By Kristin Longley
Michigan State University
Tension escalated at SPJ’s opening business session early Friday morning after mudslinging and an apparent case of stage fright.
Secretary-treasurer candidate Dave Aeikens, who is also chairman of the Legal Defense Fund, made it through the first few words of his campaign speech, then stammered and apologized, seemingly unable to finish. Later, president-elect candidates Clint Brewer and Secretary-treasurer Bruce L. Cadwallader launched subtle, and some not-so-subtle, attacks against one another in their speeches.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Aeikens said before repeated attempts to start over. His speech followed those of his competitors, Jim Parker and Joe Wessels.
Audience members cheered Aeikens, encouraging him to take his time while clapping in support.
“I’m a better public speaker than this,” Aeikens said before being asked to leave the podium at the end of his three minutes.
Aeikens has said he’s running to improve internal and external communication, increase membership and “continue an unwavering fight for a national shield law,” in light of several journalists being jailed for their refusal to relinquish source information, notes, or unpublished footage.
“I don’t know what happened,” Aeikens said afterward. “I was ready and all of a sudden I wasn’t ready. I blanked out. I chose the wrong time not to be able to speak in front of a big crowd.”
Aeikens supporters say the longtime SPJ activist’s campaign shouldn’t be hurt by his ruined speech. Some pointed out that Aeikens went on minutes later to speak successfully at a press conference about jailed journalist Joshua Wolf.
“It was painful to watch, but the crowd rallied around him,” said Nina Petersen-Perlman, a University of Minnesota senior and a delegate from Aeiken’s region. “I would hope the delegates wouldn’t vote based only on this speech.”
Campaign rival Jim Parker agreed.
“It could have happened to any one of us,” Parker said. “In the grand scheme of things, it won’t matter.”
After Aeiken’s speech, Brewer and Cadwallader proved they’re in Chicago to run spirited campaigns.
Brewer accused Cadwallader of “good ole’ boy” politics in his speech, while Cadwallader ended his comments by emphasizing Brewer’s lack of experience.
“If you don’t know him, why wouldn’t you vote for me, a proven national leader?” Cadwallader said.
The 2006 race for the president-elect seat marks the first time in years, perhaps in SPJ history, that the seat has been contested. Traditionally the secretary-treasurer has run unopposed for president-elect.