Backstory: Presidential Campaign Appearances at George Mason Involved Major Teamwork

Posted: February 17, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Gazette staff

On TV, everything looked great–the banners, the flags, the crowds of cheering supporters, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. John Edwards and Sen. John Kerry smiling and waving. It all looked…so easy. But in fact, tremendous planning, preparation, and teamwork went into the successful political events held at George Mason last week.

It all started with an initiative by the Broadside student newspaper staff. Editor John Marcario says that weeks ago he and faculty advisor Kathryn Mangus, Communication, discussed inviting presidential candidates to Mason “to give students a firsthand look at the candidates. We thought the candidates would be interested in coming here because George Mason is in such a great location.”

Merten and Edwards
President Alan Merten, Sen. John Edwards, and Broadside Editor John Marcario at last week’s rally.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Marcario says making contact with the right person in each campaign was the first hurdle. “By the third or fourth contact, we finally reached the scheduling person.” After that came uncertainty as to when the candidates could come. Edwards was the first to confirm for Monday, Feb. 9. At one point, Kerry was scheduled to be on campus on Sunday, Feb. 8. That was cancelled. Then the Kerry staff said the candidate would do a “poll watch” the night of the Virginia and Tennessee primaries, Feb. 10, and make a statement after the returns were in. Then came multiple phone calls, negotiations, and conversations with other George Mason staff to organize the back-to-back major events.

For Mason’s Events Management Office, pulling off the campaign events successfully required flexibility, flexibility, flexibility.

“We had heard about a week prior to the event that Kerry wanted to come on Sunday. That was cancelled and we heard that Kerry might want to come to watch primary returns,” says Barbara Lubar, director of events management. “Then his people came to campus on Friday to tell us what their plans were. The problem was that their plans kept changing. For example, on Friday, they told us they needed 10 telephone lines for the press room. On Sunday, they called me on my cell phone and told me 5 lines would be fine. By the time they arrived on Monday they needed 21. They were expecting 4 or 5 satellite trucks and ended up with 15 to 20. Then the governor said he was coming, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger.

“It took a lot of persuasion and a lot of effort from many different people, but we were able to pull it together,” she concludes.

Assistant Chief of Police George Ginovsky says that all went smoothly from his department’s standpoint, although the events were “not routine.” Both events were heavily attended and the crowds were very large and enthusiastic. He notes that the few demonstrators who attended were peaceful and no arrests were made. Even with the presence of VIPs, “Our primary concern was the safety of the crowd,” Ginovsky says, and although he is reluctant to estimate the size of the crowds at each event, he says that both spaces–Dewberry Hall during Edwards’s appearance, and Johnson Center Atrium during Kerry’s–were about at capacity. He notes that the Police Department’s recent training for executive protection “stood us in good stead” for the events, even though the department didn’t have responsibility for protection of the candidates. The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department supplemented the Mason force, and Virginia State Troopers accompanied Gov. Mark Warner to the Kerry event.

In a letter sent to all George Mason staff and students, President Alan Merten said, “I know that events of this magnitude and importance require the extraordinary effort of many. I also know that they disrupt our regular university routine and can inconvenience members of our community. But it is this kind of opportunity and our ability to take advantage of it that make George Mason what it is.”

In addition to commending George Mason’s staff for all the efforts they put into making the events a success, Merten commended Mason’s students for participating enthusiastically in “these nationally significant events.” He said, “I hope that all members of the George Mason community are feeling the deserved pride in the events of the past week. Once again, we were on the world stage and performed beyond all expectations.”

Broadside Editor Marcario says, “I think it was great for students. Students are still talking about it. I think they felt like they were part of history, and they were proud of George Mason. I think it shows that you just need events to bring them [students] out.”

Such events and national exposure contribute to putting Mason “on the map,” people inside the university agree. “Mason continues to enjoy tremendous interest from students interested in studying in the nation’s capital. The Kerry and Edwards rallies reinforced the perception of Mason as the most dynamic and innovative institution in the region,” notes Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions.

“In many ways, George Mason is a place in Northern Virginia where people can learn about politics and civic engagement. The Johnson Center could be an epicenter for political activism and civic engagement,” says Janette Muir, associate dean of New Century College. “The Kerry staffers even noted that there hadn’t been a rally quite like this one before.”

The events also garnered significant media attention for the university. Media Relations staffer Jeremy Lasich keeps track of media “hits” and reports that each rally was covered by more than 60 national and international outlets. These included USA Today, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, and C-Span.

“One of the successful actions our office took the night of Sen. Kerry’s visit was to offer up to members of the traveling press one of our faculty members who is an expert on the presidential campaign, Colleen Shogan of the Department of Public and International affairs,” says Daniel Walsch of the Media Relations office. “Prof. Shogan was nice enough to make herself available for much of the evening and, as a result, ended up being interviewed by a range of media outlets, including the Hartford Courant, Associated Press, and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Marcario reports positive feedback from both campaigns. “The Edwards people said they were overwhelmed with the response,” he says, “and the Kerry people said that the Johnson Center was a better space than any other they could have imagined.”

Riding high on the success of the rallies, Marcario and Broadside are ready to do it again–the staff has already extended an invitation to the Bush-Cheney campaign. “We’ve told them we’d really like to have them come to Mason before the end of the [academic] year,” he says.

kerry stage
Sen. John Kerry greets President Alan Merten prior

to his speech in the Johnson Center last week.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Write to at