Congressman John Tierney tried to put his wife's legal troubles behind him during a contentious television debate last night with Republican Bill Hudak.
Fox 25 news anchor Maria Stephanos began by asking Tierney about his wife, Patrice, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts of aiding and abetting the filing of false federal tax returns. She admitted to managing a bank account for her brother, Robert Eremian, that contained $7 million of his illegal gambling profits.
"You live with your wife: How could this go on for so long, for so many years, and you didn't know a thing about it?" Stephanos said.
"This is the 21st century and what Patrice does with her family and family business is not something, as her husband, that I look over and monitor day to day," Tierney said. "I'm a little surprised at the question."
The Salem Democrat then attempted to shift the debate to Hudak, saying the lawyer from Boxford had views that were "way out of touch with the district."
But Stephanos returned the conversation to Tierney's wife, addressing the congressman's surprise.
"I think it is relevant here because I think that your constituents would like to know what it is that you knew about this," Stephanos said. "I live with my husband. He owns his own business. I know the clients that he has. I know the money that's coming into the household."
"Well that's interesting, Maria, because it wasn't a business that she was running. It was about (her brother's) children and the accounts of (his) household and things like that," Tierney said. "Maybe your household is different, but mine has gone into the 21st century and I respect my wife. We have a loving and caring relationship and I respect her, and I know that she is able to take care of those records."
From this opening exchange, the 10-minute debate devolved into a chaotic first encounter of the 6th District candidates in which they repeatedly talked over each other.
"With all due respect, this is all about you," Hudak said. "This isn't about your wife."
Tierney then interrupted, alleging that Hudak wanted to abolish the Department of Education and "get rid of financial reform."
"Let me call you a liar to your face," Hudak said.
Stephanos then had to intercede as the candidates simultaneously made rapid-fire claims about each other.
"Gentlemen, excuse me gentlemen," she said. "I think really you're doing your constituents a disservice here if you're both talking over each other."
"You encouraged it, Maria," Tierney said.
"I encouraged a healthy debate," Stephanos said. "I didn't ask you to talk over each other."
Asked about a 2008 lawn sign that showed then-candidate Barack Obama made to look like Osama bin Laden, Hudak said it was a parody.
"I regret that some people were offended that that was not a flattering portrait of the candidate," Hudak said.
Given a chance to make final remarks, Tierney said he would continue "to fight for the middle class."
"I'm a small-business owner," Hudak said. "I understand what it takes to truly create jobs."
Tierney and Hudak were not in the same studio for last night's debate. The candidates are scheduled to meet next on Oct. 14 — this time, face to face — when The Salem News will host a debate at the former Memorial Middle School in Beverly.