HAVERHILL — Judging by the negative attention she received from her opponents at last night’s First Essex Senate District debate, Democrat Kathleen O’Connor Ives looked liked the front-runner.
Or at least the other candidates appeared to see it that way.
Each of her three opponents stressed O’Connor Ives’ party affiliation, suggesting she will take her cues from Democratic leaders rather than the people of the district.
James Kelcourse, one of two Independents in the race, said O’Connor Ives will do as she’s told at the Statehouse or she’ll end up with a basement office. Kelcourse, a lawyer and Amesbury city councilor, bolstered his argument by referencing Newburyport state Rep. Michael Costello’s support for raising the Massachusetts sales tax and a tax on alcohol sales.
“The Democratic-controlled Senate is why some legislators make decisions they don’t want to make,” Kelcourse said.
Paul Magliocchetti, the other Independent in the race, highlighted statements by O’Connor Ives that she believes sending money back to cities and towns for infrastructure, public safety and education are the safest bets to spur economic development and create jobs.
“The Democratic candidate believes investing in infrastructure is the way to grow the economy,” said Magliocchetti, a lawyer and Haverhill School Committeeman. “I believe it’s supporting small business and bringing back manufacturing.”
Republican Shaun Toohey rounded out the attack, saying “the Democrats on Beacon Hill don’t want to be held accountable for their party’s reckless spending.” Toohey is a mortgage banker and is also a member of the Haverhill School Committee.
O’Connor Ives, a Newburyport city councilor, dismissed assertions she’ll tow the Democratic Party line if she wins the seat.
“I will represent your interests, not special interests,” she told about 140 debate guests at Northern Essex Community College. “I’ve been listening to what the people of the Merrimack Valley want and I will do what they want.”
O’Connor Ives said she is best suited to carry on the district’s tradition of strong representation in the Senate. She said she’s the only candidate likely to get a committee chairmanship and a place at the table when decisions are made. There are 35 Democrats and four Republicans in the Senate.
“Sen. Steve Baddour was a Democrat, but he was also a strong independent person who did a lot of good for this district,” O’Connor Ives said.
The debate, which was sponsored by the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, focused on economic issues. It was the last of four before the Nov. 6 election.
O’Connor Ives and Kelcourse butted heads over the effectiveness of tax breaks and tax credits in creating jobs in the private sector. O’Connor Ives has said she’s not sure the breaks do much good for the economy.
Kelcourse, citing a recent study, said 684 new jobs were created by the film industry as a result of tax credits, many on the North Shore, between 2006 and 2012.
O’Connor Ives said the film industry tax credits created a net loss for the state of $130 million and that a better use of that money would have been sending it back to cities and towns in state aid.
“We need to do a better job making sure that tax breaks given to certain industries are monitored to make sure those breaks are leading to new jobs and economic development,” she said.
The candidates were asked to give their best ideas for creating jobs.
Magliocchetti said spurring manufacturing is key to reviving the economy. He pitched his plan to consolidate all the state’s economic development agencies into a single one 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.
Toohey said he would focus on easing regulation and rolling back the state sales tax. He said he wants the Legislature to form a commission to review the government to eliminate waste and duplication. He said the debt-riddled MBTA and the state’s welfare system are at the top of his reform agenda.
O’Connor Ives said workforce development and keeping higher education affordable would be keys for her.
Kelcourse said he favors more tax holidays for consumers and new incentives for banks to give loans to small businesses.
In his closing statements, Toohey said electing him would be a step toward bringing balance and two-party rule to the Statehouse. Magliocchetti and Kelcourse 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.