In a showdown that pitted decades of political experience against a call for new leadership, Rep. Joe Kennedy III went on the attack last night against Sen. Ed Markey. Kennedy is challenging Markey in the Massachusetts Democratic primary in September.
Markey and Kennedy met in Springfield for a debate co-sponsored by WBUR, the night after the protests in Boston sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Kennedy said he's "heartbroken, angry and grieving for the country," and that for communities of color, "there'll be no peace without justice." He suggested that there will be no change for the better without change in Washington.
"This moment requires stronger presence, better judgement and clearer vision than Senator Markey has delivered,"Kennedy said. "And our nation at this moment is in crisis: 100,000 people have died and over 40 million have lost their jobs. Cities around this nation are burning."
While Kennedy said Markey is part of the problem in Washington, Markey instead blamed President Trump for much of what ails America.
"When President Trump says, 'When the looting starts then the shooting starts,' that's the kind of attitude which is leading people all over our country to stand up to fight for justice," Markey said.
At 73, Markey is the state's longest serving member of Congress, first elected to the House of Representatives well before the 39-year-old Kennedy was even born. In the debate Monday, Markey touted his long record of fighting for progressive causes — from stricter fuel standards, to gun control, to financial help for working families during the pandemic. And to Kennedy's charge that it is time for new leadership, Markey pointed to the Green New Deal, which he co-sponsored with New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
"Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said quite clearly that Ed Markey is the generational change which we are waiting for," Markey said. "On that issue of climate change, which is on top of the list of concerns of young people, I have been the leader."
Kennedy gave Markey credit for the Green New Deal, which he also supports, but called it "a resolution that has not passed," and criticized Markey for other votes.
"What did pass: the [vote to approve the] Iraq War," Kennedy said. "And now a generation that was not born on 9/11 is overseas fighting our wars that have cost $6 trillion."
Kennedy said Markey's support for NAFTA cost American jobs; and that his vote for the 1996 crime bill put a generation of African Americans behind bars.
"So, yes, I think it's time for a change," he said.
In all campaigns, a decades-long legislative career like Markey's can be a blessing and a curse, offering lots to brag about, but also some votes to take issue with. And yet Kennedy and Markey agree on most issues: they both support Medicare for all; immigrant rights, gun control, and direct cash payments to American families during the pandemic, to name but a few.
But Kennedy was on the attack last night, and reprised an old perception about Markey: that he spends too little time in Massachusetts.
"I don't think the state can afford absent leadership in the moment that we're in," Kennedy said.
Markey called the charge "absolutely untrue."
"If it [were] true, then all of these mayors wouldn't have endorsed me," Markey said, referring to some 20 elected officials in western Massachusetts who are backing him. "I am there for them. I deliver for them."
Still, Markey was on the defensive for much of the debate — and declined to hit back at Kennedy. But if the race between these two liberal Democrats who see eye-to-eye on most issues represents a difficult choice for many voters, it's not clear if last night's debate offered much help.
WBUR produced the debate in partnership with The Boston Globe, WCVB-TV, the UMass Boston McCormack School and Western Mass News