Wellesley College hosts 2nd round of 4th district congressional debate
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 23:10
After more than 30 years representing Massachusetts in Congress, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will not run for re-election, leaving the seat for 4th Congressional District open. His 2010 challenger, businessman Sean Bielat, now faces prosecutor Joe Kennedy in the recently redistricted region.
On Monday, Oct. 16, Bielat and Kennedy met in Alumnae Hall for their second public debate. Hosted by the League of Women Voters, a national non-partisan political organization, the debate launched quickly into a discussion of the economy and unemployment.
Kennedy spoke in favor of the Simpson-Bowles framework, which proposes a 3:1 ratio of spending cuts and revenue increases. “You’re not going to be able to solve this [economic crisis] by just taxing the wealthy,” the congressional hopeful said. In a direct attack at his opponent, he proposed providing “long term certainty” through increased fiscal responsibility, thus making businesses and banks alike feel safer in investing.
Kennedy also stated that Bielat supports Paul Ryan’s economic plan. In response, Bielat explained that he supports some aspects of the Ryan plan, but not others. Bielat referred to Kennedy’s continual references to the Ryan plan as “demagoguery and scare tactics.”
A question from the audience regarding the roles of socioeconomic status and race in education prompted Kennedy to highlight his strong support for the HeadStart program and the DREAM Act. Later, the congressional hopeful linked opportunity access to the American Dream, which he explained is not about “getting by... [rather] America’s promise is that we can be great.”
In response to Kennedy’s remarks, Bielat affirmed his strong belief in the value of competition. Bielat’s view extended beyond the matter of education and into the realm of health insurance. The candidate voiced approval of interstate competition to drive down costs. His Democratic counterpart, in keeping with long-standing Kennedy tradition, claimed support for the Affordable Care Act and universal healthcare.
The audience was occasionally vocal, despite moderator Jo-Ann Berry’s requests that listeners refrain from applause and commentary during the debate. One audience member, in response to the widespread snapping and cheering, murmured about Kennedy “Well, he’s obviously more popular.”
Berry, a Mass. resident who lives outside the district, commented on the crowd’s high involvement. “I think the times that people did get a little excited, they were excitable comments,” she said.
However, several attendees expressed disappointment with the audible reactions. “I think the disruptions did actually hurt the debate a little bit,” said Brianna White ’15. “If you realize that the crowd is already against you, how do you really put across your ideas?”
The two candidates expressed similar views surrounding the first two ballot questions for physician-assisted suicide and medical marijuana. Both Bielat and Kennedy oppose legalization. Bielat specified that a discussion on marijuana legalization is indeed necessary, but claimed that partial legalization is “a system that’s designed to fail.” On the third and final ballot question, the two split along standard party lines. Bielat voiced his support for the Right to Repair Act regarding automobile repair, while Kennedy stood firm in his opposition.
The candidates’ qualifications for the position were a major source of contention throughout the debate. According to Bielat and at least one vocal audience member, Kennedy’s campaign and poll success can be attributed not to his experience and ability, but to his family name and wealth. In response, Kennedy reminded the audience of his law career as a public attorney for Middlesex County and his stint in the Peace Corps, insisting that his public service records stand up to Bielat’s experience in private business. After Bielat commented on the Democratic candidate’s 32 years, Robert Kennedy’s grandson pointed out that Bielat himself is in his thirties.
“They’re both very disciplined and qualified,” said Alison Leary, a pro-Kennedy Newton resident who also called the candidates’ disparaging remarks “despicable.”
“Kennedy will win because of women’s issues, the environment and universal healthcare,” said Leary, a member of the League, speaking as a private citizen. She remarked that Kennedy’s strong pro-choice and pro-equal marriage stance were clearly popular with the Wellesley audience.
Mary Fulham, a senior at Dana Hall, added that “Mr. Bielat isn’t really in touch with today’s young women voters... Mr. Bielat’s comment about [issues being cut off] ‘below the waist’ was somewhat questionable.”
A staff member of the Bielat campaign, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the debate provided “a clearer distinction” between the two candidates. “[Bielat] has a lot of soft support. Once he has the ability to speak to voters, he has the chance to garner their support.”
Today is the final day to register to vote in Massachusetts for the Nov. 6 election.