In an appearance on WGBH-TV's Greater Boston on Monday night, the four Democratic candidates for Senate sparred over a sweep of issues. Among them: health care, terrorism and how to create jobs.
Martha Coakley was the first candidate in the hot seat. Greater Boston host Emily Rooney asked Coakley, a Catholic, if caution played into her decision as attorney general not to prosecute convicted child molester and defrocked priest John Geoghan back in 1995.
“We didn’t have charges that would have identified him as a sexual offender, but we went to the mat to make sure that we kept him away from kids,” Coakley said.
“So you weren’t intimidated by the church?” Rooney asked.
“Absolutely not,” Coakley replied. “No.”
The church had a long internal file of complaints against Geoghan. At least two other organizations knew about additional accusations — the Boston Police and the state Department of Social Services had investigated another complaint in the 1980s.
When WBUR asked her about this following the Senate forum, Coakley said she never learned of this information when considering the case against Geoghan.
“We didn’t know that and there was no way for us to know that even from the church or from Boston,” Coakley said, adding, “that would have also been irrelevant to these charges. What was most important and what we accomplished was taking Father Geoghan out of commission.”
Coakley settled the case against Geoghan for a year probation instead of staging a criminal trial. During the televised forum, Coakley’s opponents did not criticize her for that decision. But the sparks flew between two other candidates.
Congressman Michael Capuano accused businessman Stephen Pagluica of being misleading in a TV ad that says Pagliuca is the only guaranteed vote for universal health care.
Video: Watch the Senate candidates on Greater Boston
“You can buy ads and misrepresent me all you want,” Capuano said to Pagliuca. “Here you can’t. Here’s what I’ve said: When the final bill is done, I will read it and I will make my decision then. As we sit right now, the provision you seem to be most focused on is already taken care of in the Senate bill."
"I haven’t heard any of you talk about the Senate bill that allows a public option with an opt out," Capuano added. "How do you feel about that? Because that is more troubling to me.”
The Senate bill would give states the ability to opt out of a government insurance plan. Pagliuca accused Capuano of “obfuscating the issue.”
“Obfuscating the issue?” Capuano retorted. “That is the key issue.”
“The key issue is getting all Americans covered,” Pagliuca said.
“The key issue is having this work,” Capuano fired back.
None of the other candidates said what they thought of the opt-out provision, but Coakley took a dig at Pagliuca for saying he’d support a health care bill in any form.
“I think there was never any need to surrender any woman’s right to choose in order the get a compromise,” Coakley said.
“Look Martha,” Pagluica said, “I’m pro choice, that’s clear.”
“Apparently not,” Coakley countered.
There was a shift in tone when the questions turned to how to respond to terrorism. All the candidates agreed it’s OK to try the accused Sept. 11 planners in a civil court in New York City. When asked whether CIA officers should be prosecuted for waterboarding, Capuano said he hopes they aren’t used as scapegoats because they were following an order.
“It appears as though it came directly from the vice president of the United States,” Capuano said, “and if it’s the case then he should be prosecuted.”
None of the other candidates commented on that suggestion. To fight terrorism, City Year co-founder Alan Khazei said he would create a new institution.
“We created NATO after WWII and it worked, we won, the Soviet Union is gone,” he said. “We need a new international version of NATO to fight counterterrorism — that is the No. 1 threat now.”
Khazei, who ranks last in the polls, said he believes he has a shot at the Senate seat. He says those polls only reflect name recognition. He points out that in the latest survey, 50 percent of likely voters are undecided.
This program aired on November 24, 2009.