TOWN OF TONAWANDA, NY (WKBW) — One of the most unusual races this election season is featuring two well-known incumbents Republican Ed Rath and Democrat Sean Ryan, in the newly redrawn 61st State Senate district that runs from Grand Island into Amherst.
Both candidates will square off Wednesday, November 2 in what will be the only debate at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in the Town of Tonawanda.
7 News Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley was invited to watch students prepare.
AP American Government Teacher Ted Lina sat at the head of a conference room table, surrounded by students, as he helps guide to select questions for the debate.
“Who's got the next question? What's the topic,” Lina asked the students.
“It really does encourage younger people how to vote and it raises awareness to younger generations to vote,” replied Matt Voelkl, senior.
Students work to frame each question with an explanation in a non-partisan format.
“And we stay away from gotcha questions,” Lina noted. “We are not here to trap candidates. We are here for a free exchange of ideas which is what a debate should be all about."
St. Joe's President Christopher Fulco tells me it's so important for students to dive into the issues so they become informed voters in the future.
“We're really trying to create independent, critical thinkers and that's what this debate, here at school, allows us to do,” Fulco remarked.
I was asked not to reveal specific topics so candidates would not be tipped off ahead of time, but I did ask students what topics are important to them.
“For me, it's probably an issue with schools and the safety of schools because this is a place we come to every day. It’s a place we should feel safe in and have an environment where we can learn and not have to worry about outside things,” described Robert Anspach, senior.
“It's really important to me because there are many people, who especially don't have the opportunity that many of us on this panel, and it’s really just a blessing to be on it and get the experience,” explained Dwayne Jones, senior.
Jones is part of the debate panel and is also president of the equity and justice club at the school. He tells me he hopes to someday be a civil rights attorney.
“I would like to fight for people who are incarcerated in jail because many people who are in jail — do not have a true voice that they can really stick out for crimes, especially that they haven't done,” responded Dwayne Jones, senior.
Wednesday will mark the 38th year Lina has guided students in a political debate at the school.
“What I'm very excited about — is that students continue to be interested in the entire process. I'm asked early in the year — 'are we going to have a debate this year’ — who asked that in 11th or 12th grade? — you know who asks that? — St. Joe’s students,” reflected Lina.