Political Showtime at the Apollo

Written by: Joseph Powell and Rollin Colmenares

The 2016 Presidential Debates have been anything but ordinary. With the second debate recently held and the third coming up, it all kicked off at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, with a special screening held at the Apollo Theater in Manhattan.

This first debate set the record as the most watched debate in U.S. history. Many live screenings were held nationwide to watch as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump faced off for the first time.

The Apollo, known as the Mecca of Black show business, has seen its fair share of long lines of people waiting to get inside.

But this time the long lines that stretch from 125th Street, all the way to the backstage entrance on 126th Street, contained hundreds waiting to get inside for a political debate. Many passersby asked what group was playing that night.

Millions were expected to tune in to watch Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s first debate. According to CNN, over 80 million people tuned in to the debate, making it the most-watched in U.S. history.

“This debate is going to be both historic and hilarious with Donald Trump involved.” – Troy Davey

Robert Parmet, a history professor at York College, was one of those people. “Yes, I’m looking forward to the debates,” Parmet said. “I’m also very nervous for I don’t know what to expect. There has been so much ugliness in this year’s campaign.”

As the Apollo’s seats were filling up and HOT 97’s DJ Enuff was playing sixties music, Troy Davey, a 40-year-old cable technician, said he didn’t mind being seated up in the Apollo balcony to watch the debate.

“This debate is going to be both historic and hilarious with Donald Trump involved,” Davey said.

The event was hosted by Rob Nelson, a news anchor at Channel 7 Eyewitness News. Nelson greeted the excited crowd by saying, “It doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is, but that you cared enough to come to this important event.”

The atmosphere in the theater was lively and buzzing. In true Apollo fashion, Nelson introduced a musical act to open up the night. Charisa the Violin Diva and her Quartet performed both the National Anthem and the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

The next segment was a panel discussion moderated by Keli Goff, host of WNYC’s Political Party with Keli Goff live event series. The panel included several political experts from TV and print media.

Scott McConnell, founding editor of The American Conservative, had some advice for the republican candidate. “I would advise Trump to seem Presidential,” he said. “Be informed, calm and present a serious image.”

“He has to show up as a different person than the one projected through the media,” Goff said.

The panel also discussed Clinton’s failure to connect with the millennial generation and young women, despite her historic campaign to become the first woman President.

“Younger women are not caught up in this historic period of the first female being elected President,” said political analyst Amy M. Holmes. “They don’t remember the battles that women have fought in previous decades.”

Holmes pointed out that Bernie Sanders got 70 percent of the millennial generation’s vote during the primaries. “Sanders spoke to them and touched on topics like student loan debt, a weak economy and the lack of jobs,” she said.

“How can the candidates not be focused on education?” – Dr. Michele Gregory

The crowd let out a huge cheer as the debate began with NBC News Anchor Lester Holt announcing the rules of the format. While the live audience at Hofstra University was not permitted to react to the answers, the crowd at the Apollo reacted enthusiastically as the candidates verbally sparred with one another.

“She doesn’t have the look,” said Trump. “She doesn’t have the stamina. I don’t believe she does have the stamina to be president of this country. You need tremendous stamina.”

After asking Trump about his tax returns, Clinton commented on how the withholding of tax returns is unusual for a presidential candidate.

“First, maybe he’s not as rich as he said he is,” Clinton said. “Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be. Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks.”

While the candidates also touched on matters like the racial divide and the economy, some wished more topics were included in the debate.

Dr. Michele Gregory, a Professor of Behavioral Sciences at York College, felt that the topic of education should have been raised. “Lester Holt should have asked questions regarding education,” she said. “The job of the moderator is not to cozy up to the candidates, but to ask real questions. How can the candidates not be focused on education?”

Gregory also hopes the public can come away with some intellectual

stimulation from these presidential debates. “I hope the debates make people think about what would make their lives better,” she said.

At the Apollo, in the rear of a balcony, is an older gentleman who goes by the name of “The Professor.” He proudly boasts of winning a large number of Amateur Night contests here playing the harmonica. He will even call over an usher to verify his claims.

“I think the debates are great,” the Professor said. “But if you really want to know how I feel about this election, just watch this.” He takes out his harmonica and performs Sam Cooke’s, A Change Is Gonna Come.

                 It’s been a long

                 A long time coming

                But I know

                A change gon’ come

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