BOSTON — Voters in the 5th Congressional District are heading to the polls this week to decide the latest in a string of special elections in Massachusetts.
The race pits Democratic state Sen. Katherine Clark of Melrose against Republican Frank Addivinola, a Boston attorney. Both won their respective party primaries in October.
The victor will fill the seat left vacant by Edward Markey, who resigned after winning a special election to fill John Kerry’s U.S. Senate seat. Kerry had stepped down to become secretary of state.
Clark and Addivinola have staked out very different ground in what has been a low-profile contest at a time when many voters have turned their attention to holiday preparations.
Clark said her priorities include pay equity for women, ending gun-related violence and supporting Social Security and early education. Clark has also voted for an increase in the state minimum wage from $8 to $11 over three years, tying future raises to inflation.
“What we’re talking about is really trying to get Congress back to work for middle-class families,” Clark said. “That’s the economic lens that I’ve been looking at these issues through.”
Addivinola, who described himself as a “small government kind of candidate,” said that he’s also interested in helping families but that the best way to do that is to help turn around a stagnant economy.
He said a lack of leadership in Washington has helped fuel unemployment and underemployment, which in turn is helping stall a recovery. He said what businesses most need is a stable regulatory environment and less interference.
“New employees become local consumers, which stimulates the local economy,” he said.
President Barack Obama’s health care law is one of many topics where the two disagree.
Addivinola said health care changes are best left to individual states, pointing in part to Massachusetts’ landmark 2006 health care law.
“The role of the government should be minimal,” said Addivinola, who believes health care plans should accept customers regardless of pre-existing conditions, an element of the federal law.
Clark called the federal initiative “a law of historical significance” and said that while it’s been frustrating to watch the website problems, the goal of insuring tens of millions of Americans is critical.
Clark said she hoped the health care law could lead to a “public option” that would allow states to sell insurance in competition with private plans and eventually to a so-called single payer system, which would effectively guarantee health coverage for everyone.
On social issues, the two candidates also hold very different positions.
Addivinola describes himself as “pro-life” and feels states should have greater leeway to limit or expand access to abortion.
“I am into human rights, and I feel that the unborn fetus is entitled to protection,” Addivinola said.
He said gay couples should have access to tax benefits available to married couples, but he is not a proponent of gay marriage and is “a believer in the strength of the family for procreation.”
Clark backs gay marriage and access to abortion and criticized what she said are the actions of “a group of extremists in the House focused on attacking women’s rights.”
Both candidates said they were skeptical about a recent deal with Iran. Under the agreement, Iran would freeze parts of its nuclear program in return for relief from Western sanctions while both sides try to negotiate a final settlement.
Addivinola called the deal “a tragic mistake” that would allow Iran to continue their nuclear program.
Clark said she was skeptical but also hopeful the agreement will start the process of ending Iran’s capability of developing nuclear weapons.
On the question of immigration, Addivinola said he doesn’t support mass deportation of the millions of immigrants in the country illegally but believes the country should enforce its immigration policies.
Clark said she supports a bill passed by the U.S. Senate this year calling for a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million immigrants already living illegally in the country.
Clark, 50, a lawyer and former public interest attorney, was first elected to the Legislature in 2008 and served seven years on the Melrose School Committee.
Addivinola, 53, writes and publishes medical school admission prep books and also teaches introduction to law at Northeastern University while completing a doctoral degree in law. He grew up in Malden but lives in Boston.
Two other candidates are on the ballot – Wellesley resident James Aulenti and Arlington resident James Hall.
Massachusetts currently has an all-Democratic congressional delegation.
The winner of Tuesday’s election will face re-election next year.