Supporters for Ro Khanna and Rep. Mike Honda
get whipped up in a frenzy following a candidates
forum in April 2014 in Fremont. 

The only time candidates for the nationally-watched 17th Congressional District race featuring Democrats Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna will face-off before the June primary will occur without an audience.

Friday’s League of Women Voters candidate forum will only include members of each candidate’s campaign team and the press after the City of Fremont expressed concern over the large and highly-energized overflow crowd that turned out for a similar pre-primary forum two years ago.

“We lose a little sizzle from not having an audience,” said Marilyn Singer, representative of the League of Women Voters of Fremont-Newark-Union City, who are hosting the event. “We would have liked to have an audience but we understand the city’s concern.”

Rep. Mike Honda, Ro Khanna and Joel Vanlandingham
takes questions during the League of Women voters
forum in Fremont two years ago.

During the May 2014 forum, also the only time voters saw the field in one place before voting in the June primary, a large number of Honda and Khanna supporters peacefully, however, vigorously faced-off outside the Fremont City Council chambers and near the street with loud chanting and sign-waving over an hour before the start of the forum. The throng outside was nearly as large as the audience inside, which holds upwards of 150 people.

Karena Shackleford, a Fremont deputy city manager, said “there was nothing unusual” about the request to use the City Hall chambers, but the city has been monitoring crowd control issues at city venues.

Instead, the forum will be televised on local cable in Fremont and throughout the South Bay district, and distributed over social media, said Singer.

Honda and Khanna supporters chant slogan at each
other outside the Fremont City Council chambers.

The Honda and Khanna campaigns expressed some regret for the audience-less forum this week. “We are disappointed to hear that there will not be an audience in attendance at the forum,” said Vedant Patel, Honda’s communication director. “Nevertheless, we appreciate the hard work that the League of Women Voters and the city of Fremont has put into make this forum a reality.”

Khanna, who needs to begin rekindling enthusiasm for his likely rematch with Honda in November, said, “I think voters should be able to participate. I will respect whatever decision is made but my conviction is we should have a venue that allows voter participation.”

The inability of the public to witness the forum in person is unfortunate development for a race that has yet to find a rhythm that differs from the 2014 race which focused on Khanna’s large money advantage and very few meaningful differences between the two Democrats, and not to mention the constant sniping between the two top campaigns that continues through the current election cycle.

This time around, the slightly larger field also includes San Jose Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, Republicans Ron Cohen and Peter Kuo, along with Libertarian Party candidate Kennita Watson.

Last month, Khanna challenged Honda to one pre-primary debate and a series of four debates between July and Election Day in November. Khanna employed a similar strategy in two years ago, which Honda’s campaign stalled before participating in a locally-televised debate in October 2014.

Meanwhile, Cohen, a Fremont certified public accountant running for public office for the first time, said the crowds who attended the forum two years ago were merely young campaign volunteers instructed to create a spectacle. Aside from Honda and Khanna, Cohen has tried his best to raise his profile by issuing support for Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations.

“It is a shame the fake passion of Democrat Khanna and Honda supporters in 2014 yelling at each other made the Fremont Police feel uneasy about allowing the public to come to the candidate forum on May 6,” said Cohen. “It is time for everyone to grow up, so that again, we can allow public access to the forum.”