HAVERHILL — Four candidates vying for the vacant and newly-redrawn 1st Essex Senate seat formerly held by Steven Baddour faced off last night in the first of several debates leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
Haverhill School Committeemen Shaun Toohey and Paul Magliocchetti took the evening’s most aggressive shots at each other, with Magliocchetti calling Toohey’s assessment of government’s role in improving the economy and creating jobs “misguided” and Toohey calling Magliocchetti’s support for rolling back the Massachusetts sales tax “hypocritical” because Magliocchetti purchased campaign supplies in tax-free New Hampshire.
Amesbury City Councilor James Kelcourse and Newburyport City Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives struck a more collegial tone, with Kelcourse calling O’Connor Ives “very smart” and a “nice” city councilor, but adding “I’ll make a better senator.”
O’Connor Ives is the Democratic nominee and Toohey is the Republican candidate. Kelcourse and Magliocchetti are running as Independents.
The debate at DiBurro’s function hall in Haverhill was sponsored by the Greater Haverhill, Amesbury, Salisbury and Greater Newburyport Chambers of Commerce. It featured questions from each chamber and audience members.
About a 75 guests attended the debate, which was moderated by Eagle-Tribune publisher Al Getler.
The candidates carved out positions on how to best stimulate local economies, support community hospitals and reform public housing and education. They also fielded questions on immigration issues, women’s rights, homelessness and the environment.
During the debate and in interviews after it, each candidate pledged his or her support for rolling back the state sales tax to 5 percent.
Magliocchetti and O’Connor Ives pitched slight variances to their positions on that issue, with Magliocchetti offering the idea of providing special lower sales tax rates to businesses on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, and O’Connor Ives suggesting more must be done than just returning the sales tax rate to 5 percent since New Hampshire’s sales tax rate is zero.