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Hofstra University to host first presidential debate

Hofstra University will host a presidential debate in

Hofstra University will host a presidential debate in September. Credit: Getty Images

Hofstra University will host the first of three presidential debates after Wright State University in Ohio, citing cost and safety concerns, bowed out of holding the Sept. 26 event, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Tuesday.

The commission, a nonpartisan group based in Washington, D.C., said Hofstra — where presidential candidates in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns faced off — earlier agreed to be an alternate location.

Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said the university “is honored” to host the first debate.

“This is an extraordinary privilege and responsibility,” he said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate the faith shown in us by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and we have begun preparations for a very successful debate.”

The announcement came as Republican delegates prepared to nominate Donald Trump for president at their convention in Cleveland and before the Democrats’ gathering next week in Philadelphia, where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to be selected as that party’s nominee.

It is not clear if former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, will be included in the debate. Johnson needs to score an average of 15 percent support in the most recent major polls after Labor Day to get an invitation; in three recent polls, he stood at 13, 11 and 8 percent.

Hofstra — Long Island’s largest private university, with about 11,000 students — will become the first school to host presidential debates in three consecutive presidential election cycles. The university agreed in September 2015 to serve as an alternate site this debate cycle if needed, commission officials said.

In 2012, Democrat Barack Obama, running for re-election, and Republican Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, shared the stage in the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex. In 2008, Obama, then an Illinois senator, and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona faced off there.

“The commission looks forward to working with Hofstra once again,” the commission said in a statement.

Wright State president David R. Hopkins called the decision not to host the debate “very difficult,” but said “there has been a growing crescendo of concern about what it would take to guarantee the safety and security of the campus and the community. The expense would be daunting.”

Wright State officials estimated the debate would cost up to $8 million, a figure that included additional security. The school, which has an enrollment of about 17,000 on its Dayton campus, already paid $1.9 million to the commission to stage and produce the debate. It was unclear Tuesday if the school would recoup any of that.

The second 2016 presidential debate is scheduled Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis and the third is to be held Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. On Oct. 4, Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, will host the only vice presidential debate.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, in a statement, said the county’s “well-trained officers are prepared to work with federal law enforcement to provide a secure venue for the candidates to share their plans for our future.”

Nassau Police spokesman Lt. Richard LeBrun said the department will work with federal, state and local authorities to secure a safe environment for the visitors and residents of the county.

“With two presidential debates held previously in Nassau County in recent years, we have a vast amount of experience to anticipate any pending issues that may arise,” he said.

In 2012, taxpayers paid $600,000 for additional security costs, including police overtime, according to Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin. Local municipalities do not get reimbursed for security costs.

Nassau spent about $612,000 — most, if not all of it, on police overtime — for 2008’s debate, police officials said.

The commission has not announced moderators for the debates, each of which will be 90 minutes long, air from 9 to 10:30 p.m. and be uninterrupted by commercial breaks, according to the commission’s website.

The Sept. 26 debate will be divided into six segments of roughly 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator and announced at least one week before the debate.

The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Candidates then will have an opportunity to respond to each other. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a deeper discussion of the topic, according to the commission’s description of the format.

A total of 16 schools applied to be hosts of the 2016 presidential debates, according to a list the commission released on April 1, 2015. The only other New York school in the running was Rockland Community College, located in Suffern.

The presidential election is on Nov. 8.

With Patricia Kitchen

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