Democratic Candidates Vying To Replace Markey Try To Distinguish Themselves From The Pack

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5th Congressional District Democratic candidates, from left: Will Brownsberger, Katherine Clark, Peter Koutoujian, Carl Sciortino and Karen Spilka (Campaign photos)
5th Congressional District Democratic candidates, from left: Will Brownsberger, Katherine Clark, Peter Koutoujian, Carl Sciortino and Karen Spilka (Campaign photos)

Five of the seven Democratic candidates vying to fill the U.S. House seat in the 5th Congressional District that once belonged to Sen. Ed Markey will continue to try to distinguish themselves from the pack when they debate Tuesday night.

But their similarities are hard to ignore. They all have experience serving the Massachusetts Legislature, and at a recent farmer's market in Medford, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian talked about that experience.

"I've got 14 years in the Legislature, having done some major pieces of legislation on domestic violence, sexual assault, school nutrition," Koutoujian explained. "I did the health reform act here in Massachusetts, which is the model for the nation, and I was the first one to start on gun violence. Back in 1998, I made my maiden speech on the issue of the assault weapons ban here in Massachusetts. It's something that's always been a priority to me, something I want to carry into Washington as well."

Turnout for this race is expected to be low, so a campaign's get-out-the-vote effort will be crucial. Koutoujian has hired Chelsie Ouellette — who worked on campaigns for Gov. Deval Patrick, President Obama and Markey — to run his field organization.

But state Rep. Carl Sciortino, of Medford, has won the endorsement of two organizations whose members could make a difference for him at the grassroots level: Progressive Massachusetts and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

In 2012, this liberal district gave Obama his second-biggest margin of victory in the state, second only to Rep. Mike Capuano's Somerville-based district.

And Sciortino is playing to that liberal tradition in the most talked-about event of the campaign so far: a TV ad that plays on the fact that he's gay. In it, he recalls having to "come out" as a Massachusetts liberal to his father, who is in the Tea Party.

There has been no independent polling of the race by any professional pollsters, so it's hard to know who's ahead.

The biggest endorsement in the race so far has come from Emily's List, which provides financial support to Democratic women who favor legalized abortion. The organization chose state Sen. Katherine Clark, of Melrose, over state Sen. Karen Spilka, of Ashland. Emily's List did not respond to requests to explain its endorsement or what it is doing to help Clark.

Clark outlined some of her priorities with about 20 people who came to have coffee with her recently at a community center in Southborough.

"It's really about making sure that women are paid equal pay for equal work, that we look at our minimum wage and make sure we're paying a minimum wage that people can raise a family on," Clark said. "It's about making sure that we protect Social Security and Medicare. When we look at our federal budget, and how some of the cuts that have been proposed start with our seniors and our veterans, it seems very upside-down to me."

The 5th district's 24 cities and towns snake north of Boston from Southborough to Winthrop and Revere. That's where a group of laborers gathered recently to knock on doors for Spilka.

Unions have rallied behind Spilka. The flyer they are distributing shows two hands holding a funnel going into a car's engine oil intake.

"I do a lot of my own car work," Spilka explained. "I called an arbitrator that I haven't seen in almost 30 years and he said, 'Yeah, Karen, it's great talking to you. The one thing that's funny that I remember about you, you used to do your own car work, didn't you?' And I said yes. This was still when I was in law school."

Some of the other campaigns believe that because this is such a liberal district, state Sen. William Brownsberger, of Belmont, could suffer. He is the only one to differ with some of the other Democrats on several issues. He opposed a resolution calling for the overturning of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows corporations to spend money on candidates' behalf. But he says he does support reducing the influence of money in politics by ending secret contributions.

At the Belmont-Arlington football game last week, Brownsberger explained his support for the proposed Keystone pipeline.

"We need to reduce our carbon consumption," Brownsberger said. "That's what it's all really about and so I think that's my focus as a policymaker, and I think it's sort of regionally divisive to pick on projects in other parts of the country. That's not really going to change how much oil we're burning."

Unlike his opponents, Brownsberger has come to the defense of Obama's proposal to reform the way Social Security is indexed to inflation.

Two other Democrats are also running: Martin Long, a former Lexington School Committee member, and Paul John Maisano, of Stoneham. The Democrat who wins next Tuesday's primary will face one of three Republicans: Tom Tierney, Frank Addivinola or Michael Stopa.

This program aired on October 8, 2013.

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



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