With healthcare and the economy serving as key topics, the two candidates vying for the Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District seat agreed to disagree often at last night’s debate at Wellesley College.
Republican Sean Bielat and Democrat Joseph P. Kennedy III debated in front of a capacity crowd at Wellesley College’s Alumnae Hall, with both candidates sticking closely to the scripts of their respective parties.
The debate, the candidates’ third, began with a disagreement on how Bielat and Kennedy would go about reducing the national deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.
Kennedy led by accusing Bielat of endorsing Republican Vice Presidential candidate Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, which has would replace Medicare with a voucher system.
“You’ve embraced the framework of the Ryan budget. It’s big cuts and big tax breaks,” Kennedy said.
Bielat said the assumption of his support for the Ryan budget is “debatable at best,” but stopped short of saying he was totally opposed to the plan.
“You said the difference is I support big cuts and big tax breaks. Meaning [you] support small cuts and tax increases? That doesn’t sound like a recipe for growth,” he said.
Bielat, whose background includes 14 years of service in the U.S. Marines and work the iRobot Corporation, said its government’s responsibility to foster an environment in which businesses can thrive.
“Government is not good at creating jobs, we’ve seen it over and over,” Bielat said. “No one is blameless here…it’s silly to point fingers. [We need to] get people in Washington who have actually worked in business.”
Kennedy said, if elected he would be in favor of reaching across party lines to find a reasonable solution to the fiscal crisis, adding he was in favor of the framework of Simpson-Bowles reform.
“We need to come up with a responsible mix of spending cuts and revenue increases,” he said.
Both candidates were polite with one another for the vast majority of the debate, but for a few moments toward the end, the candidates addressed each others' qualifications after a question from the audience.
Royall H. Switzler, a Wellesley real estate agent who was a candidate for governor of Massachusetts for the GOP in 1986, directed a question at Kennedy, which debased his candidacy by saying his only qualification was the Kennedy name by referring to his uncle, the late Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy.
“About 50 years ago, in a campaign in Massachusetts, a candidate asked another candidate the question, ‘If your name were Edward Moore, would this campaign and your candidacy be a joke?’” Switzler said, reading from prepared notes.
“I ask the question,” he continued, “If your name were Joseph Patrick and not Joseph Patrick Kennedy…would your campaign be a joke?”
After the crowd bristled, Kennedy, formerly an assistant district attorney at the Cape and Islands and Middlesex County district attorney’s offices, responded calmly to the charge.
“Sir, I am very proud of my record of public service,” he said, drawing loud cheers and applause from the crowd of mostly Kennedy supporters.
Democrat Barney Frank, who has held the seat since 1981, announced he would not run for re-election last year.
The League of Women Voters and Wellesley College co-sponsored the debate, which was moderated by Jo-Ann Berry, co-chair of the Citizen Education Committee of Massachusetts.