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Sen. Markey, Rep. Kennedy Spar In Latest Debate

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Screen capture by WAMC
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   Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ed Markey and his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, sparred in a televised debate Monday night. 

    In what was by far the feistiest of their three debates so far, the incumbent came out swinging.

    "Congressman Kennedy is a progressive in name only," stated Markey.

     During the debate produced at the studios of WPRI-TV in Providence, R.I., Markey faulted Kennedy for being slow to endorse Medicare-for-All and for not mentioning the issue of climate change when he delivered the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address.

   He also criticized Kennedy’s early career decision out of law school to go to work as a prosecutor for a Republican district attorney.

"He could have worked for anyone," said Markey. "He decided to go and work for a right wing Republican who opposes the kind of progressive changes that we are looking for."

  Kennedy fired back. He pointed to Markey’s vote in Congress in 1994 for a crime bill that included mandatory minimum prison sentences and Markey’s initial opposition, in the 1970s, to busing to desegregate the Boston public schools.

   "The laws and the structures that have come down  as a boot on the neck of communities of color were not an accident," said Kennedy.  "You might be known for some things in your time in office, senator, racial justice and criminal justice is not one of them."

   Despite the rhetorical back-and-forth, Markey and Kennedy agreed on many issues including abolishing debts for college students, extending unemployment benefits to undocumented immigrants who have worked and paid taxes, and eliminating the Electoral College.

Markey again highlighted his co-sponsorship of the Green Neal Deal, the ambitious climate change legislation that Kennedy said he also supports.

Both candidates called for police reforms, but stopped short of endorsing calls to defund police departments.

"We need a rebalancing of the budget between policing and health care and education and other opportunites," said Markey.

In reponse Kennedy said, "We have to totally reform the way we police in this country and that does mean going to our budgets and reallocating those budgets and making sure we fund not just the mechanism necessary for keeping people safe but mental and behavoral health services."

The marquee race between Markey, 73, who has served in Congress for decades, and Kennedy, 39, a member of the state’s most storied political family, has been overshadowed.  First, by the impeachment debate, then the pandemic, and now the widespread massive protests over racism and police brutality.

Polling has shown a tight contest.  Kennedy has had an edge in fundraising.  His campaign reported more than $6.2 million on hand at the end of March, compared with $4.4 million for Markey.

An environmental group has started spending money on campaign ads supporting Markey, Kennedy Monday night urged outside groups not to spend on his behalf.

"I've told them not to spend it," said Kennedy. " I don't want it. I don't need it. I told them to donate that money to Black Lives Matter."

Kennedy has called for a so-called “People’s Pledge” to keep outside money from the race. Markey, who supported a People’s Pledge when he first ran for the Senate in 2013, has demurred this time.

"Environmentalists, LGBTQ, womens groups, labor groups all seeking to participate and have their voices heard in this election cycle -- and so from my perspective if they want to speak, they should be allowed to speak, " said Markey.

The primary is on September 1st.

There are two people running for the Republican nomination. Kevin O’Connor, an attorney, and Shiva Ayyadurai, an entrepreneur who ran as an independent in 2018 against Senator Elizabeth Warren.

( Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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