Tony Arcabascio, the Republican candidate for Queens borough president, is claiming that Queens Public Television decided against airing a debate between him and his Democratic opponent, Melinda Katz, out of politics, a charge the station denies.
Arcabascio and Katz had debated before the QPTV cameras on Oct. 10, and the station said it was going to broadcast the event a dozen times before Election Day. But before the first airing, at least two newspapers, the Queens Chronicle and the Daily News, ran articles on the event.
Arcabascio claims those articles made him look good and Katz look bad because he didn't back down from her attacks and instead went right back at her with facts he says bear out his arguments.
As a result, he claims, the Queens Democratic Organization pressured QPTV to not air the debate and the station agreed. Both entities deny the charge, which Arcabascio first made in an interview with the Queens Chronicle on Friday, and then repeated in a comment posted Monday on the paper's online report on the debate.
"For the record ... with regards to this article reporting that there was a technical issue that has forced the cancellation of this debate as told by QPTV, it's a lie," Arcabascio's comment said. "Call QPTV and demand that they air the debate, demand that they tell you the truth!"
In a press release announcing it had canceled the airings of the debate, QPTV said the reason was "a technicality," but did not elaborate.
The station said Monday that it decided against airing the debate after third-party candidate Everly Brown complained that he wasn't invited — even though he was invited personally by the station's programming and access services manager, Clifford Jacobs, and Roslyn Nieves, its community development manager, according to Jacobs.
Jacobs said that even though he and Nieves had spoken to Brown, when the candidate claimed he was never invited, they "gave him the benefit of the doubt" and decided not to air the debate out of fairness.
Nieves, reached Friday, said, "That show was pulled for a technicality" and referred questions to Jacobs, saying she was in a meeting when she took the Chronicle's call. He called the paper Monday.
"There is no conspiracy theory, there's no malice aforethought, there's nothing of that kind going on here," Jacobs said.
Brown had run for the Democratic nomination but came in third, with 12.6 percent of the vote, behind Katz, who won with 44.5 percent and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who took 33.7 percent. He stayed on the general election ballot by running on the Jobs & Education Party line.
When Brown called to complain about not being in the debate, Jacobs said he asked him, "Mr. Brown, what would make you happy?" and Brown said, "Don't air it."
Jacobs said he notified the Katz and Arcabascio campaigns of that decision, and that neither had a problem with it, despite Arcabascio's statements now.
Brown said Monday that he had asked QPTV to film another debate with all three candidates, and that Arcabascio and Katz had both agreed to that, but the station wouldn't do it.
The Queens Democratic party executive secretary bristled at the suggestion that his organization might have prompted QPTV's decision.
"Mr. Arcabascio not only has a big imagination, but he's a liar, because that's absolutely untrue," said the executive secretary, Mike Reich. "I wouldn't even know who at QPTV to call. It is an absolute lie by a person who in desperation is trying to gin something up because he's probably going to lose by 50 points."
Reich added that it wouldn't even be possible for the Democrats to have pressured QPTV because he was on vacation out of the country when the debate was filmed and the station decided against airing it.
Asked if Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens), the Queens Democratic chairman, could have made the call, Reich said the congressman was too busy working with the president to end the government shutdown at the time to do such a thing.
Reich said he hadn't even heard of Arcabascio, a technology executive with the North Shore-LIJ health system, before seeing his name on the ballot, even though last year the candidate had run a primary challenge against state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria).
Arcabascio is standing by his claim the Democrats pressured QPTV, and said its actions will cause the station to lose out in its coverage of a candidates forum tonight, Oct. 21, at St. John's University.
"I will not allow QPTV to tape me on Oct 21st at St John's University," he said in his comment on the Queens Chronicle story. "It is my choice and I refuse to allow a Public Television station [to] manipulate the public and the public's perception of any candidate."
Jacobs said the station will adhere to Arcabascio's demand, telling the Chronicle on Monday morning that his next call would be to the candidate to let him know that.
Brown said he missed the debate because QPTV changed the time and told him the wrong one, and that he learned it had already been filmed from the other candidates. While he said he was the one who told the station not to air it, he said "it is possible" the Democratic establishment pressured the station into refusing to film another forum between all three candidates. He said that would be because the party recognizes that he is "a threat," having won about 14,000 votes in the primary while being outspent 50-1.
Brown asked all the media to acknowledge that he's on the ballot in November, because when they don't, "It's not just silencing me, it's silencing everybody who signed my petitions — it's not democracy."
This article was updated to include the comments of Everly Brown, who had not yet been reached when it was first posted.