, Salem, MA

February 28, 2013

Rep candidates field questions in forum

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — Four candidates hoping to fill the seat left vacant by the death of state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis made introductions in front of a crowd at the Brooksby Village retirement community yesterday.

Anyone hoping to hear bold stands on the issues, however, had to sift carefully through the presentations. Most of the conversation concerned biographies.

Republican candidate Leah Cole spoke first and did highlight opposition to $2 billion in new taxes proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick. She addressed her age — 24 — by invoking work as a nurse.

“If I can be trusted on an acute care floor,” she reasoned, she could be trusted to deal with taxes.

Her GOP opponent in the March 5 primary, Greg Bunn, outlined his long service in state government, moving from the position of social worker to managing the North Shore Career Center.

“My goal,” he said, “is to help individuals get back in the workforce.”

Bunn noted that with 1,700 Peabody residents out of work, the business climate should be improved.

Democrat Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, an attorney and school board member, stressed her work on behalf of the schools and her close relationship with Spiliotis, whom she cited as a mentor and model for what she wants to do on Beacon Hill.

“I want to be sure that Peabody is represented and heard,” she said.

City Councilor and former school board member David Gravel is unenrolled but plans to caucus with the Democrats. He described starting in a job at the state Department of Education before moving into the private sector and eventually forming his own company with 22 full-time employees nearly 20 years ago.

He signaled the audience that seniors’ “biggest need — that nobody ever recognizes — is for dignity.”

The winner of the March 5 primary, either Cole or Bunn, will engage Gravel and Griffin Dunne in a three-way contest on April 2, a special election set by the Legislature. Gravel noted the difficulty of getting people to focus on an election in April. Thus, organization is likely to be a key to winning.

Candidates at the forum did not address each other directly, and the event lacked anything that could be construed as an attack.

Questions from the audience brought a little information about the candidates’ positions, however, particularly one asking where they would get the money to accomplish the things they want done.

Gravel pointed to inefficiencies in government that might produce revenue, adding, “You don’t want a tax increase if you don’t feel the money is being used wisely and properly.”

Answering a question about the homeless, Bunn urged government to “make sure we’re funding the most important programs.” He decried $37 million spent “on tax credits for Hollywood last year.” He urged bringing a halt to “spending money on things we don’t need.”

Griffin Dunne responded to the same query on homelessness, telling the questioner, “I would be willing to serve as a voice for your cause.”

Citing work she’s done with homeless U.S. Navy vets — her husband is a reservist who has served in Iraq — she said, “This is the United States of America, and no one should be living in a cardboard box or sleeping under a bridge.”

Cole lamented recent reports of letters to welfare recipients that have come back to the state unopened. The benefits cards, however, continue to be distributed.

“This money is being wasted,” she said, giving a figure of $91 million as the cost. “There’s something wrong up there,” she said of Beacon Hill.

Both Gravel and Griffin Dunne have long experience in Peabody politics, while the two Republicans are relative newcomers. Cole, with the shortest résumé, was given 15 minutes to speak but took less than five. Bunn was slightly more long-winded, and Griffin Dunne talked still longer. Gravel spoke until the 15 minutes ran out and an alarm went off.