News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective
7th April 2007

Candidate forum for congressional seat proves surprising

posted in Local Politics |

I realized today that my perspective on candidate forums has changed since becoming a politician myself. (I was first elected to the school committee in 2003.) As I listened to the candidates, I found myself struggling with the voter-in-me who desperately yearned for substance behind the sound bites and the politician-in-me who knew you had to keep it short and simple. In fact, the participating candidates for the 5th congressional seat: Eileen Donoghue, Jamie Eldridge, Barry Finegold, James DiPaola, Niki Tsongas, and David O’Brien each had a total of only eight minutes to answer questions during the hour-long session, which was held at UML as part of a New England News Forum conference. 

Through it all, I struggled to find deeper meaning and sincerity in their answers—even when the answers sounded annoyingly similar and seemed to be exactly what we wanted to hear: bring troops home from Iraq, healthcare for all, repeal tax breaks for the very rich, fund education etc. Then I noticed the questions, which used words like “specific” and covered foreign policy, economy, taxes, education, prison reform, and immigration, and I realized something else: This was no run-of-the-mill audience; these bloggers (aka citizen journalists) were informed and quite serious about quizzing the candidates on some of the most compelling issues facing the country today. 

That led to my third surprise—the high caliber of the candidates themselves. They all came off pretty well—no major blunders, lack of information, or inability to articulate. Certainly this is going to be a race worth watching closely, and despite the innate limitations of forums and other campaign trail maneuvers to help voters get at substance—they are the only way we have to judge a candidate’s knowledge, position, and ability to communicate on the issues. And yes, sometimes they may even reveal a little bit about deeper meaning and sincerity. That said, the following are a few highlights of the candidates’ responses that resonated with me: 

First, you should know I went to the forum leaning toward a female candidate. It’s time we sent a woman to represent the fifth district, especially if any redistricting was to happen–they’d be less likely to break up the fifth if it was led by our only female congressman. You should also know when I attended the lieutenant governor’s debate at LTC last fall, I was also leaning toward a woman. I left that forum a Tim Murray supporter because ultimately, I believe in voting for the candidate whose ideas best match your own. That said, Eileen Donoghue did a great job on the education question. She clearly understood the failings of the No Child Left Behind law and her experience as two-term chair of the Lowell School Committee has given her a front-row seat for understanding the impact of under-funded federal mandates on public schools. I also liked Jamie Eldridge’s points regarding economic development when he mentioned specific projects such as bringing business to old Fort Devens and helping working-poor families in Lawrence save money to buy homes, go to college, and start their own companies. Eldridge also spoke about “thinking outside of the box” on immigration and how instead of spending billions on building walls, we should invest in ways to help relieve the poverty in third-world countries.  Barry Finegold said we need to be tough on Syria and other nations with harmful policies, but that it is a foreign policy mistake not to always have open dialogue with these countries. James DiPaola said he supports an amendment releasing nonviolent drug offenders after they serve two-thirds of their sentences because we have a “diminishing return on imprisonment,” and we should concentrate on criminals with “violence and gun charges. ”  Niki Tsongas had a bumpy start, stumbling over some words at the beginning, but once she warmed up, she did much better. Tsongas noted that education is the key to economic development, youth success, and our ability to be more competitively globally. Tsongas also noted that “the partisan divide has been an excuse for inaction for too long and it is not acceptable.”  David O’Brien said we are spending billions in Iraq when we have unmet needs here at home. He considers himself the “opportunity candidate” and is a strong supporter of the Americorps program. I didn’t like how he took the opportunity, in his last few minutes, to say he didn’t have the advantage of a popular name or the ability to self-finance his campaign—it was inappropriate to the tenor of the forum.   


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  1. 1 On April 9th, 2007, More MA-05 Resources | richardhowe.com said:

    [...] My co-author Tony compiled some statistics from the 2004 state election that show the total registered vote for each of the towns within the Fifth District.  He then broke the total registered vote down by enrollment (Democrats, Republicans and Unenrolled).  Since both Democrats and Unenrolled voters will be eligible to participate in the September 4, 2007 Democratic primary, I combined the per town totals of those two groups to come up with the total number of possible votes for each community and then determined what percentage of the overall possible Democratic primary vote was represented by each town’s share.  (We’ll soon do the same thing for 2006 enrollment stats which will allow us to compare registration over time for each community, but that’s for later).    Anyway, our chart shows that Lowell has by far the largest single block of possible primary voters with 41,794 (13%).  Haverhill comes next with 29,365 (9%), followed by Lawrence with 27,560 (9%) and Methuen with 22,589 (7%) with Billerica (19,304 – 6%) rounding out the five largest communities in the district.  The entire chart is available in PDF format HERE.   In other MA-05 news, Lowell School Committee member Jackie Doherty has taken the plunge and started a blog called http://www.jackiedoherty.org.  Jackie attended the MA-05 session on Saturday and provides an elected official’s view of the performance of the candidates.  In other news, our MA-05 flickr group is now up to five members with some new photos of Saturday’s session having recently been added.  Finally, Felicia Sullivan reports that the audio of MA-05 candidate interviews on the WUML Sunrise radio show are now available on the Sunrise website.  [...]

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