2 revealing exchanges in Kennedy-Markey debate

One dealt with DJ Henry, the other with negative campaign ads

FOR TWO CANDIDATES who are perceived to be in sync on most issues, Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy III couldn’t seem to agree on much of anything during a televised debate Tuesday night.

The two went after each other aggressively from the opening question. Markey played up his legislative record, the many bills he has filed that have become laws, and his association with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Green New Deal.

Kennedy played up his youth (he mentioned the 74-year-old Markey’s 44 years in office while referring to his two young children, ages 2 and 4), his passion, and his belief that the job of a senator is more than filing bills and getting laws passed.

During the hour-long debate on WBZ-TV hosted by Jon Keller, there were two revealing exchanges where Kennedy seemed to gain the upper hand.

The first dealt with the claim by Danroy Henry Sr. of Easton that Markey was dismissive and did nothing to help him and his wife after the slaying of their son, Danroy “DJ” Henry, in upstate New York by a white police officer. Kennedy pounded away at the senator for failing to respond to the family on a personal level and instead fixating on signing on to a joint letter to the attorney general.

Here is the exchange:

Kennedy: This is important, A mom and dad came to you to ask for justice for their murdered son. They came to you as a US senator, someone in a position of power who they thought could help them to rectify what happened to their slain young boy. And when they came to you to ask for your help you did nothing. The only thing you did months later was sign on to a letter that my office put together. I’ve stood by that family through thick and thin year after year, pushing on the Department of Justice, pushing on authorities in New York, doing everything we possibly can, and continue to this day. So it’s great you talk about the things you might have done or the bills you might have passed but …

Markey: The Henry family deserves justice. I can’t fathom the pain which the Henry family must feel for the loss of a child. The pain is unimaginable. But what Congressman Kennedy is saying is just not true. I have two letters right here [he opened them on camera] that Congressman Kennedy and I wrote in 2014 to Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States, to ask for the opening of the case to provide justice for the Henry family. In May of 2014, we wrote to Eric Holder. In December of 2014, with Elizabeth Warren, we also wrote to make sure that there would be an opening of this case. When Congressman Kennedy says I did nothing, he knows that’s not true. He knows it is a falsehood because back then I stood with him to fight to make sure that this case was opened.

Kennedy: Let’s get this very clear. It’s not my words that said you did nothing. It’s Mr. Henry’s words that said you did nothing. You signed a letter, senator, that my office put together after months of trying to get you on that letter. Now it’s great that you signed it, but for those out there who are wondering what the difference is between myself and Sen. Markey, this is literally it. When I say there is more to this job than the bills that you file and the votes that you cast, this is it. I pushed on the Obama administration. I pushed on the authorities in New York. I pushed in Washington, DC. We filed legislation. I met repeatedly with the family. I attended their benefit every year – almost every year – that they started in honor of their son to provide scholarships for underprivileged kids.

Markey: It is just not true what Congressman Kennedy is saying. I have a letter with his signature next to mine. Not one letter, two letters. Right next to each other, our names, asking Eric Holder of the Justice Department to open an investigation. So when he says I did nothing, he knows it’s not true. He knows it’s a falsehood. He keeps making a false accusation that I did nothing. He keeps repeating it, knowing that this is completely and totally not true. The evidence is right here. The letters are right here and we acted together as partners and that was right that we should do so. But to say I didn’t partner with him is just absolutely untrue. It is a misrepresentation. It’s a falsehood. And he should just stop saying it.

Kennedy: For every parent out there, if you believe your son was murdered, your young boy was murdered by a police officer, and you cane to a United States senator and asked for their help and the response that you got was months later to sign a letter, I ask if you think that that is sufficient. I don’t. Apparently, Sen. Markey does.

Markey: It is not one letter. It is two letters and our staffs worked together in drafting the language in those letters. So, again, what he’s saying is not true. What he’s saying is a misrepresentation. And I just think absolutely he should stop it because otherwise these signatures of myself and him and Elizabeth Warren on these letters is absolutely something that he is disrespecting in terms of the partnership we created to help get justice for the Henry family.

The other exchange that got very personal came when Markey attacked Kennedy in connection with a super PAC backing Kennedy that is running negative ads about Markey. Kennedy blamed Markey for the entrance of super PACs into the race and also criticized some unnamed Markey supporters for suggesting Lee Harvey Oswald shot the wrong Kennedy. (Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy.)

Here is the exchange:

Markey: Right now there is a super PAC run by the congressman’s twin brother running negative ads against me all day long every single day. And there are media reports that his father, his father, may be providing funding for that super PAC. Again, that funding could be coming from some of the fossil fuel money that his father raised as a congressman. He’s using that money, right now, to attack me. My queston is this: Is your father funding that super PAC that is attacking me right now?

Kennedy: No clue. No idea. And senator, let’s be very clear about this. The only reason why there is a super PAC in this race, the only one, is because you would not stay good to your word. You signed a pledge back in 2013 to keep super PACs out. Shannon Liss-Riordan and I came to you and asked you to do the same thing [during this election]. She and I signed that pledge. You refused to. There have been negative ads, digital ads put forward by your campaign, for a long time. Your campaign, your super PAC, is funded by a telecom billionaire, a private equity billionaire, and one of the folks that funded Mitt Romney’s super PAC when he ran for president. You have taken more money from the telecom industry than any living member of Congress. So if we want to talk about campaign finance reform, I asked you multiple times to keep this money out. You said no.

Markey: Here’s the difference. This super PAC is running relentless negative ads. I have challenged the congressman to say that if any super PAC gets in that it only be positive and that it be disclosed money. Right now, the congressman, with all these relentless ads coming, he is saying I have no idea if my father is providing the funding for all of these negative ads being run….I’m sure your father is watching right now. Tell your father right now you don’t want money to go into a super PAC that runs negative ads. Just tell your twin brother and tell your father you don’t want any money to be spent on negative ads in Massachusetts in 2020 in the era of Donald Trump.

Kennedy: I’ve said that multiple times.

Markey: Have you told your father that?

Kennedy: I’ve said that publicly many times.

Markey: Have you said it to your father?

Kennedy: Publicly.

Markey: Tell your father you don’t want the money spent on negative ads.

Kennedy again tried to explain how Markey’s failure to sign a pledge keeping super PAC money out of the campaign led to this situation, but Markey insisted his campaign is people-powered while Kennedy’s is fossil-fuel funded.

The fossil fuel mention appeared to be a reference to Citizens Energy, a company set up by Kennedy’s father that used money from its commercial ventures and donations to purchase low-cost heating oil on behalf of families in Massachusetts. Citizens Energy has since branched into renewable energy.

Kennedy then shifted gears, going on the offensive. Here is that exchange:

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About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Kennedy: Your campaign supporters have put out tweets and have bullied my supporters, have put out tweets saying that Lee Harvey got the wrong Kennedy. Where is Lee Harvey Oswald? And not a word coming from you. Not a word. So cut the negative complaining. Not a word from you or your campaign.

Markey: I obviously would not at any time accept anyone saying that about your family. No one affiliated with my campaign would ever say anything like that. I say to you that that is just something that is just completely unacceptable and should not be in politics.