By Jesse Roman Staff writer
---- — NEWTON — It took mere seconds of airtime for moderator Jim Braude of NECN to ask about the gambling scandal plaguing Rep. John Tierney, and the gloves were tossed to the mat last night in a primetime television debate.
Republican opponent Richard Tisei pounced on the question — the first asked directly about Tierney’s family in four debates.
“He said he had no knowledge of what was going on, but both of his brothers-in-law contradicted him and said he did know what was going on,” Tisei said, referring to the multimillion-dollar offshore gambling scheme that Tierney’s brothers-in-law were running in Antigua.
Tisei then hammered the congressman on his trip to Antigua to visit brother-in-law Robert Eremian, “in the middle of the gambling operation,” as well as the $220,000 in gifts the congressman’s wife, Patrice Tierney, received from her now-fugitive brother when she managed a multimillion-dollar account for him in Salem.
“I do think there should be a congressional investigation,” Tisei said when asked if Tierney did anything illegal.
The congressman, who has been hounded by the scandal since his wife was charged with filing faulty tax returns for her brother in 2010, responded sternly.
“My two brothers-in-law didn’t say that, when the (Boston) Globe went down to visit my brother-in-law down there, he had nothing to offer them in terms of that,” Tierney said. When confronted that one of his brothers in-law, Daniel Eremian, told a Salem News reporter that Tierney “knew everything” about the operation, the congressman replied, “You can take his word, or you can take mine.”
As he has throughout the campaign, Tierney noted that the judge in his wife’s case — in which she pleaded guilty to being “willfully blind” to the true nature of her brother’s operation — said at one point that Tierney is “‘not implicated in any way, shape or form,’ and he’s right on this,” Tierney said. Tisei challenged that claim, saying that Judge William Young “never cleared you of anything.”
“Judge Young said the congressman has nothing to do with this, meaning the sentencing hearing, he wasn’t looking at the whole thing,” Tisei said. He noted several news organizations who have called Tierney’s use of the judge’s quote “misleading.”
Tierney again went on the offensive.
“Misleading? Richard, you have lied and used insinuation and innuendo on this whole thing and spent $3 million doing it. My wife paid a terrible price on that; she took responsibility for not knowing on that,” he said. “Your naked ambition has let you take her and do this to her because you want a seat that you otherwise couldn’t get. You can’t run on the issues, Richard. You don’t have a clue about what it takes to be a member of Congress. ... Richard, you’re shameless.”
The Tierney campaign has made Tisei’s party affiliation its theme, saying that electing Tisei would empower right-wing Republicans in Congress.
When Tierney was asked to defend his labeling of Tisei as “an extremist,” the congressman said the first vote Tisei would take would be to put Republican leaders back in charge.
“He said he would put the same leadership in there that is in there now, the same people who have voted against women’s rights, against equal rights, against the middle class, for voucherizing Medicare ... and one thing after another,” Tierney said.
“What sense is it, Jim, to say you’re a moderate or to say that you wouldn’t do these things, but your first act would be to go down there and put these people in charge of the agenda?”
As he has throughout the campaign, Tisei insisted last night that he would vote in the best interest of constituents, not with Republican leadership.
Tisei reiterated that he would not have voted for Paul Ryan’s Republican budget, but reiterated that it “it’s a good start,” a quote the Tierney camp has used to criticize him in the past.
“You have to have a plan in place ... the country is in so much trouble right now, nobody is talking, nobody is sitting down, nobody is trying to work together,” Tisei said, adding that he also thought the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan was a good start.
“They will kick you to the curb so fast,” Tierney said of Tisei’s pledge to be an independent voice in Congress.
“In the state Senate, he was totally irrelevant, he and four others being led to oblivion, they did whatever the majority said they were going to do, and that’s where he’d be in this Republican group, he’d be in oblivion,” Tierney said.
The candidates did find some common ground last night.
Both support state ballot questions allowing assisted suicide for terminally ill patients and allowing medicinal marijuana. Both said they would support a federal assault weapons ban.
When asked to offer something each has done well in their legislative careers, both offered that the other has done a good job fighting for equality.
The candidates also sparred on taxes, health care, equal pay for women and the economy in the 30-minute debate, which aired on NECN.
Libertarian candidate Daniel Fishman was not invited to the debate.
The election is Nov. 6.