The Enterprise of Brockton
Tempers flare at mayoral debate
By Kyle Alspach
ENTERPRISE STAFF WRITER
BROCKTON — In their only debate before the preliminary election, the two mayoral chal lengers on Thursday ac cused Mayor James Har rington of being an elusive and ineffective leader.
Harrington, in turn, charged candidates Jass Stewart and Gayle Kelley with lacking the experi ence needed for the job.
But Stewart, a political newcomer who lost to Harrington in the 2005 election, argued that the mayor's experience hasn't helped the city.
"What I see is a city where crime is up, where unemployment is up, where foreclosures are out of control," Stewart said Thursday night during the debate at the Brock ton Community Access studio. "If that's the kind of experience this mayor is bringing to the table, we can do without that."
Dozens of supporters for the candidates hollered and cheered near the studio before the start of the debate, prompting a spate of honking from passing drivers.
It was the only debate leading up to the Sept. 18 preliminary election, which will knock out one of the contenders.
The three candidates sought to distinguish themselves in a 90- minute affair that grew heated at times.
After Stewart claimed that an organization couldn't get its calls re turned from Harrington, the mayor lashed out.
"It's easy for you to take a shot like that," Harrington said to Stew art. "It's all that sound- bite rumor thing that you do all the time."
At other points, both Stewart and Kelley ac cused the mayor of being inaccessible to the public.
"The majority of people can't get in to see you. Calls aren't returned," Kelley said.
Stewart went further, saying there has been a "total sense of neglect" by Harrington of the mayor's position.
Harrington is serving his first term as mayor and spent 16 years on the City Council. During the debate, he repeatedly crit icized his challengers for having never served in po litical office.
"If you have a situation where you're short $3 mil lion, you've got to make a decision," Harrington said. "Those are the kinds of decisions I'm suggest ing that it's very difficult to do without experience."
On the issue of crime, Harrington argued that it's others that need to take more responsibility. Brockton has seen 11 peo ple, including three teenagers, killed this year.
Harrington said he re cently addressed a group of Cape Verdean residents on the issue.
"One person stood up and said to me, 'Well, why is it a Cape Verdean prob lem?'" he recalled. "I said, 'Because your kids are killing each other, that's why.'"
Later, the mayor said he does not think crime is the biggest problem in the city. Rather, the biggest problem is the "percep tion" that Brockton is not a safe city, which he blamed on media reports.
The reports make some young people think they can get "15 minutes of fame" by committing vio lent acts, according to Harrington.
Stewart sought to paint himself as a fresh face in Brockton who would bring a departure from the "politics of fa voritism," which he said have plagued the city un der Harrington's leader ship. Stewart is founder and president of a design company, Invent Media, and a senior executive at the educational non-profit The Big Picture Compa ny.
If elected, he would make history in two ways, becoming the first mayor who is a minority and the first mayor who is openly gay.
Kelley, meanwhile, said she boasts experience with diverse populations as cultural affairs director in Brockton. She defended her record of overseeing a deficit-plagued city con cert by the B-52s in 2004, saying that ultimately "it cost the taxpayers no money."
If elected, she would become Brockton's first fe male mayor.
On the issue of whether to allow a natu ral gas-fired power plant to be built in Brockton, on ly Harrington said he was open to the possibility. The mayor said he might support the project if it is deemed "environmentally safe for Brockton."
Kelley argued that power plants aren't the type of business the city should be embracing, and Stewart said the industry is quickly becoming obso lete.
"The whole notion of burning fossil fuels is a thing of the past," he said.
Thursday's debate was sponsored by The Enter prise, Brockton Commu nity Access, WXRB radio and the professionals group Emerging40. The candidates pledged to take part in more debates before the final election in November.
In 2005, Harrington won the mayor's job with 56 percent of the vote, while Stewart captured 44 percent.
Kyle Alspach can be reached at kalspach@enter prisenews.com.