NEEDHAM, Mass. — Heated clashes, some of a markedly personal tone, characterized the latest debate in the 6th Congressional District race between Democratic U.S. Rep. John Tierney and Republican challenger Richard Tisei.
The Republican accused the seven-term incumbent Democrat of being dishonest with voters about what he knew of an illegal offshore gambling ring run by two brothers-in-law. Tierney shot back that Tisei was employing smear tactics and had sold out to tea party extremists.
The candidates raised their voices and talked over each other on several occasions during the 30-minute exchange at WCVB-TV on Thursday. The debate will air in its entirety on Sunday.
Tierney’s wife was sentenced to 30 days in prison last year after pleading guilty to helping file false tax returns for one of her brothers, a fugitive from justice. Another brother was sentenced to three years in federal prison for his role in the offshore gambling ring, which operated from Antigua.
Tierney has not been implicated in the case and has said he didn’t know the gambling operation was illegal.
“I didn’t know what was going on with my brothers-in-law,” he said in response to a question on whether voters should trust his judgment.
Tisei claimed Tierney was aware of the nature of the operation all along and his family even benefited from “dirty money” from the ring that Tierney did not pay taxes on or report in his federal financial disclosure forms.
“He hasn’t been honest with the voters,” Tisei said.
“This is a tactic known as plant and smear,” Tierney responded. “Not a scintilla of what was just said was true or accurate.”
The Salem Democrat also tried to turn the tables by noting that Tisei, a former state senator from Lynnfield, did not pay federal taxes in 2006 and 2008 despite drawing a state salary and owning income properties and a vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard.
Tisei, who owns a real estate brokerage, said he lost money on his business those years because of the housing bust and called Tierney’s suggestion that he was dodging tax payments “a bunch of bunk.”
Tisei is widely viewed as the GOP’s best hope this year for cracking the state’s all-Democratic U.S. House delegation. No Republican has won a House election in Massachusetts since 1994.
The race has attracted attention from political activists nationally. According to Federal Election Commission records, independent groups not directly affiliated with either campaign have poured more than $4.5 million into the race, with Tisei the beneficiary of about three-quarters of the independent expenditures.
The money has fueled TV attack ads on both sides, including ads tying Tierney to the illegal gambling ring and others suggesting Tisei is aligned with the tea party.
“It’s all these right wingers that are coming in, and they have an agenda,” Tierney said.
But Tisei, who has positioned himself as a moderate, pro-choice Republican, told Tierney that trying to tie him to the tea party was “nonsense.”