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Citizens of the community and students from Orangeburg's universities will have the opportunity to be a part of a CNN political event on Wednesday night.

Democratic presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will be in the city as featured guest at a CNN Town Hall at 10 p.m. in Stevenson Auditorium, 933 Middleton St.

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CNN anchor Don Lemon will host the live broadcast event, which will air nationwide on the cable news channel. Lemon anchors CNN Tonight with Don Lemon week nights at 10 p.m.

Lemon said the CNN Town Hall events are important.

“CNN is committed to helping voters make informed choices. Town halls also allow people around the country to participate and feel that their voices are heard. It's important for voters to see the candidates up close and personal,” Lemon said Tuesday.

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Lemon, who has hosted other town halls, noted his takeaways from previous events.

“The best questions are more often than not asked by citizens. The candidates feel more comfortable and connected when they address voters directly. And it's beneficial to viewers at home to see how candidates respond with everyday Americans rather than sit-down reporter interviews,” Lemon said.

Lemon said people love the town halls, and the feedback has been positive. “They love that they’re all about the issues that are important to them,” the CNN anchor said.

Lemon said he is looking forward to visiting Orangeburg, a city he has heard is “beautiful with very hospitable and genteel people.”

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The event has brought excitement to many across the city, including its elected officials.

Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler said he, along with the members of city council, are excited about the event.

“We’re certainly happy that Don Lemon is hosting the CNN Town Hall here with Sen. Cory Booker,” Butler said.

Butler had praise for Booker, who was just announced as the 2019 commencement speaker at South Carolina State University, and expressed his gratitude for the event being held downtown.

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“He has truly shown the dedication and commitment to running for the office of president. His coming to Orangeburg has been an impact on us as far as giving the city notoriety and people finding out where Orangeburg is and what we have,” Butler said.

“For that, the city and city council are grateful for the kind of publicity for our city,” Butler said.

An increase in traffic is expected Wednesday as the start of the event nears. Stevenson Auditorium, which seats more than 600, is expected to have a large crowd on hand for the event.

The CNN Town Hall’s audience will consist of students, faculty and staff of both Claflin and South Carolina State universities, along with community groups and members of the Orangeburg County Democratic Party.

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Both universities received 180 tickets to provide individuals an opportunity to attend the event. Orangeburg Democratic Party Chairman Kenny Glover said the party also received a number of tickets, and the South Carolina Democratic Party received did as well.

Participants were directed to submit their questions ahead of the event, with CNN determining the attendees and questions to be asked.

The mayor said that it is important that the voice of the community be heard via expressions of concern to a presidential candidate -- especially the voices of students of both universities.

“The colleges are the economic engines for Orangeburg. Without those colleges, Orangeburg would be just a ghost town. When those students come to the table and they have a voice in the political world, it also helps promote their colleges and helps promote the mission of the colleges,” Butler said.

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Approximately 10-12 students from S.C. State are serving as runners for CNN.

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According to Tara Vales, CNN senior manager of public relations, the student runners will do everything from picking up supplies and organizing snack tables to acting as stand-ins during rehearsal, playing the candidate, the moderator and the questioners.

The student runners are a part of the CNN production crew stationed on a portion of Market Street, which has been blocked off since last Friday, The crew has been installing the production set at adjacent Stevenson Auditorium.

The set for the event weighs more than 100,000 pounds and includes a platform, carpet, banner, stools and more than 100 lights.

Vales said installation of the set starts with lighting over the stage.

“Then we build the set while lighting moves to the front of house lighting. The twin-pack generators arrive while lighting and scenic continue, and then soon after the production truck arrives with the cameras. At this point it leads to the camera install, lighting focus and rehearsals, followed by the final housekeeping. Then it’s time for the event,” Vales said.

Vales said some seats were removed from the auditorium to allow for the placement of cameras and other equipment, but no other modifications were made.

Vales said that the city has been involved with the production setup.

“From a production standpoint, the city facilitated the closing of Market Street so we could park the production trucks and SAT truck along with generators and using the space for storage. Assistant City Administrator John Singh has been instrumental, from facilitating everything we’ve needed to do in the building to recommending hotels and restaurants for our staff,” Vales said.

Vales said the production setup will be completed Wednesday.

The presence of the CNN production crew, along with others visiting for the event, allows the city to showcase what it has to offer, Butler said.

“We have a lot to offer here, and we want people to see, when they come here, how we are professional, how we try to build the morale and build the city and keep the city going,” he said.

To the first-time visitors, Butler said, “Welcome! And we are glad to have you because you’re coming in, you’re boosting the economy, and we hope that your visit here is an enjoyable one and a lasting one.”

“We want you to find everything and everybody hospitable.”

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Contact the writer: bharris@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5516

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Staff Writer

Bradley Harris is a Government and Sports Reporter. The Irmo, SC native is a 2018 graduate of Claflin University and recipient of the 2018 South Carolina Press Association Collegiate Journalist of the Year Award.

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