BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Last night’s mayoral debate at the Cove Community Center was like a football game where all the action comes in the last two minutes.
At the end of a tame hour-long question-and-answer session, Mike Cahill delivered a blistering rebuttal to a piece of campaign literature sent out by opponent Wes Slate this week, calling it “character assassination.”
In the mailer, Slate criticized Cahill’s work ethic as City Council president in 2010 and 2011, charging that Cahill failed to prepare for meetings, arrived late and left early for committee work, and seemed to be “distracted and not engaged.”
The mailer also accused Cahill of having one of the worst attendance records of any legislator during his 10 years as Beverly’s state representative.
Slate, the current Ward 2 city councilor, did not repeat any of those criticisms during last night’s debate, which was attended by about 100 people. In fact, in his closing statement, Slate tossed out a light remark saying that his son, who played youth soccer for Cahill, considered him “the best soccer coach he’s ever had.”
Cahill did not smile at the remark. He then brought up the campaign mailer in his closing statement, starting off by saying it amounted to “character assassination.”
Cahill said he worked his way through college and law school and has “worked incredibly hard to make Beverly a better place for over 30 years.”
Cahill said he brought home “tens of millions of dollars” to Beverly as state representative for elementary school building projects, open space protection, special education costs, and road repairs.
He said his voting record as a state representative was 95 percent, citing numbers provided by Beacon Hill Roll Call.
In his two years as City Council president, Cahill said, he “led the effort” to adopt the local meals tax, revitalize lower Rantoul Street, implement consolidation of city and school services, and balance two budgets.
“Yet my opponent attacks my work ethic with vague opinions of what I may have been thinking while representing you as your City Council president,” he said in prepared remarks.
At the end of his closing statement, Cahill turned to Slate and said, “I have worked hard and accomplished much in my efforts to help make Beverly a better place to live. I ask my opponent to respect that, and I invite him to join me as we get back to talking about the issues facing our great community.”
The two candidates then shook hands. Since Slate had already made his closing remarks, Cahill had the last word.
The bulk of the debate featured the candidates answering questions that were submitted in advance by residents. There was little if any disagreement on the issues.
Both candidates said they favor the Brimbal Avenue interchange project; would seek appropriate development to pay for city services; would oppose a Proposition 21/2 override; want to upgrade the city’s computer system; and want to improve the downtown and the waterfront.
Slate said he is often asked why he would give up his City Council seat to take on a “tough opponent” like Cahill, who nearly beat Mayor Bill Scanlon two years ago and topped Slate by more than 1,000 votes in last month’s preliminary election.
“I believe I’m prepared to do the job,” Slate said. “I understand city government and I know the people who work in it. I’ve developed a reputation as someone who gets work done and pays attention.”
The event, sponsored by the Beverly Cove Improvement Association, also included question-and-answer sessions with councilor at-large candidates Paul Guanci, Todd Murphy, Todd Rotondo, Matt St. Hilaire and Jason Silva, as well as one with Ward 4 City Council candidates Scott Houseman and John Mullady.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.