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Tribune makes its argument for debate


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 25, 1999

If a presidential debate is to be held in Tampa, Tampa Tribune publisher Reid Ashe wants in on it.

The St. Petersburg Times has submitted a proposal to host a presidential debate next year, one of a dozen proposals from across the country. The Times suggested two sites -- the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg and the University of South Florida in Tampa.

A week ago, Ashe wrote to the Commission on Presidential Debates, contending, "It would be obviously awkward, both for this community and for the commission, to have a presidential debate in one community sponsored by another community's newspaper."

Though each paper has been trying for years to sell papers on its competitor's turf, Ashe argues that the Times is the paper for the western half of the Tampa Bay area, while the Tribune serves the east.

"People are pretty clear on what the local paper is on each side of the bay," Ashe said, noting the Times has put "St. Petersburg" back into its nameplate for papers it sells in Hillsborough County.

But executives at the Times, which hosted a vice presidential debate in St. Petersburg three years ago, say nobody would feel awkward about a Times-sponsored presidential debate in Tampa -- except perhaps the Tribune.

"We just see the market in starkly different ways," said Paul Tash, executive editor and deputy chairman of the Times. "The Times is a newspaper for all of Tampa Bay, including Tampa."

Sponsoring a presidential debate can cost close to $1-million, starting with $550,000 that must be committed to the debate commission, though the lead sponsor can recruit other companies to defray some of the cost. Ashe wouldn't say if the Tribune would be willing to pay that. "That would be subject to negotiations," he said. "My letter was meant to express our interest, and we could go from there."

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