Debate Answers Break Down Across Party Lines

First Essex senate candidates, from left, Shaun P. Toohey and incumbent Kathleen A. O’Connnor-Ives, and Fourteenth Essex state representative candidates incumbent Diana DiZoglio and Rosemary Connelly Smedile.

By Dana Esmel
WHAV News Director

A candidates’ debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Haverhill, last night was described by some observers as high in party rhetoric and low on confrontation. It took place  before a crowd of about 75 people, mostly supporters of one campaign or another, at the Haverhill Citizens Center.

One portion was a combined forum comprised of local state senate and representative candidates. First Essex senate incumbent, Democrat Kathleen A. O’Connnor-Ives of Newburyport, took issue with being characterized during the primary as the “most conservative senator,” and now depicted as “liberal.”

“I’ve taken a lot of hard votes, because I’m not going to vote for a bill that’s not good for the residents of the Merrimack Valley. I’m proud of my reputation, being fiscally conservative. I voted against an increase in the gas tax and against indexing the gas tax, not only because it impacts working people, but because we need to push for greater efficiencies in government. And I’m against measures that are automatic,” O’Connor-Ives said.

O’Connor-Ives’ Republican challenger, Haverhill School Committee member Shaun P. Toohey, said it’s time to move in a new direction and “make Massachusetts great again.” He accused O’Connor-Ives of changing her votes on the gasoline tax and said he will vote at the ballot box to repeal automatic gasoline tax increases.

“…Restoring balance on Beacon Hill by providing a business climate that makes sense for businesses to stay and compete here in the Commonwealth. We talk a lot about EBT fraud, waste and abuse that’s costing $25 million per year. We need to do more. We can do more. We need to lower the sales and income tax back to five percent, and increase local aid,” Toohey said.

Asked about Massachusetts adopting a single payer health insurance program, O’Connor-Ives said she was generally supportive, but only if the Federal government takes the lead. Toohey said he prefers allowing residents to take waivers to opt out of the system entirely, allowing them to keep their own doctors and plans. “That’s something we missed out on,” he said.

O’Connor-Ives said she opposes casinos and lifting the cap on charter schools, while Toohey said he supports both initiatives.

Fourteenth Essex state representative incumbent, Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, Democrat, said the job of legislator is about people, not politics.

“Being a state rep takes hard work and a genuine love for helping people. It’s about tackling issues, head-on, that are facing all of our families, such as substance abuse and addiction. It’s about keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in our community,” DiZoglio said.

North Andover Board of Selectmen chairperson Rosemary Connelly Smedile, DiZoglio’s Republican challenger, said voters deserve a representative with business, community and leadership experience.

“I’ve raised a family, built a business, served my community. I graduated from Boston College, with honors, with a concentration in special education. I’m proud of what I accomplished. As your state representative, I’ll vote to roll back the sales tax and the income tax. I’ll work to increase local aid, and force the state to fund its mandates,” Connelly Smedile said.

Also attending was fifteenth Essex state representative incumbent Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, Democrat of Methuen. Under debate rules, she was limited to giving opening and closing statements as her Republican challenger, Al DiNuccio of Methuen, was a “no-show” at the gathering.

WHAV broadcast the debate live and will repeat it again at 7 p.m., tonight.