By Mac Cerullo Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News
---- — WEST NEWBURY — Just days before the election, charges of dirty politics were flying in the battle for the 2nd Essex District state representative seat.
Republican candidate Lenny Mirra yesterday said he intends to press charges against Democratic opponent Barry Fogel for “intentionally spreading lies about him and his company.”
At issue is a mailer Fogel sent to voters this week highlighting a media report of some alleged safety issues with one of Mirra Co.’s trucking divisions two years ago.
The mailer quoted a Fox News report that a trucking division of Mirra’s family-owned company ranked second worst in the state by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2010 for violating regulations that protect public safety.
The Fox News report, titled “Dangerous Trucks on Mass. Roads,” was published on Feb. 22, 2010 and said that Mirra Co. and several other companies that earned poor safety marks had some of their trucks shut down because of brake problems at some point over the previous 30 months.
Fogel said Mirra Co. earned an unsatisfactory rating from the federal agency as a result, a claim Mirra says is not accurate.
Mirra said the rating was based on incomplete data and was later updated to give Mirra Co. a satisfactory rating. He said Fogel knew that before he disseminated the unsatisfactory report in his mailer.
“I’ve tried to run a clean campaign and stay positive. I’ve never once mentioned my opponent in my mailings, Facebook, website, etc.,” Mirra said yesterday. “Unfortunately, my opponent has chosen to send out a mailer full of lies and distortions about me and my company.”
Fogel first brought up the issue during the candidates’ last debate in Georgetown on Oct. 18, mentioning the report and calling into question Mirra’s credentials on public safety.
Mirra’s explanation for the rating was that his company owns its trucks under two different entities and the initial FMCSA report failed to account for that.
“Once we sent the correct data to the U.S. Department of Transportation, we got a satisfactory rating from them,” Mirra said.
Mirra sent Fogel an email shortly after the debate notifying him of the updated report, but said Fogel sent out the mailer mentioning the incorrect report anyway. He also questioned the timing of the mailing, saying Fogel knew Mirra wouldn’t have the opportunity to send out mailers in response before election day.
Fogel said he did respond to Mirra’s email, saying he saw the FMCSA data from 2011 and 2012 that gave Mirra Co. a satisfactory rating for those years, but didn’t see anything to verify that the 2010 report had been corrected.
“I asked him to provide me with specific information to back up his claim that the information for 2010 had been changed by the federal agency when he suggested that was the case, I waited a week to provide that information before I published that mailer, and he never responded,” Fogel said. “He’s pointed to two subsequent years, but he has not provided me with any information to show that the rating that was reported for 2010 was changed.”
A review of FMCSA data provided by Mirra lists Mirra Co.’s safety rating as satisfactory as of Nov. 1, 2012. The company snapshot cited by Mirra does not contain any specific data pertaining to 2010 and a call placed yesterday to the FMCSA offices in Washington, D.C., seeking more complete information was not returned by deadline.
Fogel called Mirra’s threat of a lawsuit “misguided” and defended his decision to send out the mailer.
“It’s not a lie, I reported what is still listed and reported on the Fox News website,” Fogel said. “I didn’t say anything that I didn’t see on the Fox News website, I simply said that Fox News reported that Mirra Co.’s trucking company was rated second worst in the state and that it was rated that way by the federal agency for that period of time.”
The exact wording of Fogel’s mailer is as follows: “Lenny Mirra complains about government regulation as harming business, but in 2010, Fox News reported that a Mirra Co. trucking division was rated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as second worst in Massachusetts for violation of regulations that protect public safety.”