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Mass. Gov. Candidates Debate Mosque, Student Test

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Gov. Deval Patrick recalled Thursday being harassed by police officers as he walked through Milton to buy candy and soda as a teenager, saying it buttressed a belief in racial tolerance and religious freedom that extends to supporting the construction of a mosque near ground zero.

In the second Massachusetts gubernatorial debate of the week, Republican Charles Baker and independent candidate Timothy Cahill disagreed with the Democratic governor. They said the area in New York around the focus of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is sacred and cannot run the risk of becoming a rallying ground for extremist Muslims.

"I don't want to put them through what I went through," Patrick said of mainstream Muslims, after recalling his experiences as a black, 14-year-old transplant from Chicago's rough South Side to the tony grounds of Milton Academy. He said he was stopped regularly by Milton police - "sometimes with lights on" - as he walked to a convenience store in a community where blacks were then rare.

The governor later said the officers wanted to know what he was doing in the neighborhood and requested identification, a demand he could not satisfy until he got a school ID card as a sophomore or junior. He attended Milton from 1970 to 1974.

"It was a very different time in those days; Milton's a very different town today," said the governor, who still lives in the community. "But my point is that for a 14-, 15-, 16-year-old, who was in the right place at the right time, it was humiliating. I wouldn't want to put anybody else through that."

Milton Police Chief Richard Wells said that there are no records of any such run-ins but that "policing has evolved to a much different process today." He added: "Clearly the governor has chosen to live here, and I think that echoes a sentiment that he obviously has an affinity for the community and the quality of life here."

Baker said that with the "raw emotion" of Sept. 11 still lingering, all parties have to be flexible. He said building the community center and mosque in New York will contribute to building anti-Muslim anger sparked by continued terrorist attacks or attempts.

Cahill previously criticized Patrick for meeting with 1,000 Massachusetts Muslim leaders, accusing the governor of "pandering" by pledging to urge employers to allow practitioners of Islam to leave work early on Friday nights so they could pray.

Cahill noted Jews begin the Sabbath on Friday nights, yet most do not get dismissed from work early to attend services.

Asked about Cahill's pandering accusation, Patrick responded: "I think it's a very unfortunate comment. It's something I'm sorry about. I think that Tim is better than that comment."

On another topic, Baker grew animated and began yelling as he complained about the Patrick administration's decision to swap the state's own school curriculum standards for the so-called national "Common Core" standards pushed by the Obama administration.

Baker said it would lead to abandonment of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test, or MCAS, which has been credited with raising the academic performance of Massachusetts high school students since a 1993 education overhaul.

"Calm down, Charlie. Calm down," Cahill said.

Baker replied: "I'm not going to calm down on this one; this is about the figure of the kids of Massachusetts. And this is, in some respects, one of the most important issues we face as a state. And I think on this one, we are making a terrible mistake."

Patrick denied the MCAS would be abandoned, prompting Baker to say, "I'll let the fact-checkers figure that one out."

The state's application for $250 million in White House "Race to the Top" funding awarded last month endorses a new assessment test being developed by a group of states. "In four years, we will be prepared to administer this assessment in place of our current state assessments in those subjects," the application said.

At another point, the application states the new test will "replace MCAS in 2015."

Yet the governor said Massachusetts does not have to adopt the new test if it does not meet or exceed the MCAS.

"The bottom line here is that we control our destiny and are beholden to nobody," Patrick spokesman Alex Goldstein said. "We have agreed to nothing more than to help develop the national test so that it can be modeled on MCAS."

The fourth person in the race, Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein, was excluded from the hourlong debate on WTKK-FM amid low poll numbers and lagging fundraising.

Stein is joining the other candidates next week for another live, televised debate. The general election is on Nov. 2.

This program aired on September 16, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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