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DEBATE NOTEBOOK: First Disney, Then Debate On Melting Ice

October 10, 1996

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ A different kind of spinning was going on at the Bayfront Center just days before it was converted into a press work area and ``spin alley″ for post-debate discourse Wednesday.

Woody and Buzz Lightyear, the main characters in Walt Disney’s World on Ice _ Toy Story, were jumping and spinning on the Bayfront Center’s ice rink until Sunday night, when the ice show was packed into 11 semitrailers and hit the road for its next stop, Lexington, Ky.

Taking its place in the arena were rows of tables, 600 telephones, a raft of TV monitors and a platform for ``spin doctors″ _ campaign surrogates for debaters Jack Kemp and Vice President Al Gore who were giving their version of events to tens of journalists covering the face-off.

But the quick turnaround didn’t leave enough time for melting the ice. Instead, the rink was covered by soggy particle board and rolls of red carpet. The temperature hovered around 68 degrees.


When JoAnn Crowder started watching the vice-presidential debates, she knew her name could come up.

``I was looking at the time, and I was kind of worried that he wouldn’t,″ she said. ``But then he said my name, and I screamed.″

The Detroit woman was mentioned by Vice President Al Gore as an example of someone who got off welfare through a job created in an empowerment zone.

Crowder works for Pistons Packaging, a company started by two former Detroit Pistons.

Crowder, 43, had worked 12 years at a Detroit factory that made cables for power car seats. But the company sent the work to Mexico, and closed the plant.

``I had to go on aid,″ Crowder said. ``I had no choice. There were no jobs available that paid anything.″

During the eight years she was on aid, Crowder raised three teen-age daughters. The load got heavier in 1993 after her husband died.

In September 1995, Crowder landed the job at Pistons Packaging, earning about $6 an hour. Now, she’s a quality control inspector, earning $8 an hour. The money has enabled her to move to a house and assume a mortgage.

``It makes me feel good,″ she said. ``At least I get a paycheck every week. I can go to the store and not worry so much about the prices.″

Crowder said her boss put her in touch with White House aides. They spoke with her several times over the past two months, and on Monday, Gore called.

``We talked a little bit about the job,″ she said. ``I told him that now that I have my own house, he should come down and visit some time.″


More than 100 Ross Perot supporters, angry that his running mate Pat Choate was excluded from the forum, tried to stage a debate of their own in a protest area outside the theater where Gore and Kemp debated.

But things turned ugly when Bob Dole supporter Karen Hanks took the stage.

The first nasty turn came when she used a vulgarity to refer to President Clinton. She apologized when the crowd booed. But the Perot supporters shouted her offstage when she went on to tell them: ``This is 1996. Just get on with your lives.″

As Hanks moved away from the microphone, she and a Perot supporter on stage began shoving each other. Three police officers quickly moved forward and other demonstrators separated the women.

``They’re just rabble-rousers,″ Hanks, a computer programmer from Dunedin, Fla., said later. ``They didn’t want a serious discussion.″

But strawberry farmer Anna Williamson, who was not involved in the shoving match, said Hanks was the one who was afraid of a real debate.

``We just think other candidates should be able to sit up there on stage inside and answer questions, too,″ said Williamson, decked out in a sequin-decorated red, white and blue vest and cap. ``This is America.″

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