Edwards cancels UI speaking event

By Daily Illini Staff Report

Former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards announced Thursday that he will avoid any public engagements, including an appearance at the University, until after the election in November to avoid becoming a distraction to the Democratic presidential campaign.

Edwards was scheduled to speak at Foellinger Auditorium on Oct. 14.

“Nothing is more important than electing Barack Obama and Joe Biden,” Edwards said in a statement on the Illini Union Board’s Web site. “I don’t want my appearance at these events to be a distraction from the important issues of the election, or from the important purpose of these meetings.”

The announcement comes less than a month after Edwards admitted to having an affair with a campaign employee in 2006.

Eric Preston, president of College Democrats and junior in LAS, said the cancellation could leave some students disappointed.

“Some people would have liked to see him,” Preston said. “But with the scandal, it would have brought more tension to campus.”

The University was informed of the cancellation Thursday afternoon via Edwards’ scheduling group, the Harry Walker Agency, said Illini Union Board Director Ed Slazinik.

A representative from that agency declined comment.

Edwards finalized his $65,000 contract with the University before the news of his affair broke in August. At that time, the University contacted the agency to give Edwards a chance to back out.

“We made a courtesy call based on what you and I were reading in the media,” Slazinik said.

Edwards chose not to opt out of the contract at that time.

The University was prepared to begin distributing 1,400 free tickets to the event Sept. 12 through the Illini Union ticket office.

Edwards’ $65,000 speaking fee had not yet been paid, Slazinik said, and the contract contained a fairly “open-ended” cancellation clause.

“We don’t get too fussy with that because of our practice of not paying up front,” Slazinik said.

As of Thursday evening, the University still has not received details on the cancellation beyond Edwards’ official statement, Slazinik said. The University has only been in communication with Edwards’ agency.

“At this point, it’s between Obama and McCain,” said Bobby McNeily, president of College Republicans and sophomore in FAA. “I don’t think it will have any impact, but it’s great when anyone from either party gives political insight.”

The two-time presidential candidate also canceled a scheduled appearance at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Wednesday.

The former senator’s wife had been scheduled to join him at that engagement, but backed out last week.

The couple also canceled a joint appearance at Salem State College Tuesday that had been advertised as a “conversation” with the husband and wife. The event was planned for Sept. 23 at the Massachusetts school.

The board expects to schedule a new event to replace the lecture for University students, said Leslie Cornell, senior in Media and president of the Illini Union Board.

“All we’ve heard was on the press release,” Cornell said. “We will be pursuing replacement speakers for this event.”

Andy Kwalwaser, Patrick Wade and The Associated Press contributed to this report