The Radnor School District on Monday said it would not open its high school gym for a campaign appearance by Vice President Biden on Wednesday morning, sparking a dispute over the reasons for the action.
Democratic congressional candidate Bryan Lentz announced Saturday that Biden would address a rally for Lentz at the school. The event was to have been open to the public, as well as students.
But on Monday, School Superintendent Linda Grobman said the partisan nature of the event and its logistics would have been too disruptive to students. She also said she had thought that planning with the Lentz campaign was "still in process - apparently they believed otherwise."
However, Lentz campaign manager Kevin McTigue said that the district leaders' explanation was misleading and that they had caved in to the Republican majority on the school board. McTigue said that he signed an agreement Friday in the office of the principal and that the Secret Service completed a walk-through the same day.
"The school district says we jumped the shark on this, but I'm saying we didn't," McTigue said. "I signed an agreement on Friday. It's really disappointing because one of the most important things our children can learn is to always tell the truth."
He said the district contacted him Monday and rescinded the offer.
"I think the Republicans on the school board arranged for the event to be killed," McTigue said.
In response, district spokeswoman Lisa Williamson said the district did not receive any paperwork until Monday.
Grobman could not be reached for comment Monday night to respond to McTigue's assertion. But earlier Monday, Grobman said that hosting the rally "seemed like it would be more of a disruption than we were prepared to handle."
The Biden event is now scheduled to be held at the Sulpizio Gym, 125 Wayne Ave., Wayne, at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The dispute comes in the final eight days of a tight race between Lentz and Republican Patrick Meehan for the open seat in the Seventh Congressional District, which includes most of Delaware County and parts of Montgomery and Chester Counties.
Grobman said that discussion of the rally involving the administration, the vice president's office, and Lentz's office had begun Friday afternoon. The district did not sign any agreement and did not even get the completed application back until Monday morning, after the Lentz campaign had announced the rally, Grobman said.
Had Biden just come to "address the students and talk about their civic responsibility . . . the event probably would have been manageable," Grobman said.
School board member Brucie Rapoport, a Democrat, said that it was her understanding from talking to Lentz staffers that the speech had been approved by the district's administration, then the decision was changed. "I think it's absolutely outrageous that they were basically told yes and now we say no," she said. "It's inappropriate, it's rude, it's crass."
Rapoport pointed out that Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the high school when she was seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
School board member Patricia Booker, a Republican, said she raised questions about "why we were hosting an event that was clearly a campaign rally." She said a candidate appearing at the school would be acceptable only if the event was a forum involving all contestants for an office. "But not this - this is a one-sided use of school time for political purposes."
Booker said that some residents who heard about the rally over the weekend had called or e-mailed to object to it. "I received probably 40 this morning alone," she said.
The dustup over Biden's appearance was not discussed Monday when the candidates met at Neumann University in Aston for their fifth and final debate, in which they sniped at each other over issues including character and gun control.
Meehan, who stumbled in his last public debate with Lentz, questioned Lentz's character over his role in helping a third-party candidate get on the ballot. Lentz said last week that he knew his volunteers gathered signatures for conservative candidate Jim Schneller with the goal of pulling votes from Meehan. "It may not have been illegal, but he knew it was wrong," Meehan said.
Lentz dismissed the Schneller issue as a distraction. He said Meehan was wrong on issues such as gun control and health care. "This campaign is about who will best represent the people of the Seventh Congressional District in Washington, D.C., and representing the people is about what you stand for and what you will do," Lentz said.
Lentz has focused on the so-called Florida loophole, which allows people who have been denied concealed-carry permits in Pennsylvania to obtain the permits in Florida. Lentz, a two-term state representative from Swarthmore, sponsored legislation to close the loophole, but the measure failed to gain support in Harrisburg.
Meehan said he believes the current regulations on concealed-weapons permits are sufficient, and he cited the constitutional right to carry firearms.
"I will take my record and match it against Bryan Lentz any day," he said, he said referring to his efforts as U.S. attorney to thwart gun violence and violent crime.
Lentz accused Meehan of being "in the clutch" of the National Rifle Association.
"This is not about gun ownership, this is about who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon on the street," Lentz said. He added that the loophole had allowed violent criminals to obtain permits from Florida.