Updated (Wednesday 4:48 p.m.): The Great Falls Citizens Association has posted a statement on its website regarding the canceled forum, reiterating its concerns about the anticipated size of the crowd and the traffic that would come with it. The association points out that groups from outside of the community on both sides of an issue, presumably gun control/gun rights, had been mobilizing supporters to get to the forum site early and "stack the hall."
"Four hours before the program, with no assurance of police support, a decision was made that the unfolding event would not serve the community's goals and would violate the ground rules for the event previously agreed to by the candidates and their campaigns. Therefore, the event was cancelled," the website states.
Original article (Tuesday): A candidate forum between incumbent Republican state Del. Barbara Comstock and Democratic challenger Kathleen Murphy in Great Falls for Tuesday night was canceled due to the anticipated crowd being too large for the venue.
Organizers with the Great Falls Citizens Association are looking for dates that work for both candidates and a new venue that will better serve the community in hopes of rescheduling the event.
The forum had been slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Great Falls Grange.
Eric Knudsen, president of the Great Falls Citizens Association, said he found out Tuesday afternoon that police had issued demonstration permits that were expected to bring a few hundred extra people to the event that had in the past already been crowded.
"This was done so citizens could have their questions answered by the politicians," Knudsen told Patch. "It got to the point where I didn't feel like we were serving the community, and it was going to be a parking, traffic circus."
Knudsen said he wasn't sure how many permits were issued, or to whom. He said he had reached out to both campaigns to ask each what future dates might work for them.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence issued media advisories Monday and Tuesday about a gun violence prevention rally that would be held at the Grange about 30 minutes before the forum. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a Virginia Tech survivor, a Virginia Tech mother and the Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence were all going to be there, the advisories stated, for the expressed purpose of pressuring Comstock into talking about her record on gun rights.
One email from the citizens association's debate team that was forwarded to Patch blamed the cancellation on "outside disruption."
"It appeared that outside groups with a singular agenda might have occupied most of the Grange, rather than the GF/Dranesville community," it stated. "GFCA will attempt to reschedule with reasonable advance interior safeguards."
Comstock's campaign manager, Susan Falconer, sent the following statement to Patch: "Clearly the Great Falls Citizens Association did not appreciate this attempt by outsiders to overtake and overrun their debate. GFCA decided to work on rescheduling the debate so they could keep with their tradition of having a civilized debate where all issues relevant to the Great Falls community can be discussed.”
Murphy Campaign Manager Ray Rieling told Patch: "We found this rather disappointing. We'd been looking forward to it, and we thought it was an important opportunity to engage with Delegate Comstock … and ask her about some of the votes that she's taken."
Rally organizers tried to blame Comstock's campaign on canceling the forum. Comstock's campaign said it found out the citizens association canceled the event Tuesday afternoon.
Amee Burgoyne, who said she is a resident of Comstock's district, said she showed up at the Grange because she wanted to ask the incumbent delegate about her voting record on gun safety issues and her "A" rating from the National Rifle Association.
"Neither her campaign or House of Delegates' website is helpful," Burgoyne told Patch in an email Tuesday night. "I just want to ask her questions. That is why so many people wanted to come tonight, to ask questions. We have not been able to get answers about her positions."
Burgoyne sent a photo of about 20 people who showed up for the rally at the Grange, many of them holding signs that stated: "5,043 Gun Deaths in Virginia since Virginia Tech, Thoughts & Prayers are not enough. Virginia needs background checks on all sales NOW!"
This article has been updated.