Markey, Kennedy in low brow debate

Two candidates seemingly have very little to say

SEN. ED MARKEY and US Rep. Joe Kennedy III engaged in a lackluster, low-brow televised debate Tuesday night that showcased how little the two politicians have to say.

That became apparent when the two candidates were asked a tough question by WCVB-TV’s Janet Wu about whether children across Massachusetts should return to classrooms this fall. Were teacher unions correct in saying all schools should open remotely this fall because of concerns about COVID-19? Or did the candidates agree with Gov. Charlie Baker, who has argued that the overwhelming number of communities with relatively low COVID-19 infection rates should send their children back to school for in-person learning?

Markey took the first crack at the question. “This decision should be totally made by the science. It shouldn’t be a date, it should be the data that determines whether the schools open,” he said.

But then Markey took a detour from the question to criticize Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and once again plug his pursuit of $4 billion he is seeking in Congress for internet services for children stuck at home.

Wu tried to get Markey back on track, asking whether he sided with the teacher unions or Baker.

“Until there’s a guarantee that these schools are safe, then we should err on the side of safety,” Markey said, referring to “mini-pandemics” that have broken out at schools in other states.

Wu concluded Markey was siding with the teacher unions.

Kennedy started his answer by framing the question correctly. “This is the biggest issue across Massachusetts today,” he said. “I’ve got a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. This is literally a conversation I have with my wife every day and we don’t know. We don’t know what to do.”

Kennedy said some schools are opening and others are staying closed, even though the COVID-19 numbers in the communities where the schools are located are not that different. He said parents are concerned about how they can go back to work if their kids don’t return to school. At the same time, he said, no one wants to send their kids to school if it puts their health at risk. Still, he said, no one wants their kids to fall behind.

“So the biggest piece here is that the federal government has to provide additional resources to help these kids and help our families,” he said. “I’m not sure saying it’s one or the other is an adequate representation of what those families are confronting and what needs to happen. We need additional resources and that’s got to come from the federal government.”

Wu pointed out that there are no additional federal resources on the way right now, so what did Kennedy think the state should do? Kennedy vaguely said communities should make their own decisions but families should have flexibility.

He then veered off on a tangent, recounting a phone conversation he had with a teacher in Townsend who he said has tried for 10 years to get the internet to her home. “She was told to buy the telephone poles so that she could get broadband to her house,” he said.

Kennedy scored some political points by highlighting how Markey provided little or no help when two fathers from Massachusetts came looking for help – one sought justice when his black son was shot by a white cop in New York state and the other wanted help retrieving two sons who had been whisked away to Egypt by his ex-wife.

Kennedy said his very personal and active response to the two fathers is a key distinction between him and Markey. He belittled Markey’s claim that signing on to two letters drafted by Kennedy’s office seeking justice for the boy killed by a police officer was sufficient.

“It’s not,” Kennedy said, “not when you lose a son. The fact that a United States senator somehow thinks this is enough is emblematic of why we need change.”

Markey, as he did in the previous debate, produced the two letters he and Kennedy sent to the Justice Department seeking an investigation. “We did our job,” he said.

Despite all the time devoted to the issue, Kennedy pointed out that he has had no luck yet in winning justice for either of the fathers.

Lastly, the two candidates got into yet another debate about PAC money. Markey repeatedly asked Kennedy to tell his brother and his father to stop supporting a PAC running negative ads about him.

Kennedy said the only reason PACs are in the race at all is because Markey refused early on in the campaign to sign a pledge to ban them. Markey refused to do so because he wanted the money his progressive PAC backers could provide.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

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.

As the two traded barbs with each other, Bob Oakes of WBUR asked why the two candidates who agree on most issues had gone so negative during the campaign. They each responded by accusing the other of going negative first.

Oakes asked Markey whether he owed Democratic voters an apology “for this sideshow.” Markey placed the blame with Kennedy. Oakes then asked Kennedy if he was ready to apologize to Democrats for “the way this campaign has been run.” Kennedy, however, blamed Markey for initiating the negative tone of the campaign.