10th Hampden’s AQCA Debate Team Hunger Force…
SPRINGFIELD—Against the brightly painted enclosed courtyard of Classical Condominiums, the three Democrats seeking the nomination for the 10th Hampden House seat sat facing the crowd seated in stacking chairs. Few in the room probably realized that the last time the seat had a truly competitive race, the courtyard was in use as an auditorium in the still-open Classical High School.
The contrasts that the candidates for the 10th Hampden became clearest at a debate held by the Armoury-Quadrangle Civic Association. Contrasts are apparent one on one, but appearing on stage together, in style and delivery differ considerably.
The 10th Hampden House district hugs the western edge of the city encompassing Ward 1 and parts of Wards 3 and 6. The includes the North End, through Downtown and the South End and parts of Forest Park to the Longmeadow line. Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards, Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce head Carlos Gonzalez and labor activist and social worker Ivette Hernandez are seeking the nomination. With no Republican or independent the primary will effectively decide the election.
AQCA President Carol Costa served as emcee and moderator, but did not need to step in much. She later praised the candidates for staying within their two minute response windows.
At AQCA, Edwards maintained his typically self-effacing demeanor seen in public. Gonzalez was smooth, sticking to his emphasis on experience and details of his platform. Hernandez showed some eagerness to draw a contrast with Gonzalez in particular, while relying on her intention to help working mothers.
Costa began by asking what the candidates’ legislative priorities would be and what committee assignments they would seek. All would pursue seats on the economic development, workforce and public safety committees. Edwards said he wanted to work on building relationships with colleagues in order to ensure the district’s needs are served.
“You can talk about what you want to do, but if you do not have those relationships, you will never get it done,” Edwards said.
Gonzalez called for tougher penalties for crimes against the elderly and reiterated a call for more stipend-financed youth diversion programs. Hernandez said she would like to expand childcare opportunities, adding she would also seek a seat on the Children & Families committee.
The sharpest question of the evening asked the candidates how they would follow and how they would depart from the record of representation of Cheryl Coakley-Rivera. Coakley-Rivera resigned her seat earlier this year to take a job at the Hampden County courthouse.
Hernandez offered the starkest contrast, saying she would maintain Coakley-Rivera’s accessibility, but promised more transparency. Alluding to a perception held among some Latinos that many Hispanic politicians horde available resources for themselves, she said, distribution of state programs “is going to reflect the community and every single neighborhood. It will not be in the hands of the select few.” Hernandez urged voters to hold her to her own standard, “I want people to hold me accountable.”
Edwards largely passed on comparing himself to Coakley-Rivera. Gonzalez, by contrast said he and the woman he wants to succeed did not always agree, but his focus was not on just the district, but strengthening Springfield as a whole. He did, however, call Coakley-Rivera, “the people’s candidate.”
The spectrum of the candidates flowed rather cleanly from conservative to liberal: Gonzalez, Edwards and Hernandez. While reiterating his call for youth programs and calling it a community issue, Gonzalez, answering a question on street violence, declared in the same breath, “Parenting begins a home.” The statement could be interpreted as either innocuous or politically fraught. It came in the context of a broader answer about police being unable to solve violence on their own.
Even in their closing statements, the differences in tone and style were apparent. Gonzalez mentioned his family as one of the reasons why he was running. Edwards kept it safe by agreeing with Hillary Clinton’s quote, “It takes a village” to raise a child and how he himself was exactly that. Hernandez talked up her own biography, namely fleeing domestic violence in Puerto Rico to work her way up the economic food chain with the help of social and education programs.
The audience asked questions too. Gonzalez turned a question on corporate welfare around to individual welfare. He challenged the press to look into the salaries of Department of Transitional Services employees. He called the broader issue of corporate welfare a federal issue, even though the state, too, has policies critics consider welfare for corporations. Hernandez, by contrast, demanded that big companies pay their fair share. Edwards reiterated his desire to reassess how tax credits are utilized.
In another sense, the debate reflected the realities of the race. While wrong to assume the Latino community votes monolithically for their own, Gonzalez and Hernandez have larger footholds among the city’s Hispanics for reasons that run deeper than race. Edwards, too, has some ties via groups like Keep Springfield Beautiful. Still, Edwards’s path to victory does not require a plurality of the Latino vote.
Gonzalez and Hernandez do need that plurality and more. To that end, Hernandez clearly saw Gonzalez as her main opposition and—in her and her supporters’ minds at least—an impediment to progress for the Latino community. For his part Gonzalez largely ignored Hernandez’s jabs and stayed on message.
“If you want a new face, if you want change, you vote for me,” Hernandez said. But just before that she had declared, “If you want the same people in office, if you want the same ones that are willing to do those deals behind closed doors vote for my opponent.” Ostensibly, she was not referring to Edwards.