Candidates define differences
By G. Michael Dobbs
(left to right) Attorney General Thomas Reilly, businesman and education advocate Christopher Gabreili and former Justice Department offcial Deval Patrick answered questions from an audience for two hours last week at Aagwam Middle School.
AGAWAM Although the Democratic gubernatorial candidates have met once before for a debate, their appearance in Agawam on Thursday night was the first time the three men have spoken about issues and themselves in front of a live audience.
Responding to the invitation of the Agawam and West Springfield Democratic Committees, Attorney General Thomas Reilly, Deval Patrick and Christopher Gabrieli came for a two-hour forum at the Agawam Middle School that allowed the candidates to answer questions from the filled to capacity auditorium.
Of the three campaigns, Patrick's was clearly the best organized for the event. Dozens of supporters were outside the school prior to the forum. Some held signs along Main Street while others provided a backdrop of supporters and signs to be used for television interviews.
There were campaign workers at the door handing out flyers and stickers and inside the auditorium many of the supporters sat together.
When Patrick entered, he received cheers and a standing ovation, something the other two candidates didn't get.
Patrick has been preparing his campaign since last summer when one of his stops was Sheriff Michael Ashe's annual picnic.
Reilly has been tagged the front runner in the campaign mainly due to his high profile position as an Attorney General sometimes at odds with the Romney administration. He had less than 10 sign-holders and didn't have the organization the Patrick campaign had.
Gabreili, who has been active not only as a successful businessman, but also founder of Massachusetts 2020, a non-profit foundation devoted to expanding after school programs, only announced on April 6 that he would be running for governor. He was the running mate with Shannon O'Brien in 2002.
There was no evidence of any Gabreili campaign at the forum. Of the three candidates, it would appear that Gabrieli has the most ground to make up.
The format of the evening was simple: each of the candidates had a seven-minute time for an introduction with the bulk of remaining time devoted to answering questions from the audience. There was a three-minute period for each man to make a closing statement.
TV22's veteran newsman Sy Becker served as moderator and selected the questions from the stack of cards given him. Becker had each candidate answer each question.
In the opening statements, several common themes emerged. All three men spoke of their childhood and that none of them came from lives of privilege.
Patrick, the former corporate attorney and member of the Clinton Administration Justice Department, talked about his up bringing in a working class neighborhood in Chicago. Gabrieli said that he was the son of immigrants and grew up in Buffalo, NY.
Reilly explained that he barely graduated high school and was admitted into American International College only because a college official took a chance on him.
And all three men blasted the current administration. Patrick said he wants to replace bad leadership with creative leadership. Gabrieli said that he was late to the event because he was stuck in traffic created by the first night of the Shrine Circus in West Springfield.
"What the elephants have left behind is in the way," he said with a smile as he made a political pun.
Reilly noted the condition of his hometown of Springfield and said, "Sixteen years of Republican governors have brought us to this point."
Parade of questions
The first question asked whether or not the candidates would support a repeal of Proposition 2 1/2 that limits the growth of property taxes.
Patrick said he did not support repeal and said, "the fiscal shell game must end." He believes that people want the services wanted by cities and towns and that the state has been "starving" municipalities.
Patrick would not lower the state's income tax rate and would support the ability of municipalities to have a "modest" hospitality tax.
Gabreili would also not support repeal and said people should consider the tax loss created by the 160,000 jobs that have been eliminated during the Romney Administration.
Reilly said that taxes in the Commonwealth are too high and that "ordinary people are being squeezed in every direction."
He said he would honor the income tax rollback that had been approved by voters in a referendum several years ago.
All three men said they would work to increase local aid and remove the cap on the amount of money given to cities and towns from proceeds of the Massachusetts Lottery.
Dealing with youth violence was the subject of the second question. Gabreili spoke on his experience in advocating after-school activities and said that most juvenile crime increased three-fold during the hours of 2 to 6 p.m. He also said the state needs to work on "alternative pathways" for drop-outs in order to get them in programs to prepare them for adult life.
Reilly said the key to dealing with youth violence is identifying at an early age children who are at risk. He recounted how he formed a coalition of school officials and law enforcement agencies to control the violence at Lowell High School and said a "no nonsense" approach needs to be taken.
Patrick called for a return in funding and implementing community policing strategies that worked to reduce youth violence in the 1990s. He said that gang violence is on the rise and that this could be attributed in part to the cut back of community policing, and after-school programs.
He also said he is considering supporting longer school days.
One member of the audience wanted to know what the candidates would do to address the issue of child protection and the under-staffing of the Department of Social Services.
Reilly said there have been enough studies and he would "attach accountability" to the agency. He acknowledged that the department's social workers are over-burdened and call for a "complete evaluation" of the department.
Patirck agreed with Reilly and Gabreili he was ashamed to see a state that allowed "atrocious things done to children in our care."
Casinos and classrooms
The men split on the issue of casino gambling, the next question.
Patrick said he doesn't have a moral objection to gambling, but he is concerned about the impact casinos would have on a "very effective [state] lottery."
He said that while he didn't want to sound patronizing, that when he has been in a casino he has "sometimes worried if the person at the next slot machine could afford to be there."
Gabreili believes a Native American casino in the state may be inevitable, but that he "reluctantly" supports casino gambling.
Reilly called the flood of Massachusetts residents to the Native American casinos in Connecticut as "our foreign aid to Connecticut."
He said he would look at the issue seriously and if the state decides to allow casinos they need proper law enforcement and regulations.
Patrick and Reilly are married to former teachers, and all three men expressed opposition to a merit pay system to pay teachers.
Gabreili said, "Teachers need to teach and not fill a sales quota."
He supports giving the Department of Education money to fund ideas and innovations in education. He also said he was willing to discuss a system that might pay teachers of subjects that are in demand such as math and science more money.
Reilly said that he believes there are better and different ways of compensating teachers.
Patrick said he doesn't think a teacher's pay should be tied to his or her students' MCAS scores.
On the issue of homelessness, Reilly said the problem was the result of 16 years of Republican governors and that the problem stems from executive leadership.
Patrick said the problem showed what happened when governments made short-term decisions without considering the long-term consequences. He noted that detoxification and re-entry programs have been cut as well as rental vouchers.
"It all connects," he said.
Gabreili said a program in Boston that helps homeless mothers and the children has shown great success. That program is a not-for-profit that is funded with donations. It is the type of program that should be considered statewide.
What about W. Massachusetts
When asked how the candidates would treat western Massachusetts, Patrick said he plans to "show up."
With a home in the Berkshires, Patrick noted that he will be in this part of the state often and that he likes the idea of moving cabinet meetings around the state.
He said that he agreed with Governor Mitt Romney that the governor should be the chief salesman for the state, but said he realizes that the Commonwealth has more than one economy to offer new businesses.
Patrick noted that western Massachusetts is the crossroads for Interstates 90 and 91 and has one of the largest fiber optic networks in New England.
He would support the development of a high-speed rail line that would add value to the area for new businesses and residents.
Gabreili said he realizes the economic axis for western Massachusetts is not east-west, but north-south and praised the government of Connecticut for committing to the creation of a commuter rail line that could run from Springfield to new Haven.
Gabreili said he understands that the numbers are against western Massachusetts in the Legislature, but "that's why you have a governor."
Reilly said that he's been here "long before running for governor," and noted that he has come here personally as Attorney General to solve problems.
"I'm not going to sit back and watch what's happening to my home town," he added.