Article By: Alex Pearlman
Sen. Ted Kennedy’s senate seat is up for grabs next month, and while many thought the race for the next junior senator from Massachusetts would be a long and dramatic one, it seems that the opposite is happening.
The four democratic candidates came together on Monday at the Suffolk Law School building on Tremont St. for a peaceful round-robin of questions, not a formal debate, on the issues facing the voters of Massachusetts, specifically college students. The debate was co-hosted by the Boston Herald and Suffolk University.
Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca, Congressman Capuano, City Year founder Alan Khazei, and Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley took the stage with moderator Shelly Cohen, editorial page editor of the Herald.
Suffolk University Vice President for External Affairs John Nucci introduced the group, noting that Cohen, who has provided political “insight in the pages of the Herald and has done so for many years” and who is a professor at Suffolk in the Communications and Journalism department, was half of the brains behind the operation, along with Managing Editor Joe Sciacca.
Cohen started the questioning by saying that during the last presidential election, young voters came out in droves to elect President Obama, however, last month in New Jersey and Virginia, those voters stayed home. “What can you do or say that will bring the young voters out?” she asked.
Because of the seating arrangement, which from left to right sat Pagliuca, Capuano, Khazei and Coakley, each answer session began with the candidate seated after the one who answered the question before. Thus, Pagliuca answered the first question first, and then Capuano answered the second question first.
Each of the candidates had similar answers, although each had stand-out observations. Pagliuca called young voters “cynical” because of recent problems with government. Capuano pointed out that in this election in particular, young voters’ individual votes mean more because they might not get another chance to elect a senator. At least “not until you’re my age,” he joked. Khazei pointed out that many issues like genocide in Sudan or climate change can be dealt with by senators and its young peoples’ futures that are at stake. Coakley echoed Khazei’s sentiment about futures of education, student loans and health care being at stake.
The next question was posed by the first of three Suffolk student panelists, senior Manny Viega, Editor in Chief of the Suffolk Voice. Viega asked if the candidates supported the health care bill, seeing as “many recent college grads are living without health insurance. They can’t find jobs that provide it and they can’t afford private insurance options that are available.” Capuano started off by assuring the audience, saying he voted for the bill in the House. Khazei strongly responded to the question, saying that as a senator, he would repeal anti-trust exemptions for insurance companies, forcing better competition in the marketplace. Both Coakley and Pagliuca said that they support universal health coverage as well.
Allison Brito, a senior international relations major, asked, “Our generation is being held responsible for paying off $12 trillion worth of debt. What will you do to make sure that those companies that have received federal bailout or stimulus money are being held accountable? Will you reassure us that congress will stop giving money to the same companies that have already failed?”
Khazei called the debt “unconscionable” and suggested that part of his plan, should he be elected, is to return to Clinton-era tax rates. Coakley said that “Washington was asleep at the switch,” and noted that hers was one of the first Attorney General’s offices to go after Goldman Sachs and predatory lenders. Pagliuca said that he has been on the ground, creating jobs and called for a plan with a strong central government regulator. Capuano pointed out that he is the only one of the candidates who instead of saying what they will do, is reporting his record of what he has done, such as voting against Bush-era tax cuts and calling for regulation of Wall St. “This isn’t a new issue.”
Lolita Bumpen, a junior PR major, citing that Cambridge was the first city in Mass. to lower the voting age to 17, asked the candidates if they would consider this measure. Capuano was the only candidate who opposed the idea.
Cohen, reading from notecards with questions from viewers online, brought up to the stage by junior Cidney Carver, asked for a quick lightening round of “yes or no answers,” which none of the candidates adhered to.
The first question was regarding illegal aliens getting in-state tuition to go to school in Mass. All four candidates answered in favor of illegal aliens getting in-state rates, and Pagliuco and Capuano both noted that they would only allow it if illegal aliens weren’t taking up spaces from residents.
Next, a viewer who called himself “Taxed to the Max” asked if the candidates could name one thing that Bush did right, which garnered a large chuckle from the audience. Both Pagliuco and Capuano answered nicely about kept promises. However, Khazei named Bush’s strengthening of AmeriCorps, his giving of more money to AIDS relief in Africa than any other President and removing the stigma of using food stamps, now that so many Americans use them. Coakley, on the other hand, snidely remarked that the only thing she could think of was that Laura and President Bush “did a good job raising their twins.”
None of the candidates support the troop increase in Afghanistan, although Khazei was the only one who offered more insight into why he doesn’t, citing that we need to first help fix the country’s corrupt regime and offer assistance to Pakistan.
Katie, another online viewer, asked how the candidates planned to make college more affordable. Coakley, Pagliuco and Khazei all said that they wanted to increase Pell Grants and search the federal budget for the money to make college affordable to anyone who wanted to attend. Capuano, however, spoke about his personal problems with his son’s student loans, and the extra mortgage he took out on his house. “I’m the only one on this stage that has gone through this. It’s critical and it’s very, very real.”
All in all, there was no clear winner, as the event wasn’t a real “debate.” However, all the candidates gave some surprise answers and came out having better informed their audience on their positions on the issues.
A real-time blog with commentary by Suffolk students during the debate can be found on the Herald’s website.