Democratic Congressional candidates debate at FSU

Seven Democratic candidates vying for the 5th Congressional District nomination assembled for a two-hour debate in Dwight Hall Sunday evening in front of about 100 FSU students, staff and MetroWest community residents.

The candidates are campaigning to fill former U.S. Rep. Edward Markey’s seat after he was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate in mid-June.

Each of the candidates emphasized similar points during their introductions, including reforming Congress’ current gridlock by creating more bipartisanship, and battling “extremist views” within the Republican Party.

Chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party John Walsh moderated the discussion with a set of a dozen predetermined questions.

The contenders on the ballot are: state Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont; state Sen. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose; Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian; former Lexington School Committee member Martin Long; Stoneham resident Paul Maisano; state Rep. Carl Sciortino, D-Medford; and state Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland.

Each candidate on the panel agreed that the current minimum wage is, according to Sciortino,  “failing families” and that Congress should establish a living wage.

Similarly, the panelists agreed that America needs to approach foreign policy “with great humility,” as Brownsberger stated.

The conflict in Syria was specifically referenced by each of the candidates and all were in agreement that America is, according to Sciortino, “far too eager to get into war.”

The candidates also had the opportunity to state their platforms in their one-minute opening and closing statements.

Spilka said that her time spent in the Statehouse would allow her to get the votes necessary to get Congress out of gridlock.

“This race is going to come down to who is the best person to go to Congress and fight for you and your family because Washington is not fighting for seniors, women, students, and it certainly is not working for the middle class,” said Spilka.

She said in order to help today’s children be competitive in the world job market, more focus should be placed on teaching science and technology.

“I have been fighting the last 13 years for special and regulatory funding for education,” said Spilka.

Sciortino is an openly gay state representative and comes from a Republican family. As a self-declared “Massachusetts liberal,” he said he would be able to break the GOP’s hold on Congress because he has had practice communicating with Tea Party conservatives within his own family.

Sciortino said the Democratic nominee needs to be a leader who “is going to be the strongest, most consistent progressive leader and fighter for our district in Washington.”

He said emphasis on education has been centered too much on standardized testing and he will continue to fight for “essential funding.”

Sciortino believes America’s children should be “treated like citizens, not future employees.”

Maisano, a self-proclaimed moderate, said he is proud to be known as a “lunchbox Democrat” – a metaphor he used to describe his working-class background.

“I am proud to be a workingman from the working middle class running for Congress. … You’ll have a selection and a choice other than a politician,” said Maisano.

He emphasized that the economy must be improved. “You can have the best education in the world, and have nothing to do with it [not being able to get a job].”

Maisano directed the audience’s attention to his two daughters, who are “struggling to pay off their debt [from their time spent in higher education].”

Long said political gridlock is one of his four main concerns because Congress is “dysfunctional.

“I am an agent of change and a candidate of new ideas. … Do you think Congress is going to fix itself?” asked Long.

He said in order for America to compete on a global scale, education needs to redirect its focus on “people who think creatively and make connections.”

Koutoujian said a “strong progressive leader” is needed to ensure the middle class is represented on issues such as women’s rights, equal pay and gun control.

“For me, it’s not just about the big headlines. I am concerned with the issues my constituents are facing,” said Koutoujian.

He said more energy needs to be “invested in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] problems” and that education should be improved across the “whole spectrum,” including pre-school.

Clark said she is focused on issues such as education and infrastructure, social security, Medicare, climate change and gun control.

“I am running to stand up to the extremist Republicans and fight for the middle class,” said Clark.

She said she believes in early education and “universal preschool.”

Clark added she would focus on improving graduation rates and lowering the cost of special education.

Brownsberger said he and his fellow “2013 Democrats” are all going to fight for the issues that matter to the middle class such as women’s rights, education and gun control.

“But if you look at my record, you’ll find that I am the one who will do the right thing when it is difficult and when goes against the grain,” said Brownsberger.

He said he would like to “change education on every level.”

Brownsberger said he backs President Barack Obama’s plan for early childhood education, K-12 and higher education.

Maryanne Paien, of Medway, said, “I am a firm, solid supporter of Karen Spilka. She is feisty and has a record of getting things done.”

Albert Sullivan, of Framingham, said, “Carl Sciortino is very articulate and passionate. I grew up in Medford, and I found myself agreeing with his delivery and overall theme of his campaign.”

Nancy Hess, of Sherborn, said, “I knew some candidates better than others. I am impressed with the choices I have as a voter. If I could take bits and pieces from each candidate, I could create my ideal congressman.”

She said fellow Democratic voters who think this is a “guaranteed Democratic seat” should have “learned a lesson” from U.S. Sen. Scott Brown when he beat Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in the Senate race in Jan. 2010.

Cheryl Tully, ’86, of Framingham, said, “Peter Koutoujian has a very strong grasp of working in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Those kinds of leadership skills are what I am looking for in a leader.”

Ashland resident Mary Bingham said, “Sciortino has a promising run in this election, and my vote is for him. He represents our interests and desires.”

John Salden, of Framingham, said, “I really enjoyed listening to Maisano and what he will do once he is elected. I like how he is relatable to his constituents while remaining prominent as a potential congressman.”

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