by Jonathan Bergman
WHS seniors Will Harmer and Anthony Pericolo sparred during the First Informant Presidential Debate on Oct. 17. Harmer is a registered Socialist candidate for the 2016 presidential race, and Pericolo is a Republican candidate.
The debate was held at the Presbyterian Church in Westfield and was moderated by seniors Ryan Soldati and Jessica Doyle from The Informant Club.
The two contestants had two minutes to respond to questions posed by the moderators and were allowed one minute rebuttals after the opposing candidate finished his remarks. Candidates answered questions on the subjects of crime and punishment, inequality and fiscal policy in the two-hour debate.
Responding to a question about privately operated prisons, Harmer called them a “failure,” citing that the cost savings at private prisons come at the expense of prisoners and guards. Pericolo responded, calling prison “a joke” where prisoners can “play basketball” rather than atoning for their crimes. He also said that prisoners should be put to work and keep the money they make to spend when they get out of prison.
When asked by Doyle whether terrorists deserve constitutional rights, Harmer said it is necessary to “follow the Constitution,” and to repeal federal provisions that allow terrorists to be detained without charges. On the same question, Pericolo said, “I do not believe terrorists deserve constitutional rights.” He continued, saying that terrorists should have their U.S. citizenships revoked and the use of torture in those cases would be justified.
The views of Pericolo and Harmer continued to contrast strongly on the subject of inequality. When asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, Harmer replied, “I believe black lives matter,” and also said that the Black Lives Matter movement is about paying attention to how black people are treated. Pericolo said, “[a] community that supports rioting and protest is really not a family.” He added that people should ”focus on character instead of what is exterior.”
Women’s health was also a divisive issue for the candidates. Harmer said that the United States should double the funding of Planned Parenthood and “publicly fund abortions.” Pericolo called Planned Parenthood “egregious” and said that states should invest in local clinics instead of Planned Parenthood. He said “abortion is a despicable practice” and that stopping the practice will “restore the character of our nation.” Pericolo said that abortion should be permitted in cases of rape, incest and when the pregnancy is a danger to the mother.
In his closing remarks, Will Harmer told the audience, “I think socialism is the best way to provide for people in the United States,” and that he believes the United States needs to “restart the war on poverty.” Pericolo said that “individuals lost during the Obama administration.” He also said he wants people to “look at the Statue of Liberty” and believe that the United States represents liberty and justice.
After the two gave their closing statements, Doyle said that in this political season, it is important for people to “understand what the parties really stand for.” Doyle thanked the audience for “coming to get educated,” and stressed the importance of voting.