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The subject matter of Tuesday's forum — issues affecting people with disabilities — forced four of the candidates running for governor this fall to discuss topics they normally wouldn't think about elsewhere.
WBUR's Bob Oakes, who moderated the discussion, asked the independent candidate, state Treasurer Tim Cahill, whether he would stop cities and towns from using bricks when they make buildings accessible to wheelchairs.
"Brick sidewalks and brick ramps can actually send shocks up and down a disabled person's spine, as that person is rolling across them in a wheelchair," Oakes said.
"That had not come to my attention before just now," Cahill said. "Obviously, it's not something that I have to worry about as an able-bodied person, but absolutely, if that is an issue that seems like on the forefront of folks who are in wheelchairs, then we would mandate that that not be allowed to continue."
"Raise your voice or raise your hand if you think this governor can do better right now," Oakes said. About half the room, including Patrick, raised their hands.
Cahill mentioned that he has his blind sister. He also took advantage of the forum to respond to ads by the Republican Governors Association accusing him of spending $1 million to refurbish the Lottery headquarters. He said much of the money was spent to make the building accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Cahill's larger message that it would be easier to create opportunities for the disabled by expanding the economy didn't seem to go over that well.
The audience gave Gov. Deval Patrick a much warmer response — in fact, the warmest by far. He used the pulpit to remind them that he's the guy people go to with their problems, and that he cares about what they think.
"Over the past four years, I've seen or heard from just about everybody in this room, I think," Patrick said to laughter. "At the State House, you know what I'm talking about, at the State House, out and about in communities, rallying, generally making your presence felt, and I want to thank you for that."
Still, the event was also an opportunity for Patrick's constituents to remind him of his low approval rating. Oakes asked the audience to rate the governor's job performance.
"Raise your voice or raise your hand if you think this governor can do better right now," Oakes said.
About half the room, including Patrick, raised their hands.
Some polls have Jill Stein, the Green-Rainbow Party candidate, taking enough votes on the governor's left to make her a potential spoiler for him this fall. Stein seemed uncomfortable on stage. But at one point, she did connect with the audience.
"Moving to a Medicare-for-all or a single-payer system really is the answer," Stein said, when the isssue of high medical costs came up. "It preserves choice so that you not only choose your doctor, but you and your doctor then choose your treatments; you're not told what you can and can't have," she said to applause.
Republican candidate Charles Baker was still trying to find his voice on the campaign stage. His message was that he's the guy who can save taxpayers money without cutting needed services. He came off as the bright guy full of policy talk, but had a hard time making a personal connection with the audience.
Oakes asked Baker, "The state budget cuts that threaten dental services — would you make sure that didn't happen?"
"Yes," Baker said to applause. "It bothers me every single day that stuff like that gets cut."
Baker spent much of the time looking at Oakes, and not the audience, as he answered his questions. But six months from the election, there's plenty of time to connect with the voters.
This program aired on May 19, 2010.
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