DANVERS — Selectman Dan Bennett, the Republican challenger for the 13th Essex District seat, butted heads yesterday with Democratic state Rep. Ted Speliotis over state aid, homeless families living in motels, Beacon Hill ethics and other topics in an often testy exchange during an editorial board meeting at The Salem News.
Bennett launched the first attack, and stayed on the attack, even when Speliotis declined to criticize, or even discuss, his opponent.
The two men are running in the only contested state representative race on the North Shore, a result of Bennett’s last-minute sticker campaign to get his name on the ballot during the Republican primary last month. It is also a rematch of two years ago, when Bennett challenged Speliotis unsuccessfully.
Bennett opened the discussion by criticizing Speliotis for taking too much credit for the increase in local aid to Danvers, and the newspaper because a chart showing local aid numbers didn’t go back far enough. Had it included fiscal 2009, before the state made deep cuts to local aid, it would have shown that the town still has less local aid than it did then, Bennett said.
“Ted, do you remember the local aid to Danvers in 2009?” Bennett asked.
“I do,” Speliotis said.
“And,” Bennett replied.
“What do you want me to say? It’s your minutes,” Speliotis said. “You do what you want to do, and (then) I’ll talk.”
That tenor continued through the hourlong meeting.
“If Ted wants to take credit for the 26 percent increase in this year’s local aid,” Bennett said, “he should take responsibility for the decrease back in 2009 and 2010.”
“Now you said something I can respond to,” Speliotis replied, recalling a past selectmen’s meeting when Bennett and others criticized state lawmakers for cuts to local aid.
“It was unabashed,” Speliotis said of the criticism, “and people refused to acknowledge we were in the worst economic times of our lives. ... The vast majority of state income is based on two revenue sources, income and sales taxes.” Those two collapsed during the recession, he said.