Two of the four presidential election debates will be moderated by women in October, and although no one at the Commission on Presidential Debates is saying so, three Jewish teenagers from Montclair may have been instrumental in making it happen.
On Monday, the commission announced that CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley would become the first woman since 1992 to moderate a presidential debate when she levels questions at the nominees on Oct. 16.
Five days earlier, ABC News foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz will moderate the vice presidential debate.
Celebrating the news were Emma Axelrod, Elena Tsemberis, and Sammi Siegel, the three local students who gathered over 180,000 signatures on a petition urging organizers to appoint female moderators.
In May, they crafted two petitions on behalf of a female moderator — one directed to the debate commission, the other to the Obama and Romney campaigns. They posted them on Change.org.
“We did not hear back from anyone, but we found out when the commission released the names,” Emma said. The commission did not comment on whether its appointments were influenced by the petition drive.
“We were all in the Civics and Government Institute at Montclair High and through it we learned a lot about the women’s rights movement,” said Sammi. “It was brought to our attention that there had not been a female debate moderator in 20 years, so we jumped on the opportunity.”
Former ABC News anchor Carol Simpson led a three-way debate among George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot in 1992.
“I am so excited that our hard work has paid off,” said Elena, speaking with NJJN after she and her partners rode back from an interview at MSNBC studios in New York. “I feel like this is a huge step toward gender equality, but we still have a long way to go in terms of equal pay for equal work and women’s reproductive rights, and we still need to work for equality, especially for minority groups.”
As a member of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, Emma said she is “part of a warm, accepting community. We learn a lot about how everyone needs to be treated equally, and anyone can have a role in making the world a more loving and peaceful place for everyone.” As the daughter of CBS News reporter Jim Axelrod, Emma also knew more than a bit about the news business.
Sammi, a member of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, said her Reconstructionist synagogue “promotes a lot of social action and advocacy.”
“For me this was not a religious issue; it was a women’s issue,” said Elena, who attended the Montclair Jewish Workshop. “We learned part of the Jewish religion is giving back to the community.”
Crowley will moderate the second of three debates between the presidential candidates on Oct. 16.
Jim Lehrer, anchor of the PBS NewsHour, will host the first debate between Romney and Obama on Oct. 3. Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’s Face the Nation, will moderate the final presidential debate on Oct. 22.
Although they hope to be in the audience when Crowley and Raddatz moderate the debates, the Montclair students have received no invitations as yet.
Elena told NJJN she is encouraging parents “to watch the debates with their sons and daughters and see the females who will be up there as talented role models. I think it is fantastic.”