Published April 15, 2016
UB students and faculty got to hear from a presidential candidate in person for the second time in four days yesterday when MSNBC hosted a town hall meeting on campus with Republican hopeful Ted Cruz.
Just three days before, an estimated 11,000 people turned up at Alumni Arena for a rally for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a contender for the Democratic nomination.
The April 14 town hall was a more intimate affair, with an audience of about 300 seated in UB’s Katharine Cornell Theatre to see Cruz in conversation with Chuck Todd from “Meet the Press.”
The personal setting “really exposes you a lot to a candidate,” said Reed Tighe, a political science major who shook hands with Cruz and had his picture taken with the Texas senator at the town hall. Tighe said the chance to meet a major presidential candidate was an inspiring educational experience, solidifying his desire to pursue a career in politics.
“I am excited to see candidates caring about New York State, and caring enough to campaign here,” said Celine Keefe, an MBA student who also attended.
For a day, the Katharine Cornell Theatre, which is in the Ellicott Complex, was transformed into a stunning venue for a political event.
MSNBC’s first staff members arrived on Tuesday to begin setting up. By the time they were done, giant banners lit with the MSNBC logo hung from the ceiling. Colored lights cast a pattern of alternating blue and red stripes on the theatre’s masonry walls, bathing the room in a beautiful glow.
“The space looked amazing,” said Keefe. “I was really impressed.”
Guests, including a large contingent of Cruz supporters wearing 2016 campaign stickers, began lining up outside the venue well before the advertised 11 a.m. start time.
The crowd was diverse in age and manner: Some people chose formal attire — suits with ties, dresses and high heels — while other wore sneakers and tees.
After all seats were filled, Todd warmed up the audience by speaking fondly of Buffalo, saying he was happy to be in the hometown of Tim Russert, former longtime host of “Meet the Press.” He began the town hall by welcoming the TV viewing audience — the show aired that evening at 8 p.m. — to the “University at Buffalo … home, by the way, of the University at Buffalo Bulls. Let’s go, Bulls!”
Cruz was introduced shortly after 11:30 a.m. Once taping of the event began, the candidate fielded questions from Todd and selected members of the audience on a wide range of issues. The exchange covered immigration, abortion, religion, the national debt and an array of other topics, with Cruz sharing traditional conservative views on many topics.
A recurring theme in his responses was a focus on grassroots politics and the need, he said, for government to do a better job of listening to the people it serves.
The town hall lasted about an hour, including commercial breaks. After the taping, members of the crowd swarmed Cruz and Todd to take selfies and shake hands.
On a week when two major presidential candidates from different parties visited campus, many members of the UB community expressed pride that the university was the site of events of national prominence.
“It’s really cool that it’s taking place at UB,” said Tighe. “This is national election and it’s literally in our backyard.”