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Santa Monica Cool to Paying for Election Forum

November 05, 1987|TRACY WILKINSON | Times Staff Writer

The search is under way for corporate sponsors for a proposed series of electronic presidential candidate forums in Santa Monica.

Carl Rogers, one of the organizers for the forums, said the Christian Science Monitor Syndicate, a Boston-based corporation with several television and radio holdings, has agreed to produce and televise the forums.

Rogers put a production price tag of $1 million to $1.5 million on the forums, which are designed so that members of the audience can register their responses to candidates on hand-held electronic tally devices.

While the Christian Science Monitor Syndicate will be responsible for attracting national corporate sponsors to foot the major part of the bill, Rogers will also ask the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday to agree to help raise $150,000 for the project.

The city last month gave Rogers and the Los Angeles-based Media Group, co-organizers of the event, permission to hold the forums at the Santa Monica Civic Center. But the City Council offered no money, and some members remain reluctant to do so.

"I don't think we should vote to give them one dime of guarantee out of city coffers," said Councilwoman Christine Reed, who voted against the project last September.

"It's another one of these . . . ideas that people always come along with (wanting) a little help from the city," she added. "I don't think the city should be in the business of assuring the success of privately sponsored public affairs programs."

Rogers said that the participation of the Christian Science Monitor removes much of the financial risk from the city's back. He said the publicity Santa Monica would receive would be well worth the $150,000.

According to the proposal going before the City Council, the City of Santa Monica would help raise the $150,000 among local corporate sponsors and would guarantee any shortfall if that amount is not raised.

City Manager John Jalili, asked to report on the proposal, said he will recommend council members examine whether the series represents an appropriate use of city funds.

"Based on the track record of fund raising (in Santa Monica), it is safe to assume an insufficient amount would be raised from (local) corporate sponsors . . . (and) I have to assume city funds would be exposed," he said.

The balance of costs for the project, meanwhile, would be covered by national corporate sponsors that the Christian Science Monitor Syndicate is currently trying to lure, said David E. Morse, syndicate president.

"This (the series) is a unique concept and provides candidates with a unique forum," Morse said from Boston. "It's not the normal television debate thing but a one-on-one" meeting between a single candidate and a sample audience, he said.

He said the syndicate is providing "some seed money," expertise in television production and its ability to attract major sponsors.

The forums would be held next year.

Interest From Candidates

Candidates have not yet been asked to confirm their participation, but their camps are being queried about whether they would be interested, and several have responded positively, organizers said.

Rogers said each forum would resemble a town hall meeting, featuring a single candidate in a 90-minute session with a moderator supervising questions from a 3,000-member select audience.

About 300 people in the audience would be armed with electronic "Quick Tally" devices, which resemble a pocket calculator. The Quick Tally devices allow participants can register immediate reactions or responses to the candidate's comments.

"The real heart of it is the exchange back and forth between the audience and candidates. That's what makes these forums different," Rogers said.

"To our knowledge, there is no other program that will give as many citizens this opportunity to ask questions of these candidates. And there is no program where such a very representative audience can register its viewpoints."

'Real Microcosm'

The people chosen to form the audience would represent a demographic cross section, a "real microcosm," of the community, said Rogers, a 44-year-old Vietnam veteran and political activist from Venice.

Rogers said he chose Santa Monica because of personal interest in the city--his wife used to work in City Hall--and because the forums would "be consistent" with Santa Monica's reputation as a "creative and politically diverse" city.

Another City Council member, Alan Katz, who has supported the project in the past, also expressed reservations about the amount of money Santa Monica would be asked to guarantee and suggested that other ways to finance the series be explored.

But he continued to praise the idea of the forums.

"It would be a great opportunity to allow Santa Monica citizens to meet and hear . . . their next president," Katz said.

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