Democratic Presidential Candidates Roll Into Vehicle City
April 4, 2016
Just two days after the Republican Debate in the Motor City, 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and Secretary Hillary Clinton rolled into the Vehicle City to hold a debate of their own. Sunday, March 6th saw students from The Blazer reporting to the Press Filing Center on U of M Flint’s campus at 11 AM, preparing to attend their second Presidential debate in four days as official members of the media.
After picking up our credentials and enduring Secret Service – an occurrence which is starting to feel like just a routine part of our daily lives – we head down the stairs and into the entrance of the Filing Center, gawking at the professionals. As some of the first journalists in the room, we choose prime seats in front of a set of televisions, and some members switch out their silver journal with the embossed CNN logo for one of the more exclusive red ones. A CNN representative appears forty five minutes later and offers all interested journalists a tour of the Debate Hall, located at The Whiting, in the heart of Flint’s Cultural Center. As requested, we congregate in the Spin Room to wait for our official press transportation, a Flint city bus. Noon rolls around, a final invite is issued to the Filing Center, and CNN escorts us out a back door onto a waiting bus.
Photographers snap hundreds of photos of the setup, social media managers excitedly give their followers an early look at the Debate Hall, and CNN talks briefly about how the show will run when it starts at 8 PM that night. In what feels like mere seconds, the tour is over, and Secret Service agents begin their final sweep of the premises, sweeping us right out the door. Members of the press trudge back onto the bus to return to the Filing Center, and student journalists receive an email inviting them to participate in a ten minute “gaggle” with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz later that day.
Upon rearrival at U of M Flint, everybody who left for the tour must once again meet with our good friends of the Secret Service. As they complete the security checks yet again, journalists in attendance hear of the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan for the first time. Four hours remain until the gaggle will even come close to beginning, but luckily both Vehicle City Tacos and Charlie’s Smokin’ BBQ, two local favorites, have their most popular items available in the Filing Center. Finally, after a combined consumption of four pulled pork sandwiches and seven tacos on the part of the Blazer staff, Deputy Director of Regional & Specialty Media for the DNC, TJ Helmstetter, calls student journalists to meet DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (who does not make it to the gaggle on time). Due to other interviews running longer than expected, the gaggle begins at 5:33 PM, and goes on for thirteen minutes rather than the allotted ten.
Soon after Wasserman Schultz leaves the interviewing area, shouting, chanting, and singing from outside carries into the building. Tons of reporters scramble to put on their coats, grab their cameras and notebooks, and proceed to sprint up the stairs to the exit, where the source of the commotion quickly becomes obvious as Flint Water protestors chant “You want our vote? Come get our vote!”. Secret Service agents stand in front of the doors, blocking any journalists attempting to leave the building. “If you leave you’re not coming back in,” they warn. After much debating between the frenzied journalists and agents, CNN agrees to escort us out a back door (though this escort never arrives and we end up exiting through the front anyways).
Four minutes later at 6:18 PM, news of an impromptu Bernie Sanders press conference works its way around the Filing Center and journalists run through Secret Service (Hi, Agent Smith!) for the third time that day. Twelve minutes after arriving, at 6:32 PM, the press conference begins with a surprise appearance from former Michigan Senator, Donald Riegle, who announces his endorsement of Senator Sanders. Photographers snap as many pictures as possible, and ten minutes later, leave the press conference to return to the Filing Center with enough time to make it to the bus headed to the Photo Spray, which leaves promptly at 7:00 PM.
As the bus approaches the Debate Hall, Bernie Sanders supporters completely block the road with an outdoor rally. Over a half hour remains until the debate begins. Photographers from various professional media outlets across the country anxiously wait in the lobby. One short minute before the debate goes on the air, at 7:59 PM, the doors to the Debate Hall are thrown open, and the Photo Spray begins on the stairs of The Whiting’s auditorium. 8:00 PM soon rolls around, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders make their entrances, and a cameraman for CNN walks in front of them as they shake hands on stage, blocking every other photographers shot. A moment of silence was held for Nancy Reagan, followed by the National Anthem being sung by a local Flint choir. Three short minutes after beginning, at 8:03 PM, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders take their positions at their podiums and the debate begins, signifying the end of the Photo Spray. Photographers are swiftly kicked out of the Debate Hall and into the lobby to wait for the bus to return and pick them up. At 8:32 PM, photographers go through security at the Filing Center one final time, and take their seats to watch the remainder of the debate on the televisions in front of them.
The debate ends, but the night is far from over for journalists. Three minutes after concluding, the Spin Room opens, and several surrogates from both the Clinton Campaign and the Sanders Campaign become available for interview. While talking to Senator Jim Ananich, Mark Ruffalo makes a surprise entrance to the room to discuss his views on fracking and support for Bernie Sanders. By 11:20, the Spin Room has mostly cleared out, and CNN photographer David Scott Holloway shares his enthusiasm about high school students “chasing the story,” and takes pictures of all the members of The Blazer to post to his Instagram account. After sharing contact information, The Blazer staff exits the Spin Room and Filing Center to go home for the night, jaws on the floor, and lifelong memories in their heads.