate has been canceled," Fitzgerald wrote in a letter submitted to the Valley News June 22.
Reached for comment, Sprague said she missed responding to the debate request because she was prosecuting a two-week-long felony trial.
Regardless, Sprague said she most likely would have turned down the invitation anyway because of concerns with impartiality, noting Gutierrez is Garcia's aunt and FitzGerald part of the committee who endorsed Garcia for the Democratic nomination.
"We hear a lot of talk from my opponent about fair and open government. This was certainly not a 'fair and open' process regarding this debate," Sprague said.
Garcia, however, said Sprague's unwillingness to participate in the debate is the voter's loss.
"In 2005, many people said the debates helped them make a decision on who they wanted to vote for. I am clearly disappointed, and I think the people of Essex County will be disappointed as well," Garcia said.
Sprague, on the other hand, said she welcomes a debate - but said it should be a debate between candidates representing the two major parties. That should happen after the primary vote, Sprague said, because Garcia may end up on both the Republican and Democratic lines.
"I am not trying to avoid a debate, we need to see who is going to be on the Republican ticket. That's when you have a debate," Sprague said.
Sprague said she is fully anticipating a two-party race in November, which she said makes for a healthy debate over the values for which each stand.
Garcia said county voters want a government that is transparent and accountable. Speaking openly about where candidates stand on issues is important to that process, she said.
"I believe there should be openness in the political process and public debates are a great way for the voters to get a chance to meet the candidates and ask questions. Unfortunately, the Republican Party leadership and their endorsed candidate do not seem to share this philosophy," Garcia said.