Markey and Kennedy mix it up in Senate debate
Coronavirus, police violence, and leadership issue dominate face-off
SEN. ED MARKEY and Rep. Joe Kennedy tangled in their first debate since the coronavirus pandemic sidelined their US Senate campaign, with Markey pointing to a long record of accomplishments and Kennedy charging that he’s failed to show the leadership needed in the seat, especially at the moment of crisis now being faced.
The hour-long debate on Monday night focused heavily on COVID-19 and police violence against blacks, two issues that have overshadowed nearly all else in recent months.
Kennedy, a fourth-term congressman who is challenging Markey in the Democratic primary for the US Senate seat he won in 2013, called the anger following the death of black Minneapolis resident George Floyd understandable.
“I’m angry and I’m grieving for our country,” Kennedy said of Floyd’s death one week ago at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. “People are furious and they have every right to be. We want peace but there will be no peace without justice.”
The liberal lawmakers differ little on major issues, but their race has become increasingly acrimonious, with Kennedy charging that Markey has shown “absent leadership.”
“We need stronger leadership in the Senate. This moment requires stronger presence, better judgement, and clearer vision than Sen. Markey has delivered,” Kennedy said.
Markey reeled off a list of things he said he’s delivered since the virus outbreak began, including unemployment benefits for 255,000 gig workers in the state, help for minority businesses, and aid for the state’s fishing industry
“I have led and delivered for the people of Massachusetts since the beginning of my career and throughout this coronavirus pandemic,” Markey said.
Markey turned emotional when talking about his ability to identify with residents who have been thrown out of work by the economic shutdown and are worried about making ends meet. “Look, I’m from Malden. I take the response to this crisis very personally,” he said. “I grew up in a blue-collar family. My father drove a truck for the Hood milk company.” Markey talked about his parents struggling to pay bills, an image that contrasts sharply with the privileged upbringing of his opponent, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and member of one of the country’s most storied political dynasties.
The debate was sponsored by a media consortium and held at the Springfield television studios of Western Mass News.
Markey said he still lives in the same Malden home where he grew up, but WCVB-TV reporter Janet Wu suggested the senator, who has a house in suburban Maryland outside Washington, DC, is not a frequent presence in Massachusetts in between election seasons.
Wu pressed him repeatedly to resolve the issue by releasing travel records since he was elected to the Senate seven years ago, something Markey eventually said he would “work with” her on to provide that information.
Kennedy, 39, enjoyed a significant lead in early polls when he announced his run last fall, but more recent surveys have suggested a tightening of the race. An Emerson College poll in early May had Kennedy up by 16 points. But a University of Massachusetts Lowell survey at the same time had his lead at just 2 points and a Boston Globe poll in early March had Kennedy with a 6 point lead. The difference in both polls was within the margin of error.
Both candidates played to the Western Massachusetts audience by voicing support for efforts to bring high-speed rail connection from Springfield to Boston. Markey touted a $25 billion rail proposal that he sponsored with Rep. Richard Neal of Springfield.
Both candidates also offered support for the idea of reparations for black Americans, but said details of such a plan would have to be worked out.
They both held firm to their support for Medicare for all, despite presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden backing efforts instead to expand coverage by building off the Affordable Care Act.
Asked to point to a recent political mistake, Kennedy said he makes plenty of them, but didn’t come up with an example.
Markey used the question to suggest Republicans can’t be relied on. “My last mistake was thinking Lindsey Graham would stand up for comprehensive immigration reform,” he said, zinging the South Carolina Republican for abandoning his earlier commitment to the issue.
Asked to grade Gov. Charlie Baker’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, Markey said Baker has been working hard, while severely handicapped by President Trump’s poor leadership, but refused to assign him a grade.
Kennedy gave the governor an “incomplete” overall, but on his handling of the outbreak and deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home gave him an “F.”
Painting Markey as part of the longstanding crowd in Congress responsible for current problems, Kennedy said charting a path forward out of the coronavirus crisis will require more than reverting to the pre-pandemic status quo. “We will not do that with the same folks and the same mindset that has brought us the last 50 years, because if there’s a lesson from this crisis it’s that that normal was broken,” he said.
With lots of new ideas being pushed by a younger generation of Democratic officeholders, Markey was asked what he would do over the next six years, if reelected, that he hasn’t done over the last 44 — he served 37 years in the House before being elected to the Senate. The 73-year-old lawmaker quickly seized on his partnership with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 30-year-old freshman with whom he is cosponsoring the Green New Deal.“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said quite clearly that Ed Markey is the generational change which we are waiting for,” he said.