BOXFORD — Following weeks of door-to-door campaigning, the candidates for the 2nd Essex District state representative seat shared the stage for the first time last night at a debate that gave them a chance to differentiate themselves for voters.
Democrat Barry Fogel and Republican Lenny Mirra, both of West Newbury, debated over issues including state spending, campaign financing, local projects and corruption on Beacon Hill in front of a packed house at the Boxford Community Center.
Throughout the evening, Fogel repeatedly emphasized the district’s need for a lawmaker who understands legislation and who has the skills to navigate the complexities of Beacon Hill. He highlighted his qualifications as a lawyer and his belief in approaching the state’s issues with a pragmatic and glass-half-full point of view.
Mirra, who has spent his whole career working in small local businesses, countered by saying the state needs to actively address its problems before they get worse, and that it will take an outsider’s perspective and a more balanced Legislature for that to happen. He also repeated his campaign mantra that there is too much money in politics, and that he would not accept any donations from special interest groups or corporations.
“As a voter, I always wanted to vote for a candidate that was not taking this money,” Mirra said. “So I’m not taking that money.”
Fogel took his opponent to task on several occasions, repeatedly questioning Mirra’s ability to work with other representatives on Beacon Hill and to ultimately get anything accomplished.
For instance, on the issue of state spending, Mirra said he’d like to see the formula that determines how state funds are distributed to local communities reviewed. He said the formula has remained the same despite language in the bill saying it should be reviewed every two years, and that small towns like the ones in the 2nd Essex District tend to get shortchanged as a result.
“My first priority would be to go look at that formula and review it,” Mirra said. “People on Beacon Hill call us rich, but … we’re not as rich as they make us out to be; we aren’t lighting cigars with $100 bills.”
Fogel agreed that the formula should be looked at, but he said Mirra’s approach was like walking into Beacon Hill and kicking the other 159 representatives in the shins.
“It’s all a question of how you approach the other representatives on Beacon Hill,” Fogel said. “One representative at a time isn’t going to change anything, but going in there and saying to them along with other like-minded representatives from other districts who are suffering from the way the formula is adjusted now, getting a coalition of people from Western Mass. or from the Cape, and sitting down with them and asking what do we have in common and what we can do to change this for all of our interests?”
The discussion continued in a similar fashion on the subject of corruption and welfare. But when pressed on his plan to approach welfare and immigration reform, Mirra agreed that there needs to be a conversation, but that there needs to be someone willing to stand up and a willing party to listen.
“In order for you to start working with other people, someone has to bring it up in the first place,” Mirra said. “That’s something that will happen if we have a two-party system.”
The debate was co-hosted by Boxford’s Democratic and Republican town committees and was moderated by Boxford Town Moderator Gerald Johnston.
On Monday, Mirra and Fogel will head to Haverhill for a Meet the Candidates-style event at the Haverhill Public Library. That event will begin at 7 p.m. and is being hosted by the Greater Haverhill League of Women Voters.
The successful candidate in the Nov. 6 election will replace retiring state Rep. Harriett Stanley, also a Democrat from West Newbury. The 2nd Essex District includes Newbury, West Newbury, Merrimac, Georgetown, Groveland and parts of Haverhill and Boxford.