CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Candidates in one of the most closely-watched senate races in the state came to the 22News Broadcast Center Wednesday, to discuss issues like casino gambling, the sheltering of homeless families in hotels, and taxes.
Republican Debra Boronski, America First candidate Mike Franco, and Democrat Eric Lesser are all vying for the 1st Hampden and Hampshire District senate seat, currently held by Wilbraham Democrat Gale Candaras.
All three candidates claimed strong ties to the district, with Boronski saying that she has “advocated for the area her entire life” as the founder of the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and as an East Longmeadow selectwoman. Lesser said that he was raised in Longmeadow, where he currently lives, and while he did go to Harvard University and worked in the Obama White House, he decided to come back and raise his young family in his hometown. Franco said that while he does not currently live in the district (he is a resident of Holyoke), he will move to the area once he’s elected, and noted that he was raised in East Longmeadow and has strong family ties around the region.
The first question in the debate dealt with the issue of housing homeless families in hotels, and the candidates agreed the practice needs to stop. Lesser said that he has a four-point plan to end this practice, which he says is unfair to burdened communities, as well as to families forced to live in conditions that could potentially be unsafe. Boronski said the state needs to stop moving families from the eastern part of the state to hotels in western Massachusetts communities, and said that she believes more money should be returned to cities and towns through “responsible and accountable spending.” Franco said he would work to see that families are transitioned out of hotels and into more suitable housing, saying that the current system is dangerous to homeless families and expensive to taxpayers.
Both Baronski and Lesser declared their opposition Ballot Question 3, which would repeal the 2011 law that legalized casino gaming in Massachusetts. Lesser said the question sets a “dangerous precedent” by allowing people in the Boston area, who compose a majority of the area’s voters, to decide whether or not Springfield can have a casino. Both he and Baronski said that while they believed the casino will bring jobs, they are only a part of a larger effort to bring good jobs to the area. Franco set himself apart as the only candidate who supports Question 3. He said that the state is about 30 years too late to bring a casino that will have a positive impact on the economy, and that instead, we must focus on “real jobs.”
Franco said that he is the only candidate who would not raise taxes under any circumstances, which is something he said Lesser and Baronski could do. For his part, Lesser said that when it comes to taxes, you need to question whether the system is fair, saying that middle-class families are being squeezed while corporations enjoy tax breaks. He attacked Baronski for signing a no-new-taxes pledge, which he called “radical tea-party pledge” that would “tie our hands.” He said that the pledge was rejected by Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker as being too extreme. Baronski defended her signing of the pledge, and cited her endorsement by Baker as evidence that we can all work together despite our differing opinions. She said that we do not need to raise taxes in Massachusetts, and pledged: “I promise, no new taxes.”
The question of campaign contributions was a contentious one in the debate, with Boronski saying that Lesser raised 80% of his contributions, close to half a million dollars, from out of the area. Lesser defended the donations, saying that he has received contributions from people in every community in the district, and though he also raised money from people he has met through his education and job experience outside the area, he had more individual donations than any other candidate. Franco said that he is running a “grassroots” campaign, and as such, has not been out raising money.
Wednesday afternoon’s debate comes less than 24 hours after Boronski and Lesser met for a debate at Western New England University in Springfield. Franco attended, but was not allowed to participate in that debate.
The 1st Hampden and Hampshire district includes all of Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow, and Wilbraham, as well as the eastern half of Chicopee, and portions of the Springfield neighborhoods of East Forest Park, East Springfield, Forest Park, Pine Point, and Sixteen Acres. The seat has been held by Sen. Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham) since 2007, but she is leaving the State House to run for Hampden County Register of Probate.
Lesser, a law student who previously served as an aide to President Barack Obama, lives in Longmeadow. Boronski is a former East Longmeadow selectwoman, who founded the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. Franco has run previously as a Republican for governor’s council, and has been active as a father’s rights advocate. He currently lives in Holyoke (which is not in the district), but will move to the district if elected.
Below is a listing of the remaining debates that will air on 22News prior to Election Day:
Debates air at 12:30 P.M., unless otherwise noted.
Thursday, October 30: 4th Hampden House District debate: Democrat John Velis won a special election in April to replace now-Sen. Don Humason, who held the Westfield-based house seat for years before being elected to the Senate. He will debate Republican Westfield City Councilor Dan Allie, who is running again after being narrowly defeated by Velis in the special election. The 4th Hampden includes all precincts in the city of Westfield.
Friday, October 31: 12th Hampden House District debate: Incumbent Rep. Angelo Puppolo (D-Springfield) will debate Wilbraham Board of Selectman Chair Bob Russell, his Republican challenger. The 12th Hampden includes all of Wilbraham, plus the northernmost portion of East Longmeadow, and parts of Springfield’s East Forest Park, Forest Park, and Sixteen Acres neighborhoods.
Sunday, November 2nd – InFocus at Noon-12:30pm: A debate concerning Question 3, which would prohibit casinos, slot machine establishments, and betting on simulcast greyhound racing. 22News Laura Hutchinson will be our moderator. The yes side has agreed to participate, the no side is still deciding.
Sunday, November 2nd – InFocus at 12:30-1pm: A debate concerning Question 2, which will expand the state’s bottle deposit requirement to all non-alcoholic, non-carbonated drinks except dairy products, infant formula, and FDA approved medicines. 22News Laura Hutchinson will be our moderator. Janet Domentiz of MassPIRG will represent the yes side. Nicole Giambusso will be the spokesperson for No on Question 2: Stop Forced Deposits.