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The party nominees for the Massachusetts 10th Congressional District seat clashed Thursday in their first debate, with Democrat William Keating accusing Republican Jeff Perry of failing to protect two teenagers when he was a police officer and Perry calling Keating a "political opportunist."
In the sharpest exchange of the half-hour debate, Keating, the Norfolk District Attorney, pointed to a 1991 incident where a Wareham officer under Perry's supervision pleaded guilty to indecent assault after illegally strip-searching two teenage girls. Perry, now a state representative, was never charged in the incident.
"If you can't protect two teenage girls, how can you protect the interests of this district in Congress?" Keating asked.
Perry said he was never charged or disciplined. He said Keating was trying to dodge more important issues in the campaign by resorting to "the same old tired Washington, D.C.-type of mudslinging."
But Keating said the incident revealed Perry's lack of judgment.
"Don't threaten me the way you threatened those girls to be quiet," Keating said during the WCVB-TV taping of the debate. "Those girls were five steps away, screaming, and you did nothing."
Perry shot back, labeling Keating a "political opportunist" who only began renting a house in Quincy, which is part of the 10th District, shortly before announcing his candidacy.
"You are a politician," Perry said. "You move into a district to run in an open seat because you don't want to run in the seat that you currently reside in against a fellow Democrat."
Perry also tried to cast Keating a "lockstep Democrat" who would be beholden to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama if elected.
The race is being closely monitored by Republicans who see it as their best chance to pick up a seat in Congress in Massachusetts. Whoever wins will succeed Democrat Rep. William Delahunt, who is not seeking re-election.
The debate is set to air Sunday on WCVB-TV.
Asked how they would vote on the Question 3 ballot issue that would lower the state sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, Keating said he would vote against it because it goes too far.
Perry said he would vote in favor of the question, but backs the position of GOP state treasurer candidate Karyn Polito, who says she'll vote for the question, then urge lawmakers to hike the tax back to 5 percent.
Perry said he would also favor raising the tax from 3 percent to 5 percent if the question is approved, but only after lawmakers make a good faith effort to cut as deeply as possible without hitting core state services like public safety and public health.
On another ballot question that would once again exempt alcohol sold in stores from the state sales tax, Perry said he backs the repeal. Keating said he would support it only if the state does not need that revenue source.
Asked about whether this week's shooting of five people in Boston's Mattapan neighborhood shows the need for tougher gun control measures, Keating said he believes the country needs to tighten its gun laws.
Perry said legitimate gun owners shouldn't be punished because of the acts of criminals.
"I don't believe we need more laws," he said. "I believe we need more resources to enforce the laws we have."
On the abortion issue, Keating said he supports the current laws. Perry said he is opposed to abortions, including third trimester abortions. He said he also opposes any public funding for the procedure.
Perry said he would vote to maintain the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy if a current study of the policy supports it, while Keating said the policy discriminates against gay members of the military.
This program aired on September 30, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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