Candidates spar over Dem pedigree
Four candidates for the seat held by retiring state representative Eric Turkington (D-Cape and Islands) spent last Thursday night attempting to distance themselves from each other, but all of them agreed on one point. A Democrat will represent Martha's Vineyard in January.
That's because the oddity in the 2008 race is that the four surviving candidates from the September primary include no Republicans, two independents, one unenrolled, and one Democratic candidate.
Dan Larkosh, an Edgartown attorney, is a Democrat and the winner of the September 16 primary. The three who are neither Republican nor Democrat include primary runner-up Tim Madden of Nantucket, Falmouth resident and college teacher Melissa Freitag, and Vineyard Haven's Jake Ferreira, a small business owner and former U.S. Coast Guard officer. All four appeared on the stage at the Whaling Church in Edgartown, at a candidate's night co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Cape Cod Times.
The job of each was to convince about 50 Island residents that he or she was the best choice. Each candidate staked out a position as the best democrat, small d. The three non-Democrats on the stage agreed they would sign up with the Democratic Party, if elected.
"Independent candidates cannot get leadership positions on committees," Mr. Madden explained.
Judy Crawford, the moderator, made it clear that Representative Turkington was a fifth political presence in the hall, as she called for and received a passionate round of applause for the retiring representative at the outset of the evening.
"This is a historic race for several reasons. First, for 20 years, Eric Turkington has served us well, always keeping a weather eye out for Vineyarders. And this race is usually between a Democrat and a Republican, but that would be too easy," she chuckled. "This time there are four candidates - one Democrat and three independents. So it's important to listen to what each one says and to what their positions are."
For several voters, the forum worked just that way. Faith Runner of West Tisbury entered the church uncommitted and left with her clear choice for a vote on November 4.
"I won't tell you who I chose, but I made up my mind tonight. These forums are good. I was looking for gravitas - a bearing of leadership, and I found it," she said.
"Hearing and seeing the candidates in person allows me to see who's got the feeling of sincerity and commitment. Anyone can learn the job. The question is who has the character for the job." said Ms. Runner, who described herself as a former Island Democratic Party chairman.
An unidentified woman and her husband echoed Ms. Runner' s feelings. "I came here without a clear choice, and I picked Dan Larkosh," she said, noting. " It was so refreshing to hear straight talk from the candidates, after all this presidential campaign rhetoric."
Mr. Larkosh clashed several times with opponents Madden and Freitag over which of the candidates is wearing the Democratic mantle best. He questioned his opponents over the lack of the Democrat designation beneath their names on the ballot. He positioned himself as the party favorite, citing a long list of Democratic Party and labor endorsements.
Mr. Madden claimed several endorsements, including that of Tim Lasker, top primary vote getter on Martha's Vineyard. Mr. Madden is relying on his 10 years of experience as legislative liaison to Mr. Turkington and on several decades of government and community service on Nantucket as his primary qualifications.
Ms. Freitag said her academic experience as a researcher and teacher has provided special skills that make her the best candidate. Mr. Ferreira cited leadership and character imbued by his military training and a middle class Island family as principal qualifiers. "The only endorsement I care about is on Nov. 4," he said.
Both Rep. Turkington and Sen. Rob O'Leary (D-Cape and Islands) have to this point declined to endorse a candidate. Mr. Turkington has been quoted as saying he would not endorse Mr. Larkosh and may not endorse anyone.
Both Mr. Madden and Ms. Freitag said the timing of Mr. Turkington's decision to retire did not allow them time to register in the party. Mr. Madden said that while he was aware his boss was stepping down, he refrained from entering the fray "out of respect for Eric," until Mr. Turkington announced his retirement, when the deadline for filing under a party designation had passed.
Instead, Mr. Madden ran as a write-in Democratic Party candidate, campaigning mostly on Nantucket where he won a landslide victory, enough to place second to Mr. Larkosh, who scored enough in Falmouth to offset Mr. Lasker's strong vote on Martha's Vineyard.
Ms. Freitag said the deadline and the fact that "65 percent of the people in my district are unaffiliated" made the issue less important to her constituency.
Mr. Ferreira decided to run unaffiliated, prior to Mr. Turkington's announcement.
The candidates answered questions from the moderator, from the press, and from the audience on topics including the death penalty, real and proposed state budget cuts, composition of the Steamship Authority board, education and local control under provisions of the Ocean Act.
While the candidates' views differed on several topics, all agreed that local aid, education and healthcare must be untouched in a $1.6 billion state budget cut proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick.
Instead, Mr. Larkosh recommended cutting programs like smoking cessation and scouring the budget for redundancies, such as merging the administration of overlapping programs.
Mr. Madden said, "I think the governor has done a good job so far. He should not cut local aid, education or healthcare spending."
Ms. Freitag added energy savings as an untouchable on her list of important needs, but she noted that Falmouth is earmarked for $500,000 for a new boat ramp. "In this economy, do we really need this," she asked?
Mr. Ferreira declared that in-service training for police officers across the state is a no-cut item. "We've only got $3.2 million to train 16,000 or 17,000 officers. That's not enough and should not be touched," he said.
The candidates expressed reluctant openness for casino gambling.
Mr. Larkosh has never been a supporter of casino gambling. He said that Vineyard residents spend $12 million a year on scratch tickets, but Martha's Vineyard receives only about $300,000 in state lottery funds. "Imagine what we could do with $12 million," he said, calling gambling pernicious. Still, he said. "I will keep an open mind".
Mr. Madden, noting that he has opposed casinos in the Bay State in the past, said, " You can never say never. I can be convinced [to support casinos]."
Mr. Ferreira said he was not opposed to casino gambling, specifically because he doesn't believe the argument of social costs associated with casinos advanced by gambling opponents. "I just don't buy it," he said, noting job creation would be one major benefit derived from casinos.
All four candidates also coalesced around the importance of local Island control of key issues such as the Oceans Act management plan and plans to mandate hospital staffing levels under the state department of public health.