Democratic candidates debate local issues at Town Hall forum
It was a night of accusations and policy proposals as some of the local Democratic candidates running in the upcoming September primary faced off at Town Hall on Tuesday.
Races featured were for state representative and district attorney for Bristol County.
The forum, hosted by DCTV, Dartmouth Week and WBSM, kicked off with the race between challenger Cameron Costa and incumbent Chris Markey to represent the 9th Bristol District in the Massachusetts State House.
Markey began by highlighting many of his achievements during his 12 years in office, notably helping to bring back the South Coast rail, which is expected to begin providing services in late 2023.
He also touted state investments in education and offshore wind in the region.
“If this were a State of the District, I would say we are a strong district” Markey said.
Costa has never held a public office, although he argued he is far from a political newcomer.
The 20-year-old challenger noted that he’s had some experience lobbying on behalf of workers as a trustee of his union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93 Local 72.
Throughout the night, the two gave their perspectives on a variety of issues including rising inflation and ways the state can help fund many projects affecting Dartmouth.
One such issue was upgrading the Padanaram Bridge, something local officials have called for over many years. Such improvements are expected to cost $24 million.
If elected, Costa said he would look to sponsor infrastructure legislation that would provide some funding to make the necessary repairs.
While a bill could be passed, Markey noted that this would need approval via bond appropriations from the governor’s office. He said while he will continue to fight for the fixes, it will ultimately require an administration that supports such a project.
“We become less [prioritized] because of where the nature of the road is,” Markey said.
The two also agreed on a number of issues, most notably that the scope of the cleanup of toxic soil in Dartmouth’s Bliss Corner neighborhood needs to be expanded.
Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is cleaning up five of the most toxic sites, but state and federal agencies have found that soil around 20 Bliss Corner properties was well above the federal lead level.
“It’s going to be more than 20 houses, [there’s] no doubt about that,” Markey said.
Responsibility over future cleanup is currently a subject of dispute between the town and the state, something both candidates hope to resolve in order to restore the neighborhood.
To achieve this, Markey said it will require deliberate talks with all parties to ensure the taxpayer does not feel the full brunt of the cleanup cost.
“Trying to determine who is the responsible party is very difficult,” he said. “Under the law — the responsible party would end up paying for all that.”
Costa agreed with his opponent, but also suggested the formation of an oversight commission to determine who is liable to cover the cost as quickly as possible.
“We need to do more and expedite this cleanup process at Bliss Corner,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re talking about people’s homes.”
Meanwhile, things were less agreeable between challenger Shannon McMahon and incumbent Thomas Quinn III in the district attorney debate.
Quinn said McMahon’s campaign had a “lack of substance” and a “lack of understanding of the role and duties of a district attorney.”
“This is an individual with very limited experience,” Quinn said. “She said she’s been here 19 years, which is simply not true.”
The incumbent added that McMahon’s candidacy is one of “revenge” after she resigned from the D.A. 's office in 2016 as a result of an alleged domestic violence incident she was accused of committing.
“Now people make mistakes, but that conduct is clearly disturbing,” Quinn said.
According to McMahon the incident stemmed from her husband's health, as he was on medication for a malignant brain tumor that can affect behavior. The two also had alcohol that night and had an argument that turned physical.
Charges were dropped after a month.
“This is [my opponent] using a personal trauma — a personal family trauma — for political gain,” she said. “That says something about his character.”
Accusations continued throughout the proceedings, as the two candidates for top prosecutor in the county traded barbs on all issues such as the expansion of outreach programming, how to reduce repeat offenders, and police accountability.
While the two agreed that police should be charged in any cases of wrongdoing, McMahon said that Quinn “likes to cover up for the police.” She alleged this was notably the case following the death of Anthony Harden, a Fall River man who was accused of trying to stab an officer in the neck last November.
According to Quinn, officers were justified in their use of force.
“He tried to murder a police officer,” he said.
Quinn added that officers have been held accountable in the past and “we’ll continue to do so if there is wrongdoing.”
Though emotions were high, the two candidates shook hands to cap off the debate.
The Democratic Party primary will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Early voting in Dartmouth will be held from Saturday Aug. 27 through Friday, Sept 2. The deadline to register to vote is Aug. 27.
A full replay of the Candidates Forum discussion can be found attached to this story or on the DCTV YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=blLFD8XALE8.