Election Day nearing, Healey, Patrick face off

by Beacon Staff • October 18, 2006

With Election Day less than three weeks away, issues being debated in the state gubernatorial race that could seriously impact Emerson students may be overshadowed by an advertising war between Kerry Healey and Deval Patrick, their campaigns and their supporters.

Hot-button topics such as MBTA fare increases and the preservation of gay marriage in Massachusetts have been central in the debate between the two front-runners, but a slew of mud-slinging political ads have pushed many issues to the mainstream media's backburner.

One of the most heated rounds of sparring has centered on the two candidates' stances on public safety.

The issue came to the fore when The Boston Globe reported Democratic nominee Patrick donated $5,000 to fund a DNA test for convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1983.

The DNA test further implicated his guilt. Patrick stopped advocating on his behalf afterward.

After the LaGuer revelation, Republican nominee Healey launched an ad campaign accusing Patrick of being soft on crime, sparking a rebuttal from Patrick's campaign and charges of unethical campaigning from across the political spectrum.

Emily Wright, a sophomore print journalism major and intern in the office of State Representative Demetrius Atsalis, the vice chairman of Massachusetts' Committee on Election Laws, said she was upset by the tactics employed by the candidates.

"I was angry that Kerry Healey had that attack ad ready to go right after the fact," Wright said. "I don't like dirty politics."

Green-Rainbow Party nominee Grace Ross criticized both front-runner candidates.

"I think 'Tough on Crime, Soft on Crime' is just posturing rather than addressing the real issues like youths killing each other, which I think is a very serious issue," Ross said in a telephone interview last week. "Patrick needs to take a principled stand on this issue instead of more posturing. He needs to say, 'This is what happened, these are the facts, this is my history, and let's move on.'"

Patrick has proposed a "comprehensive public safety strategy," according to a recent report appearing in The Globe. The plan calls for 1,000 new police officers throughout the state, at a cost of $85 million, as well as tougher gun control policy and post-release inmate monitoring.

Healey, meanwhile, also advocates increased released inmate monitoring, but most of the crime proposals among the 50 policy positions enumerated on her Web site focus on using stricter sentencing, including the death penalty, to deter crime rather than preventative measures.

Healey has been endorsed by the State Police Association of Massachusetts as the "tough on crime" candidate, while four law-enforcement organizations and three Massachusetts attorney's organizations have recently backed Patrick's candidacy.

With that issue taking the big headlines in recent weeks, problems affecting many college students have quietly slipped into the background.

For example, students relying on the T for transportation are facing a significant impending rate increase slated for January.

They are also facing a variety of responses to the issue coming from the candidates.

"The T assumed their own debt assuming that income from the 1 percent sales tax increase would increase based on projections, which it didn't," Ross said. "The T-fare increase is essentially a regressive tax."

Ross said the state should help the MBTA pay back its debt and keep fares low, while Patrick similarly calls for "public subsidization" of public transit, which translates into a tax increase. Healey said the MBTA should pay back the debt it has incurred on its own, which would, in effect, increase fares.

Independent candidate Christy Mihos, a former member of the MBTA Board of Directors, advocates using federal money earmarked for the Big Dig for other projects now being undertaken by the MBTA.

Gay marriage has received less attention in debates and advertisements, but each candidate has a different stance on this divisive issue that sparked massive political action from Emerson students and organizations before the 2004 court decision that made Massachusetts the first state in the country to allow same-sex unions.

Andrea Wheeler, a sophomore organizational and political communication major and field organizer for MassEquality, a coalition of marriage equality advocacy groups, said her organization and the Human Rights Campaign, a national marriage equality group, both endorsed Deval Patrick after his primary victory.

"He's one of the best candidates in a long time on [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] issues," said Wheeler, who also serves as co-president of Emerson's Alliance for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone.

Healey has campaigned in support of civil unions, while Christy Mihos supports a ballot question in 2008 letting voters decide whether or not to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

MassEquality opposes both positions as they would nullify rights already enjoyed by gay couples, Wheeler said.

College students in Boston-except those at the city's University of Massachusetts campus in Dorchester-should not expect the next governor of Massachusetts to help them pay for higher education next year.

Making education affordable for public universities and colleges has become a major issue in Massachusetts' gubernatorial campaigns, but even in-state students at private Massachusetts colleges have been largely ignored by the candidates.

Healey, during an August interview with Commonwealth Magazine, did propose incentives for students studying in fields "that would lead to filling jobs in specific industries that have a deficit of employees."

She was referring specifically, unfortunately for Emerson students, to nursing, engineering and related fields.