Thursday, September 06, 2007

Liveblogging the Middlesex, Suffolk & Essex Debate

I'm at Lesley University for the last debate in the race to replace former Senator Jarrett Barrios in the Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex state Senate district. The debate is sponsored by the Cambridge Democratic City Committe, and it's about to begin. The candidates are Cambridge City Councilor Anthony Galluccio, Chelsea City Councilor Paul Nowicki, Cambridge attorney Tim Flaherty and Cambridge attorney Jeff Ross. Former Mass. Attorney General Scott Harshbarger is moderating, and it looks like questions will be submitted from the floor. The election will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 11th.

The debate is in the Porter Exchange in Cambridge. Outside the building, Flaherty and Galluccio seemed to have the biggest sign presence, and with the traffic in Porter Square, they got a lot of visibility. I recognize a number of familiar Cambridge activists in the crowd, which is quickly reaching the capacity of the small auditorium.

Harshbarger kicks off the proceedings with thanks to the University and the audience and gives a few brief remarks and compliments the candidates for their committment to serve by being an elected official. He asks how each member of the audience is going to get out the vote, noting that it's not the candidates' responsibility, but that of all of us to encourage our friends and neighbors to go out to vote.

The debate will be three parts -- opening statements, candidate-to-candidate questions (personal or general), audience submitted questions. Rebuttals are not allowed unless Harshbarger deems them necessary.

Opening statements
Anthony Galluccio: First, thanks to Scott Harshbarger. Tonight is about "you being sure" about who to vote for. He's given most of his adult life to public service, elected official, coach, mentor, etc. Reflect back on his service in Cambridge. The city deserves a resident state Senator.

Tim Flaherty: Harshbarger is correct when he says the "election is about you." He's a lifelong resident of Cambridge from a family with a tradition of public service. He's also a former prosecutor and talks about his work in the Norfolk DA's office. He's worked in Govt and outside of Govt. Three priorities: Not letting Harvard overrun Alston/Brighton, fully fund promis to put 1000 officers on the street, fund life science initiative.

Paul Nowicki: Thanks to everyone. The only candidate not from Cambridge, suggests that everyone should stay home on election day (in jest). He's be honored to earn the votes of Cambridge voters. The Senate position requires someone with experience with diverse communities and diverse interests. Chelsea is the most diverse community in MA. He's been on the City Council for 15 years, president for four terms. District needs someone who can unite a diverse community.

Jeff Ross: Thanks to everyone. It's the most diverse group we've seen. We have a new opportunity for Govt to "reflect our shared values". He spent three years at the Kennedy School. He sued the Romney administration when they tried to change the RMV rules. That's the type of leadership he will provide.

Candidate Questions
Tim Flaherty to all candidates: He's been endorsed by the Globe, the Chronicle, the Somerville News, etc etc. His question, is there anything in his personal or professional life that would cause embarassment to those who endorsed him?
PN: His whole life has been about integrity and character. There's nothing anyone would be embarassed about.
JR: No. He told the Globe that if they endorsed him, it would improve the reputation of the Globe. He talked about some immigration case in Texas he helped with.
AG: He's proud of his life experience. Thanks to voters for making the campaign about issues. His life has been a "complete life experience". He's shared his successes and mistakes. His misteps have made him a stronger person and a better elected official. His life has been "far better documented" than others.

Paul Nowicki to everyone: He's not running for re-election to Chelsea City Council and will be a full-time state senator. Will wou stop practicing law if you win? Will you withdraw from the Cambridge City Council?
JR: He's an attorney in Boston, and has been working full time on this race and his practice is running itself. He will continue to be involved in the practice, but he will be a full-time state Senator. He's been very engaged as a lawyer, so he has time to do these things.
AG: He will not hold two jobs. He will fill out the rest of his City Council term, but if elected to the senate, will not accept a nomination to another term on the City Council.
TF: He hasn't made any business decision. "Practicing law isn't a profession, it's who you become. It's how you live your live." All of his time will be consumed by the Senate. If there's time left over, he'd like to practice law, but if he can't he won't.

Jeff Ross to everyone: Casinos. He'd vote no if there was a vote today and he was a Senator. Do the other candidate support it?
AG: No. He is not supported by gambling interests. The jury's not out on this issue. He has no opposition, but he's not a supporter. The "where, when and how" have to be looked at. He'd work with the admin to find the real cost/benefits. He will watch it very closely, but is not currently a supporter.
TF: Comes at the issue from a law enforcement background. He knows about the dangers of gambling. He belives that gambling is coming to Massachusetts eventually. How do we be smart about it? How to we minimize the social harms and maximize the benefits? Need education and traffic studies. Need to link revenues to education.
PN: Chelsea has been the "hotbed" of economic development. He says "yes" until negative impact has been proven. He doesn't gamble. He says it will bring jobs, improve capital assets. This is one way to relieve burden on taxpayers.

Anthony Galluccio to everyone: Today he met with biotech leaders. He's called for a forum in each community to support after-school education with young people and families. How would you get to know young people across this district?
TF: he's knocked on doors all across the district. In Charlestown, he said he'd get the drugs out of Charlestown. There's not a single treatment bed available in Charlestown, he'll change that if he's elected.
PN: He's already invested in the public school system. He has two kids in public schools. That will be a focus for him. He's in favor of extended school days. He's done work with community-based after school programs in Chelsea. He's been a youth volunteer adn a sports coordinator in Chelsea.
JR: He was in Bellingham Square in Chelsea, and he saw the promise of the future in the kids crossing the street who came up to him. He wrote a letter to the lege for overrides of funding line-item vetos. Towns and cities need resources for after-school programs.

Audience Questions
Q: Follow-up on casino gambling. How many believe they are supported by people who support casino gambling? Why has each independent study shown that in Massachusetts there are no benefits?
PN: No casino interests have donated to his campaign. Rep. Bosley says we will lose our historical and educational character. He doesn't believe that. We have to know the answers to how many police officers we need, how much traffic we can expect. We need to knoew the answers to this.
JR: He will be an independent voice. He doesn't owe any political favors. In 1971, the lottery was supposed to bring money back to cities and towns, but that didn't happen. He doesn't support casinos and is not supported by casino intersts.
AG: He's more interested in seeing the life sciences expand, working on literacy, etc. He's upset about the focus on hot-button issues. Casino gambling is not a priority, housing, education are priorites.
TF: He doesn't have any casino entities supporting him. He's raised some money, but there isn't anyone who can contribute $500 that will change his mind about anything. he doesn't need this job. He's happy with who he is, but he wants the job so he can impact the state in a positive way. We need to be smart now to protect our interests and prevent harm. He'll be beholden to no one.

Q: Education reform. What changes need to be made? What is wrong with MCAS for urban public education? How does change further provide quality education?

JR: He has two kids in the public school system. They lose interest in repetitive MCAS studying. We need to value teachers. Doesn't support ending MCAS. It has good points, students who score highly get scholarships. He supports giving incentives to teachers for after school programs.
AG: Having chaired a school committee, he's come a long way from supporting MCAS. It should not be the sole criterion. A standardized test is not the answer. How far has a student advanced over the course of a year? Those are the types of evaulations we should be looking at.
TF: MCAS is a good minimum standard. It's not the way to measure a child. Curriculum directed toward passing a test is not the way to educate a child. People on Brattle street and in Charlestown care about the same things. People in urban districts love the MCAS.
PN: MCAS should not be the sole provider. Administrators, educators should be held accountable. People who are in the school system have an advantage over transitional students who come in mid-year.

Q: Would you favor moving the cap for charter schools? How would you address inequities in the charter school funding formula. Is the agenda dictated too much by the teachers unions?

AG: One of my faults is my honesty with interest groups -- this cost him endorsements. He's not in support of extension of charter schools. He wants to see energy spent improving public schools. He'll be honest with you.
TF: Charter schools are problematic because the dollars leave the public schools. If a private company comes, they can run a for-profit school. Where are the overages going? They're public dollars.
PN: We should keep the cap until we figure out the funding system. They should be a seperate line item. Teachers should be held to the same standard as public schools. there should be open information. What does well in each school, they should share information? It's about improving education for all children, regardless of public or charter school.
JR: This is a question that effects real families. He's met a family with children in both types of schools. There should be a moratrium on charter schools. We should continue to reinvest in public schools.

Q: We spend more money on corrections than public education. How would you make the choice between these two? How would we raise revenue?

TF: When he ran for DA, he opposed capital punishment and mandatory mimums for drug offenses. Dollars should be spent on diversion, full day kindergarten, after school. We need to spend money on education to catch problems before they occur. If he's elected, the first thing he's going to do is fund a study commission to see how much it costs educate a student in Massachusetts.
PN: We need to close corp. loopholes. We need to look at gambling. We should have local options for meals & hotels. In Chelsea, the community was on fire, under siege by gangs. They put more cops on the street, firefighters, hazmat. They reduced homeowners insurance. They focused on alcohol & drug rehab, etc.
JR: We need to increase funding for higher ed. We should create a muni. bond for stem cell research. We need to look at the root of crime and reduce it at the begining. 85% of people who are released are repeat offenders and drug abusers. if we create a broader approach, we can reduce the burden on prisons.
AG: Crime is a local issue. health care is a local issue, affordable housing, etc. We have a responsibility to support young people in our communites. A state senator should get to know the young people of the community. he will intercede on behalf of at-risk young people.

Q: The last two state senators had "contrasting styles". What is going to be your style? Which of these two would you emulate most?

PN: He's not one to draw attention to himself. He's a street worker. He sits with people, solves problems with community input. He'll have community advisory groups made up of residents. He will be in the communities day-in and day-out.
JR: Both Senators have brought unique styles. he will be an independent voice and create a more inclusive legislative process. He speaks four languages so he can serve the entire district.
AG: He's going to be just like Jarrett. He'll be a liberal in Cambridge, and be "Italian as hell" in Everett. There's only one candidate endorsed by papers in Everett and by the Mass Alliance.
TF: He will emulate the best of each of them. They were both committed. He hopes to emulate someone like Alice Wolf (who is present) or Tip O'Neil. That's what the Boston Globe was saying when they endorsed him.

Q: You have focused on programs, but some of you have rejected casino gambling. How will you find the revenue? What positions will you take on increasing taxes in interest of progams you support.
JR: We need to close corporate loopholes, like the telecom loophole. We need to look at ways for communities to raise their own sales and meals taxes. Would support raising the income tax on high-income individuals.
AG: there are families in this district who are very nervous about tax increases, on fixed incomes, etc. Mass. does not have a progressive real estate tax structure. We have to address those on fixed incomes. We can do that if we stand up to wealthy intersts.
TF: He would begin the argument about a progressive income tax. There are people who are impoverished. People in Everett are concerned about taxes. He'd close the telecom loophole.
PN: He would support closing the loopholes, it would give us about half a billion dollars. He need more economic development -- set higher environmental standards. Job training programs in exchange for tax breaks. When you hire, people should come from the community.

Q: Businesses feel like they do not get a fair shake in Massachusetts. Our Universities in particular. How do you see the expansion of Harvard into Allston?

AG: As co-chair of the Riverside development committee, he got consessions from Harvard. There is a way to put Harvard's feet to the fire and to link Allston to the University. He's the only candidate who has experience doing this.
TF: With all due respect to Harvard, he's not worried about their future. They're paying the City of Cambridge very little. People aren't opposed to Harvard, they just want to save their neighborhood. Hopefully the University will understand they can coexist.
PN: He has 15 years experience dealing with urban development in densely populated areas. He takes credit for building 15,000 units of housing in Chelsea. He would work to stop the expansion until the concerns of the neighbors are met.
JR: The neighborhood is not opposed to the expansion, but opposed to the procedure that the University has not been following. The University violated the trust of the community. They need to follow the proper procedures.

Closing Statements
AG: Good speeches don't get things done in Government. He helped create the best affordable housing program in the state. They made literacy a priority. that happened through tenacious advocacy. This is everything he's ever done in his life. It would be an honor to represent Cambridge in the Senate.
TF: This is about your communities, your future. The protagonist in the Greek tragedy that is American politics is you.
PN: Integrity, courage does matter. You want a leader who rebuilt a community from the ground up. He was a leader in restoring Chelsea from where it couldn't get any lower to someplace good for families.
JR: Elections are about choices. He's running for the people of the district who have problems. He'll be there for you.