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Practicality, Passion on Display at Belmont Forum [Video]

Second candidates meet at the Chenery Middle School highlights taxes and fundraising.

"Money is the mother's milk of politics" said Jesse Unruh, the longtime California state treasurer.

And for some of the candidates who attended the candidates forum held Dec. 6 at the s auditorium, that milk is coming from a diary outside the confines of the city neighbors and towns the men are hoping to represent.

With a week before the special primary election on Dec. 13, two of the candidates – former state firefighters union president Robert McCarthy and Brighton attorney Tim Schofield – said that despite obtaining a large portion of their campaign funds from outside the district (while the legislative members in the race – state reps Will Brownsberger and Johathan Hecht – obtained their funding closer to home), they did not see it influencing them if elected.

When asked what percentage of their contributions came from outside the borders of Belmont, Watertown, Brighton, the Fenway and sections of Cambridge, McCarthy said press reports revealed that 60 percent of the money came from as far as California. But he said the money is from firefighters and retirees, "people who know me."

"They are not special interests. They are people who run into buildings to save people," said McCarthy to applause while Schofield said the entire process of raising money from co-workers and relatives "is awful, it's just icky," advocating for reform in financing campaigns.

The second candidates forum to select a person who want to succeed Steve Tolman as State Senator of the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District saw the final four also tackle the contentious issue of the level of collective bargaining for state and local government workers.

Tolman – who left Beacon Hill to run the state's AFL-CIO in October – made it clear when he threw his endorsement to McCarthy last week that he was not happy that his former legislative colleagues had voted for pension reform that allowed cities and towns greater flexibility to require unionized workers and retirees to accept changes to their benefits without the opportunity to bargain over the issues.

McCarthy pointed out that for many years, public employees have sacrificed pay increases to settle for keeping their pension and health care plans at certain levels. 

"Why are now taking out on the hids of public employees," said McCarthy.

Larger issues confronting the state

Yet for Brownsberger, the issue of reining costs through pension and health insurance reforms goes to much larger issues.

"Look what's happening in Europe, look what's happening at the federal government. Across the develop world, people are realizing they can't pay the long-term costs they face with health care," he said.

"People are struggling to say how can we possibly make this work? Adjustments need to be made; not that you are going to go back and take away promises you made to people who are about to retire. But in the long term, we need to be in the same boat economically," said Brownsberger.

At another time in the forum, McCarthy appeared to revel in the notion of his "outsider" position, having never held an elected position rather being a representative of "working people." 

"If you want a career politician, you can vote for the others running," said McCarthy adding a jab to the other candidates – which he uses in his campaign literature – that they are full-time attorneys "with letters behind their names."

"Why do you have to be a lawyer to be senator? They don't own this seat. I'm trying to make this your seat," said McCarthy who said his tenure in the legislature – which will be limited to the remaining 13 months of Tolman's term and a single two year term – will be focused on one issue, "Jobs, jobs, jobs."

But Schofield defended his legal background – he is a partner in a Beacon Hill firm – saying that "I am a lawyer and a person too," to laughter in the auditorium.

"If it's the people's seat, it's mine too," noting that he works for many who found it difficult to obtain legal representation without his help.

Hecht said he saw his experience on Beacon Hill and on the local level in Watertown "extremely important" and critical for anyone filling the senate seat who will immediately become a chairman and in the midst of critical legislation.

"It gives you the ability to work together with other legislator," said Hecht. "Legislation is a team sport, it's not one that someone does on their own."

The time to invest

Schofield threw some real passion into the forum when discussing the candidate's primary goals as senator.

"It's not bold to talk about long-term structural issues when people are hurting today. It's bold to talk about investing. It's bold to talk about increasing revenues," said Schofield, saying he supports a bill in the legislature that would increase the top income tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5.95 percent for those making more than $70,000 with exemptions for retirees and disabled.

"We have to ask people who make more to pay more," said Schofield, saying the state needs to spend in infrastructure such as mass transit for the country to remain a leader in world economy.

"We need to be honest. We need to invest and defy the Republican junk that government spending doesn't matter."

But where the Brighton native strives towards bold steps, Hecht told voters that it was one thing to be passionate on an issue and knowing what can be practically done.

Hecht noted that while all the candidates believe that revenues need to be increased, the notion that a tax increase of any sort will fly on Beacon Hill – where the majority of legislators come from communities that are unfriendly to such an effort.

"I think we need to be honest about revenue. If I could wave a magic wand and institute a progressive tax, I would," Hecht said.

"But the reality is outside our area, there is very little support for that. That is why I advocate finding areas such as long-term care services and correctional facilities where we can be saving money with better services and then invest that money into the environment, in higher education and other areas where we have made deep cuts," Hecht said.

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