Democratic rivals offer case for taking Tolman’s Senate seat

Steven Tolman (center) was already at work in his new position, as president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, during an Oct. 13 visit with Occupy Boston protesters in Dewey Square. Steven Tolman (center) was already at work in his new position, as president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, during an Oct. 13 visit with Occupy Boston protesters in Dewey Square. (Josh Reynolds/Associated Press/File)
By Jaclyn Reiss
Globe Correspondent / December 4, 2011
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As the Democratic primary for the special election to replace Steven Tolman in the state Senate draws closer, the four candidates vying for the position are citing investing in jobs and infrastructure, casino development, and education reform as major issues facing legislators.

Tolman, a Brighton resident who was raised in Watertown, resigned from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District seat last month to take the job as president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. The district covers Watertown, Belmont, and parts of Cambridge, as well as precincts in Boston’s Allston-Brighton, Fenway, and Back Bay neighborhoods.

With no Republicans in the race, the winner of the Democratic primary Dec. 13 is expected to be unopposed in the final election. However, other candidates could get on the Jan. 10 ballot by drawing at least 300 write-in votes in their party’s primary.

The four rivals offered their views on a range of issues during a candidates forum last week, and another one is planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Brighton Elks Lodge on Washington Street.

Tolman last week gave his endorsement to retired Watertown firefighter Robert McCarthy, who served for 23 years as president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, and 10 years as vice president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

McCarthy, who said he lives on a firefighter’s pension and, if elected, would give up half his Senate pay to programs helping senior citizens and children, sees protecting and creating jobs as his biggest challenge.

The lifelong Watertown resident also said he supports raising the gas tax to boost state revenues.

“We can create jobs - good jobs, jobs that have benefits, jobs that have a pension, jobs that have health insurance,’’ he said at the candidates forum Tuesday. “One penny in the gas tank generates $25 million to $30 million.’’

The other candidates said they were not surprised by Tolman’s endorsement, since he and McCarthy have strong union ties.

State Representative William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat and former selectman who has worked on Wall Street and as a lawyer, said he has been endorsed by a number of local officials.

Brownsberger, who has been in the Legislature for five years, also said during the forum that he supports an increase in the gas tax, and is pushing for improvements in the education system to ensure “every child is guided into the workplace.’’

State Representative Jonathan Hecht, a Watertown lawyer and former Town Council member, said he has had endorsements from Watertown town councilors, state Representative John Lawn of Watertown, and Cambridge Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis. Hecht said he would like to see the state investing more in infrastructure to create jobs and long-term business growth.

Timothy Schofield, a lawyer who has lived in Brighton for 10 years, has garnered endorsements from the National Association of Social Workers through the state chapter’s political action committee, and several Boston city councilors, including Ayanna Pressley, the top vote-getter in last month’s council election. Schofield said the state should improve the economy by investing in infrastructure, and making corporations pay higher taxes.

Brownsberger, Hecht, and Schofield said they had opposed the state casino proposal that was signed into law last month by Governor Deval Patrick. McCarthy favored casinos, saying they would generate jobs.

Brownsberger said he is worried that the casinos will not create as many jobs as promised, and will fuel social problems.

“We’re taking money out of the economy as people gamble, and we’re doing damage to existing businesses,’’ he said.

Hecht also said he did not support the casino bill because he is concerned about additional government costs associated with increased crime and gambling addiction.

Schofield said now that casinos are in line to become a reality in Massachusetts, he would like to see the state get more revenue from the owners.

“These are big corporations, and they need to pay more in taxes if this is to live up to the economic revenue that was promised,’’ he said.

McCarthy said a casino at the Suffolk Downs race track would mean more jobs and could improve Boston’s image as an international tourism spot.

“It will help build waterways, and add construction. It’s not just blackjack,’’ McCarthy said.

All four have ideas on how to invest in public schools to turn out a well-educated workforce.

“We know our universities are economic engines - we see it with our private universities,’’ Schofield said. “If we invest on the front end in the UMass system, we will get that money back over and over again.’’

Hecht said he wants to keep university costs low, strengthen local community colleges, and provide workforce training classes to help people get jobs.

“It’s critical to provide the opportunity for children from the middle class and working-class families to get ahead and have the skills they need in this economy,’’ Hecht said.

Brownsberger said schools should integrate technology into the classrooms from kindergarten through 12th grade that could help target individual learners’ needs.

“People are realizing we can deliver content to kids differently now with the widespread use of smart phones and computers,’’ he said. “We don’t always have to have a teacher standing in front of a large group, going through the same thing.’’

McCarthy, who said all his children went through public schools and on to state colleges, said that he wants more revenue invested in elementary and secondary education, and opposes teaching a curriculum that is focused on the state MCAS exams.

“It’s just teaching students how to pass a test,’’ he said.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at

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