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Gary Johnson backers fuel Hofstra debate Facebook feud

Gary Johnson, 2016 Libertarian presidential nominee, at a

Gary Johnson, 2016 Libertarian presidential nominee, at a campaign event at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. Credit: Bloomberg News / Luke Sharrett

An online feud has erupted on the Hofstra University Facebook page between supporters of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, who are protesting his omission from the first presidential debate, and Hofstra students charging back that the school has no control over who qualifies for the debate stage.

On Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan organization tasked with organizing the debates, announced Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein did not meet the 15 percent national polling threshold to participate in the Sept. 26 debate at Hofstra.

Johnson averaged 8.4 percent and Stein averaged 3.2 percent, according to the commission’s review of a series of five major national polls.

Supporters of the former Republican governor of New Mexico took their concerns to social media after the announcement. At 4:28 p.m. that day, Facebook user David Neubert, of North Dakota, wrote on the Hofstra Facebook page: “Not including Gary Johnson in the debates, hope everyone rates you the one-star you deserve.”

A deluge of one-star posts have followed, along with messages denouncing school officials for hosting the debate featuring Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton without intervening on behalf of the third-party candidates.

“An institute of higher learning should not be a participant in the indoctrination of the belief that the United States only has two political parties that matter,” wrote Sharon Desany of Orlando.

Desany, 50, a registered Independent, said in a phone interview she wrote the post to “spread the word that there are three qualified candidates, and one is being excluded,” noting that Johnson, like Trump and Clinton, has qualified to appear on the November ballot in all 50 states.

Hofstra students and alumni supportive of the school have responded by leaving five-star ratings and writing posts lauding the university. School supporters note that the commission, not Hofstra, calls the shots on the debate’s logistics.

Mitchell Podgorowiez, 20, a junior at the school, was among those who came to his school’s defense.

“Hofstra has provided me with an education unlike any other and for its name to be marred over something out of its control is stupid and unfair,” he wrote.

In a phone interview Podgorowiez said he is “a big supporter that other people’s voices need to be heard,” but argued complaints about the debate should be directed exclusively to the commission.

As of Tuesday, more than 730 users have left a one-star rating of Hofstra, compared to nearly 400 five-star ratings. The private university now has a 2.5 star rating out of a maximum of five stars on Facebook. The rating system is generally used by Facebook subscribers to sort through negative and positive reviews of schools, restaurants and businesses.

Hofstra University officials declined to comment for this story, and the commission did not return a call and email seeking comment from Newsday.

Asked to weigh in on the Facebook effort, Johnson’s campaign in an email to Newsday replied that the “campaign is not involved in any protests regarding the debate at Hofstra, on campus or online.”


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