On Thursday six candidates competing for State Rep. in Lowell’s 18th district assembled at the new University Crossing for a debate. Four of the candidates are Democrats while one candidate, Fred Bahou is unenrolled, and another candidate, Paul Ratha Yem, is running a sticker campaign.
The six candidates struggled to differentiate themselves from each other as issues of the debate received similar responses from each of the candidates. The four billed candidates are David Ouellette, James Leary, Brian Donovan, and Rady Mom.
The 75-minute debate had allowed for each candidate to have 90-second responses to the question as well as two-minute closing statements at the end. There were six questions asked that six candidates would each respond to.
The first question brought up the issue of Robert DeLeo, the current House Speaker for Massachusetts, and whether or not the candidates would support him. Prosecutors of a corruption trial for John O’Brien, former probation com- missioner, had accused DeLeo of a job-trading scandal to get elected as Speaker.
Although DeLeo was never charged, each candidate spoke against the corruption of the probation office and emphasized the “reorganization of that department.” However, every candidate did show full support for DeLeo with the exception of Fred Bahou who remains unsure.
The next question was about a proposed project for a new courthouse in Lowell. Once again each candidate showed overwhelming support for the idea and no one really disagreed with other.
Rady Mom had emphasized funding for the project as it was “the most important issue” with such projects. The others agreed that the old courthouse was dysfunctional and looked bad.
“The new courthouse was something worked on years ago. I think our current courthouse is partly beat up and not as functional” said Bahou.
The candidates took turns saying how the new courthouse will stimulate the economy as long as each part of the 18th district gets “tied” to UML. Statements were made about “future growth.”
“I’m fully in favor of this project,” said Brian Donovan. So was everyone else.
Of course this brought up a follow-up problem about what the city of Low- ell should do with the old courthouse building. The candidates agreed it would be sad to see it go but also acknowledged the high cost of renovating it.
To create a new building to the high standards of the courthouse to help the economy while simultaneously spending money to renovate the old one to the same high standards makes little sense. The candidates played both sides of the questions and only offered ambiguity.
“It’ll be expensive to rehabilitate those buildings. We’ll need to work together,” said Bahou.
No one liked the idea of letting the old building be used for affordable housing. “We have enough affordable housing” said Mein. “Turning it into an ad- ministrative building for the local school district is an option.”
The question on state funding for schools directly affects UML students. All of the candidates agreed that the rising cost of higher education was bad and each candidate offered up solutions.
“Chapter 70 funding for higher education? I think we can!” says Bahou. However, as each candidate spoke about government funding through grant programs for higher-ed only the sticker candidate, Yem, showed support for a “pay as you earn” federal proposal to tie a college grad’s loan payments directly to his or her earnings.
The candidates spoke louder on the next issue involving Lowell’s crime rates and gun violence.
“How many guns walk in through this week? Unfortunately, guns are [seen as] cool” said Bahou. He didn’t hesitate to put blame on drugs and gang violence as well.
Leary, and Donovan took turns to put the blame directly on drugs and gangs but it was Donovan who suggested to have a dedicated drug unit in the police force. Leary wanted to institute term limits for judges.
Mom spoke more optimistically and told of a time when Lowell was worse. “I know that guns are not the issue. It’s education,” he said. “I know Lowell is safe but when you hear a gun go off its not settling if you have kids.”
For the issue on Lowell High and where it should be moved, each candidate took turns in giving similar answers, however Donovan stood out as the only one firmly against it.
“Spend $250 million to keep it downtown. Money is distributed downtown. Keep it where it is,” says
Donovan. Each candidate was respectful of time with only Mom, Yem, and Leary
going over the limit by accident. The crowd was asked at the beginning to hold applause and the atmosphere, while quiet, was not unsettling.
No political jabs were thrown as each candidate largely agreed with each other and occasionally they proposed different, sensible solutions to problems that the others didn’t attempt to refute.
The crowd was also respectful but no grievances were heard in a Q&A style format. However, members could be seen with supporting shirts and signs.
“Honesty is a really big thing,” said Lisa Gwiazda, a supporter of Mom. Supporters for all the candidates could be seen outside of University Crossing holding signs and waving to traffic as the sun was setting Thursday night.
The debate was sponsored by UMass Lowell’s center for public opinion and the Lowell Sun.