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Dems Debate in 5th District

This article is more than 13 years old.

There's a fierce race to replace Martin Meehan in the US Congress.

With just three weeks to go until the primary, voters in the 5th Congressional District got a chance to watch the five Democratic candidates in a pre-taped debate that was televised last night. WBUR's Fred Thys reports.


FRED THYS: This is first time since 9/11 that there is an open Congressional seat in Massachusetts. The primary race has attracted five Democratic candidates. The debate was probably to be best chance for each of the candidates to make an impression on voters, because it's likely to be the most watched event in the race for the open seat in the 5th Congressional district. The district stretches from Haverhill in the Northeast to Lancaster in the West and Wayland in the South.

The candidates began by addressing the war in Iraq. State Representative James Miceli is from Wilmington, outside the district, but under the U.S. Constitution, candidates for Congress may live anywhere in the state they want to represent. Miceli is positioning himself as the conservative in the race. He defended the war.

JAMES MICELI: We went in there, got rid of a dictator that made life miserable for the people who lived there, and the problem that we've had there as far as the insurgents are concerned is controlling some of the outside forces.

THYS: Alone in the race, State Representative Barry Finegold, of Andover, supports U.S. Senator Joseph Biden's plan to split Iraq into three parts, like Bosnia-Herzegovina.

BARRY FINEGOLD: The surge is not working. We need to go in a different direction. That's why I support Senator Biden's three-state solution that I think would lead to peace in that region.

THYS: State Representative Jamie Eldridge, of Acton, has tried to set himself apart by calling himself the progressive in this race. He accused President Bush of lying to Congress and the public about his reasons for launching the war.

JAMIE ELDRIDGE: And we have a situation where the public is ahead of the politicians on ending this war, so I think we need to withdraw immediately. In terms of what we owe the Iraqi people, let's remember we killed tens of thousands of civilians, Iraqi civilians, as part of this unilateral invasion. It was probably, perhaps, the most irresponsible act in United States history.

THYS: As he has done in previous forums, Eldridge took on Niki Tsongas, the widow of former U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas, and the perceived front-runner in the race, in an attempt to distinguish himself.

ELDRIDGE: Niki and I happen to disagree. She is a supporter of NAFTA. I'm someone who disagrees with it.

THYS: Tsongas pointed out that NAFTA is a done deal, but added that she's learned since that in future trade agreements, she would like to put in place environmental and workplace standards. When Eldridge criticized the Democratic Congress for failing to impose those kinds of standards, and for failing to end the war and to take stronger measures to end corruption, Tsongas came to the Democrats' defense.

NIKI TSONGAS: Jamie takes fault with the Democrats in Congress. I take fault with the Bush administration.

THYS: Lowell's former mayor, now city councilor Eileen Donoghue, proposed legalizing the status of millions of undocumented immigrants, and criticized Republicans for calling that amnesty.

EILEEN DONOGHUE: We're going to know who is in our country, where they were, make them productive members of society, take'em out of the shadows. Doing nothing, that's what we have right now, when Congress failed to reach an agreement on that bill, is de facto amnesty.

THYS: Donoghue and the other candidates have an uphill struggle in getting voters to pay attention to the primary race, because the primary comes the day after Labor Day, which is when voters usually start thinking about elections.CANDIDATES FOR THE 5TH




KURT HAYES (Independent)

JIM MICELI (Democrat)

PATRICK MURPHY (Independent)

JIM OGONOWSKI (Republican)

KEVIN THOMPSON (Constitution)

TOM TIERNEY (Republican)


This program aired on August 14, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.


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