Few Sparks in Rep Debate

26Jan08

Democrats address casino gambling, local budget problems

The three Democratic candidates vying to replace Michael E. Festa as the Representative from Massachusetts’ 32nd Middlesex District addressed issues ranging from casino gambling to unfunded state mandates last night in a live televised debate from Wakefield’s Galvin Middle School. (Debate sponsor WCAT is providing a DVD to be aired on the Melrose cable system.)

On Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, Primary voters in Melrose and about half of Wakefield (precincts 3,4,5 and 6) will decide whether Katherine Clark, Guido Federico or Ronald Seaboyer will face Republican Mark Hutchinson of Melrose in the general election. All three Democrats also hail from Melrose.

Moderated by WCAT’s Gil McCarthy, last night’s debate featured questions from the press and from the public in attendance.
State Rep. debate
The candidates never directly challenged each other’s positions, focusing mainly on local budgets and how each would use the office of State Representative to better the financial picture for Wakefield and Melrose.

To varying degrees, all three candidates said that they would endorse Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal to boost state and local revenues by allowing casino gambling in Massachusetts.

“Daily we see money flowing out of Massachusetts into the coffers of Connecticut,” Federico noted. He added that he would support the idea of casino gambling as a source of revenue, but would like to see more specific numbers and weigh those against other ramifications of the proposal. “I think we need to approach this issue with the utmost caution,” Federico said.

Seaboyer was more eager to embrace the casino gambling idea.

“I’m a big backer of this casino bill,” Seaboyer said. “We have to rebuild our economy in Massachusetts and this is a part of the solution.” In the meantime, he called for slot machines and other casino-type gambling in locations like Wonderland and Suffolk Downs. “That would produce instant revenue that we could bring back to the cities,” Seaboyer said, adding that he would want to see such revenues earmarked for education.

Clark said that she would “consider voting to approve expanding legalized gambling if I could see guarantees that local funding would be stabilized or improved for Melrose and Wakefield, and that there would be adequate funding for social services and increased public safety that we’re going to need.”
State Rep. candidates
All three candidates agreed that the state must fund any programs that it mandates cities and towns to establish.

Stressing the struggle to fund public education, Clark insisted that local reps “have to be vigilant and insist that when we have the mandates, we have to have the funding.”

Federico noted that municipalities “are under enough pressure now. Cities and towns can no longer afford these mandates.” Federico noted that schools are hit particularly hard. “No more mandates unless you send money,” Federico said.

Seaboyer focused on state mandated charter schools. “I’d like to see charter schools be a line item in the state budget,” Seaboyer said. “It takes millions of dollars out of Melrose and Wakefield. It’s money we need to educate our own children.”

Asked about the possibility of Wakefield and Melrose saving money through cooperative purchasing in areas like oil and materials and supplies, Federico noted that such regionalization “is not a new concept. It does increase buying power.” However, Federico pointed to possible logistical problems. “Coordinating two different school budgets can be difficult,” he said, noting that cities and towns like to keep control of their own resources.

Seaboyer floated the idea of “huge savings” if Wakefield and Melrose public safety departments shared a central dispatch. He also suggested bringing Wakefield’s Municipal Gas & Light Department into Melrose as a way to benefit both communities.

Clark claimed that the schools already work well together in the areas of energy, program sharing and bulk purchasing of materials and supplies. Clark agreed with Seaboyer’s suggestions regarding public safety and joint dispatch, adding that regional veterans’ services are also a potential source of savings.

All of the candidates maintained that their resumes and experience qualified them to represent the district in the State House.

Seaboyer cited his experience as a Melrose Alderman and a small business owner. “I’m used to taking a budget and scrutinizing it line by line,” Seaboyer said. He added that as a member of the MWRA Advisory Board he had lobbied the legislature for increased debt service to benefit cities and towns. “My experience on Beacon Hill as a lobbyist for the cities is a perfect match,” he said.

Clark pointed to her position as General Counsel for the Office of Child Care Services where she had testified before the Ways and Means Committee on behalf of working families. She added that as a member of the Melrose School Committee for the last six years and as Chief of Policy under Attorney General Martha Coakley she has become familiar with local and state budget processes.

Federico said that his 30 years in the insurance industry taught him how to manage a budget “where you have no control over the income stream. You have to be able to deal with variables,” Federico added. “This has been a shortcoming in government,” he said, citing the importance of “being able to run a government as a business.”

In their closing remarks, each candidate promised to be an advocate for both Melrose and Wakefield.

“We need to take back our government, our environment and our quality of life,” Federico said, promising to “pursue the best interests of all the people of the 32nd District.”

Seaboyer pledged to “be a representative who will vote, lobby and fight for this district.” He promised regular attendance at meetings of the Wakefield Selectmen and Melrose Aldermen. He said that he would “fight for state and federal revenue” and would not seek increased taxes.

Clark said that the election was about the people of the district. “I care very deeply about these communities,” she said, “and I will fight for fair funding for these communities. I will always put your needs at the top of the list.”

[This story originally appeared in the January 24, 2008 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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