WAKEFIELD — Richard Tisei announced his candidacy for Congress yesterday by blasting John Tierney for his support of Obamacare, but also said he hopes to steer clear of the personal mud-slinging that characterized their battle two years ago.
Tisei, a Wakefield Republican who served for 26 years in the state Legislature, came within 1 percentage point of knocking off Tierney for the 6th Congressional seat in 2012.
The campaign was dominated by charges surrounding an illegal gambling business run by Tierney’s brothers-in-law and the role of his wife, Patrice, in managing her brother’s bank account.
While not guaranteeing that the issue won’t come up again this year, Tisei said he’s planning to focus on Tierney’s legislative record.
“I’m going to spend most of my time talking about his judgments on issues in Washington,” Tisei said. “That’s what I really intend to concentrate on. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t control what comes out. To some extent I hope that doesn’t happen again this time.”
Tisei made his announcement in a room packed with about 125 supporters in the American Civic Center, a former armory building in his hometown of Wakefield. Tisei said it was the same room where he launched his political career 30 years ago as a candidate for state representative at the age of 21.
“When I went door-to-door they thought I was the paperboy,” he said.
Tisei’s expected entry into the race likely means another tough challenge for Tierney, the Salem Democrat who is in his ninth term in Congress.
Tierney’s office released a statement yesterday saying Tisei “would be just another vote” for House Speaker John Boehner and “Tea Party Republicans.”
“The people of the 6th District have already rejected Richard Tisei’s brand of divisive partisan politics,” Tierney spokesman Daniel Rubin said. “Richard’s out-of-touch agenda would mean leaving middle-class families out in the cold while doubling down on jobs-killing budget cuts and rolling back protections for seniors, children and veterans.”
Tisei dismissed charges that he is partisan, saying he worked with Democrats in the state Legislature on education, welfare and health care while passing balanced budgets.
“That’s the type of representation I’ll provide,” he said. “And by the way, while I was there, not one person ever called me an extremist.”
Tisei used his announcement to link Tierney to criticism of Obamacare, the national health care plan. Erin Calvo-Bacci, the owner of a family-run chocolate company in Reading, addressed the crowd and blamed Obamacare for her family’s rising health insurance costs.
“It forced us to sell our home in Wakefield and move a family of five to a two-bedroom apartment above one of our stores,” she said.
Mike Buetow of Amesbury, who also spoke to the crowd, said he has voted for Tierney ever since he moved to the 6th District in 2007, but is now behind Tisei.
“I punched the Democratic ticket. In Massachusetts, that’s the easy way out,” he said. “Not anymore. Richard is nothing like his opponents say. He’s a listener.”
Among the local politicians who showed up in support of Tisei was Matt St. Hilaire, a newly elected Beverly city councilor. St. Hilaire said he got to know Tisei while working for Gov. Paul Cellucci.
“He’s always worked in a bipartisan way and gets things done,” St. Hilaire said. “I think we need more of that in Washington, D.C.”
Tisei did not mention either of Tierney’s Democratic primary opponents, Seth Moulton of Marblehead and Marisa DeFranco of Middleton.
Moulton released a statement saying the people of the 6th District are ready for change, but said Tisei’s positions on health care and immigration reform show that he is “just too extreme for the families of this district.”
Moulton. a businessman and former Marine, said voters are eager for a new leader to end the gridlock in Washington.
“It is going to take a new generation of leadership to bring this level of change to D.C., not another career politician,” Moulton said. “The fact is, Richard Tisei was elected to office when I was 6 years old.”
DeFranco, an immigration attorney, said she welcomes Tisei to the race.
“Everyone who knows me knows I am a true and dedicated supporter of multiple candidates being in the race because that’s what democracy is about, giving people a choice,” she said.