EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 21, 2012

Senate hopefuls face off in final debate

Four candidates for 1st Essex seat take stage at NECC

By Shawn Regan sregan@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — HAVERHILL — Voters will get their last chance tomorrow to see and hear the four candidates vying for the 1st Essex Senate District go head-to-head on the issues.

The final debate before the Nov. 6 election for those candidates is at 7 p.m. at Northern Essex Community College’s Technology Center, 100 Elliot St. Doors open at 6 p.m. for guests who want to offer questions for the candidates. Two of those questions will be randomly chosen.

Kathleen O’Connor Ives is the Democratic nominee, Shaun Toohey is the Republican candidate, and James Kelcourse and Paul Magliocchetti are running as Independents.

The Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the debate, which will be moderated by Sal Lupoli, owner of the Riverwalk complex in Lawrence and chairman of the business group’s board of directors.

“I don’t want to tip off the questions, but its’s safe to say the emphasis will be on learning what the candidates think are the best ideas and policies to make things better for homeowners and businesses in the Merrimack Valley,” debate organizer and longtime chamber President Joseph Bevilacqua said. “As the last debate, this is a great opportunity for voters to learn about the candidates and the issues before they go into the voting booth in two weeks.”

Previous debates for the seat have been held in Haverhill, Methuen and Newburyport. Tjhose events have focused on tax policy and economic issues, but also touched on a wide variety of other topics of local and statewide interest.

In Methuen earlier this month, Toohey and Kelcourse promised they would never agree to raise taxes. Magliocchetti said he would consider new taxes only after thoroughly scrutinizing the state budget for spending cuts and seeing state agencies reformed and consolidated to “bare-bones” levels. O’Connor Ives said it would be irresponsible for her to dismiss any proposal without first seeing and studying it.

Asked their No. 1 idea for stimulating the stagnant economy, the candidates agreed nothing is more important for the district’s next senator.

Magliocchetti, a lawyer and member of the Haverhill School Committee, said he would consolidate all the state’s economic development agencies into a single one to give businesses easy access to advice and funding, eliminating confusion and waste. He also touted his plan to create tax-free zones in local downtowns and a graduated sales tax system in which taxes would be lower or higher depending on a community’s proximity to tax-free New Hampshire.

Kelcourse, also a lawyer and Amesbury city councilor, said he would push for more tax-free holidays and developing incentives to attract emerging industries like solar, wind and medical to the region.

O’Connor Ives, a Newburyport city councilor, said she prefers to see the state invest in “low-risk” local transportation projects and education, which provide jobs to people in the district.

Toohey, a mortgage banker and member of the Haverhill School Committee, said he would focus on lowering Massachusetts’ electricity rates, which are among the highest in the country.

Toohey, Magliocchetti and Kelcourse have said they strongly support rolling back the Massachusetts sales tax rate to give businesses here a better chance to compete with their New Hampshire rivals. O’Connor Ives has said she favors “a comprehensive approach” to help businesses here, pointing out that New Hampshire has no sales tax at all.

As a Democrat, O’Connor Ives has said she’s best positioned to deliver for the district in the Democrat-dominated Senate. Toohey has said electing him would be a step toward bringing balance and two-party rule to the Statehouse. Magliocchetti and Kelcourse have said it’s time to elect an Independent who will put the people of the district before a political party.

The candidates are competing for the seat previously held by Steven Baddour, a Methuen democrat who resigned in March to enter private law practice.

Previous debates were at DiBurro’s function hall in Haverhill, Merimack Valley Golf Club in Methuen and Newburyport High School. The League of Women Voters of Greater Haverhill hosted a forum for the candidates last week at the Haverhill Public Library.