Mass. US Senate hopefuls discuss Occupy movement
BOSTON—Five Democratic U.S. Senate hopefuls jousted on everything from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the need to hold accountable those who brought the country's economy to near collapse as they sparred Tuesday for the chance to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
Some of the sharpest contrasts at the Stonehill College forum were drawn between immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco and Harvard University professor Elizabeth Warren on the Occupy protests against financial inequality.
Asked if protesters should be allowed to prepare their encampments for winter weather, Warren would only say the protesters have to "follow the law."
That drew an impassioned defense of the protesters from DeFranco, who drew parallels between the Occupy movement and the civil rights and women's suffrage movements.
"There is a tradition of civil rights in this country," said DeFranco, who lives in Salem. "If they want to stay there, it's called a sit-in."
DeFranco, one of four lesser-known Democrats hoping to knock Warren out of the frontrunner position, also appeared to side more explicitly with the protesters than Warren, who has said she "created much of the intellectual foundation" for the movement -- a statement she has tried to modify in recent weeks.
"We have a reverse Robin Hood where the 1 percent steals all the money and the productivity that the 99 percent produces, and they charge us with class warfare?" DeFranco said. "I'm not taking any guff like that from the Republicans."
State Rep. Tom Conroy, of Wayland, said protesters can't build illegal structures, while lawyer James King said they must follow local laws. Software writer Herb Robinson, of Newton, said public officials should try to work with protesters.
Warren's rhetoric toughened when the questions turned to what the country can do to try to avoid another economic crisis.
Warren, a longtime consumer advocate who helped create the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said that those charged with overseeing the financial industry, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, need to be strengthened.
"We need to insist not only that there be more investigations and, where appropriate, prosecutions but that we have adequately funded the cops on the beat," she said.
Conroy said that law enforcement agencies -- from the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan to attorneys general from across the country -- need to get involved.
"People need to be held accountable," he said.
When asked about the fact that Warren's campaign has drawn national attention and millions of dollars in donations from across the country, Conroy and DeFranco said the final decision on the Democratic nominee will be up to primary voters.
"She's raised a ton of money," Conroy said, but "the ultimate test is defeating Scott Brown."
The candidates also were asked about outside groups running political ads in Massachusetts. Brown, who won the Senate seat after the death of Edward Kennedy, has called for the outside groups to pull their ads, a call that Warren said she was unaware of.
Warren decried what she called "unfair attack ads" but defended the rights of some groups, including environmental groups, to weigh in on the race. Brown has been the target of ads, including some from the League of Conservation Voters.
"There are also outside groups who have something to say about what's going on, who have a real interest," Warren said. "I think a blanket notion that nobody talks except the two candidates is not within the spirit of how democratic elections work."
Brown's campaign called Warren's comments hypocritical.
"It is sad that when given the opportunity to join Scott Brown in asking outside special interest groups on both sides to stay out of the Massachusetts Senate race, Professor Warren refused," Brown campaign manager Jim Barnett said.
Conroy said he opposed negative ads.
"Attack ads bring out the worst," he said. "They don't build trust in government."
All the candidates said they supported more investment in renewable energy and tougher negotiations with China on trade issues.
None defended the state's new casino law.