The final debate between the four candidates running for three district school board seats has been canceled after one of the candidates sent an email to the Beverly Hills High School student organizer criticizing the decision to schedule the event on a Friday evening, the time that many Jews celebrate the Sabbath.
"The Last Word: The Last Election Debate" had been planned for 6 p.m. on Nov. 4, four days before the Nov. 8 election. It was organized by Max Schwartz, a BHHS senior who hosts a talk show on KBEV6, the high school’s student television station.
Board candidate and El Rodeo parent wrote an email to Schwartz on Oct. 17 that said she was “deeply disappointed” by his decision to schedule the debate at that time. Bilak wrote the email though she had allegedly accepted Schwartz’s request to attend the Nov. 4 debate when he extended the invitation after the Oct. 5 Beverly Hills Education Foundation teen debate.
“I will be letting the newspapers know tomorrow as well as the synagogues know of your decision. I had told them that I believed you would respect the Sabbath and everyone’s decision to have dinner with their families on the Sabbath,” she wrote in the email. All of the emails cited in this story were reviewed by Patch and reported here verbatim.
Less than 12 hours later, Schwartz sent an email to all of the candidates canceling the event.
“I regret this decision as I was trying to create a positive event for the community,” he wrote.
The misunderstanding began when Schwartz sent an email on Aug. 30 to all four school board candidates inviting them to the Nov. 4 debate at 6 p.m. Bilak replied the same evening with a question, asking “Is that the one that [former mayor] Les Bronte is involved with?”
According to Schwartz, Bilak and the other candidates confirmed verbally or in writing that they could attend the debate. But starting Oct. 11, Bilak sent several emails to Schwartz asking him to confirm the time of the debate. After being reminded of the time, Bilak wrote to Schwartz on Oct. 13 asking him to change the date or the time because the event would conflict with the Sabbath.
“Candlelighting Friday is at 5:41 p.m,” she wrote in the Oct. 13 email. “Many Jewish people want to have Friday nite [sic] dinner with their families and many of those Jewish people happen to observe the Sabbath.”
Within an hour, Schwartz responded, “I am sorry about your concerns regarding the show; when I sent an email inviting the candidates to the forum, I included the time as well as the date. At this point in time it would be difficult to change the time of the show because all of the candidates have already confirmed their attendance. … With all of this being said, I will consider a time change.”
He subsequently wrote to Bilak advising her that a time change was not possible. He also answered a query she sent asking when he sent the original debate invitation, noting that he sent it on Aug. 30 at 6:49 p.m.
On Oct. 16, Bilak wrote Schwartz an email that conflicts with her initial response to the Aug. 30 invitation, when she had asked whether Bronte was involved with the event. The Oct. 16 email was copied to fellow candidates , and .
“Yes, I see that you sent me an email on August 30. However I did not respond to that because for whatever reason it ended up in my spam folder, and I did not confirm a November debate until you asked me about it after the teen debate on Oct. 5. … I again, request that you reconsider your decision not to change the date or time,” Bilak wrote.
On Oct. 16, Schwartz replied to Bilak.
“Please know that I will try to arrange a 4 p.m. start time. I will communicate over the next 24 hours to see if this is a viable option for everyone. Please understand that there are [BHHS] classes held until 3:30 p.m.,” he wrote.
The next day, Schwartz emailed the candidates to say that there were “scheduling conflicts” associated with changing the debate time, so it would remain at 6 p.m. on Nov. 4.
“Ms. Bilak, please feel free to send someone to read your opening and closing statements. I apologize in advance that scheduling the debate for an alternative time did not work for the other candidates,” he wrote.
That email prompted the Oct. 17 reply from Bilak, in which she advised that she would let media and synagogues know of the student’s decision.
Mitchell Schwartz, Max’s father, said in a statement that his son had “made every attempt to accommodate Ms. Bilak, but in the end had to cancel the televised debate. Ms. Bilak’s intimidation of Max Schwartz is certainly not appropriate and is a repugnant characteristic of a potential Board of Education official.”
Bilak responded to Patch’s request for a comment via email.
“I was first informed by Max Schwartz of this debate on October 5, 2011 and agreed to it, without getting a time. Once he told me what time it was to be, I immediately told him I couldn’t do it, but was willing to do it any other day and time. Because one other candidate was unable to do it at 4-5 p.m. on Friday, Max’s decision was to have it during Shabbat,” she wrote.
Between now and the election, KBEV will still air individual interviews that Schwartz conducted with all four school board candidates.
Editor's Note: Frances Bilak’s children attend El Rodeo, not Beverly Vista, as originally published.