A Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll released earlier this week showed 64 percent of Massachusetts voters are undecided in their pick for state treasurer in the Democratic primary.
Political analysts say that statistic is not exceptionally unusual for a down-ballot race. But, in a forum at Stonehill College in Easton Thursday evening, the trio of Democrats vying to become the state's next treasurer tried to offer voters a compelling reason to pay attention.
"One of the things I've found on the campaign trail — a lot of people don't really know exactly what the treasurer does," said Tom Conroy, a state representative from Wayland.
Conroy said if elected, he would strive to raise the profile of the position so people would know the treasurer's vast responsibilities, which include overseeing the Massachusetts School Building Authority and the state Lottery.
Conroy, like his opponents, is also keen to improve basic financial knowledge among residents.
"We need financial literacy as part of our high school curriculum," he said. "It's not now, I want to get that done."
All three candidates have praised the performance of current state treasurer and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman. They all also oppose casinos and expanded gaming in the state.
Barry Finegold, a state senator from Andover, expressed particular concern for so-called Gateway communities.
"Best case scenario if we have three casinos and a racetrack, we might make anywhere from $400 to $600 million," Finegold said. "Only 25 percent of that is dedicated to local communities. So, for lack of a better expression and a terrible pun, to me, it's a bad bet for Massachusetts."
Deb Goldberg, the former chair of the Brookline Board of Selectmen who ran for lieutenant governor in 2006, was in agreement and said she had "several concerns" about casinos.
"I think we need to examine the games that appeal to addictive behaviors, and determine whether the human ills are worth those games," she said.
The Suffolk/Herald poll showed Goldberg holds a 12-point lead over Finegold, her closest challenger. [Update: A new Boston Globe poll finds Finegold with a slight lead over Goldberg.] In addition to her opposition to casinos, Goldberg is keen to create a state-owned public bank that could provide funding for infrastructure projects and local economies.
The one-hour forum included moments of animated debate, but by far the most visibly tense situation came when the candidates were asked whether personal finances should be scrutinized when running for the treasurer's office.
A recent media report indicated that Goldberg sits on the board of a family-run foundation that lost millions of dollars in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The State House News Service said the anonymous tip was provided by a rival campaign.
"This is unfounded," Goldberg said. "I had no responsibility for investment. Prudent family charitable foundations hire outside investment managers."
Goldberg insisted she never personally handled any of the investment decisions and accused her critics of taking a cheap shot at her just days before the election.
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