NorthCoast Congressional candidates clash at Woodward HS debate
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Toledo, Feb. 24, 2012: The last in a series of debates before the March primary proved to be the most contentious, as three candidates hashed it out for the right to represent the newly-redrawn Ninth Congressional district, which stretches along the north-coast of Lake Erie from Toledo to the western edge of Cleveland.
Two long-time congressional colleagues squared off against each other and a third newcomer at Woodward High School Friday night in a televised debate. Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, and Graham Veysey each tried to convince voters why they are the right Democratic choice in the upcoming March primary.
Incumbent Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur labeled herself “the jobs Democrat” in her opening remarks and told the televised audience that she is the “only candidate who actually lives in the district” and referred to her opponents as “visitors.”
In his opening statement, Kucinich made a play for the minority vote by pointing out February as Black History Month and making an indirect reference to the DREAM Act, which he supports and Ms. Kaptur voted against.
“We need to remember that the whole civil rights movement is about striving upwards, not just for collective advancement, but that individuals can break free from cultural restraints, and be anything they want to be in this country,” he said. “But the country has to have the ability to create the structures to make it possible for people to have the education that they desire.”
Veysey repeatedly used the term “fresh” to describe his candidacy. He also called the March primary a referendum on Congress, which he stated is “broken.”
“We need a fresh face with a fresh alternative bringing fresh ideas,” he said. At a Cleveland debate, he had previously referred to Kaptur as Congresswoman Status and Kucinich as Congressman Quo. He had called both “Creatures of Congress.”
Supporters of each candidate were scattered throughout the auditorium, some visibly supporting their favorite by wearing T-shirts or buttons. A handful of Latinos sat in the audience wearing bright yellow “Viva Kucinich” shirts. About 150 people attended in person.
Kucinich demanded an apology from Ms. Kaptur for an ad her campaign is running in the Cleveland area, which accuses him of voting against $42 million worth of new manufacturing jobs, as well as rejected spending for veterans and seniors. A political watchdog group called the ad “misleading.”
Ms. Kaptur defended the ad, saying her Congressional colleague has “to claim responsibility for where he voted no.”
“Those are the facts, those are the votes, and we stand behind them,” said Ms. Kaptur to loud applause.
Kucinich called it “an issue of character if you’re not willing to admit your mistakes.”
“That was a mistake at the best and a lie at the worst,” he said about the campaign ad.
“This is an example of two career politicians who have been incumbents for a combined 70 years,” Veysey said. “They’re more interested in scoring political points than finding policy solutions. They’ve lost touch with reality and this whole squabble is an example of that.”
13-ABC anchor Diane Larson served as moderator. The panel of journalists asking questions included her WTVG colleagues Lee Conklin and Bill Hormann, as well as Toledo Blade political reporter Tom Troy.
Other topics at the debate included the federal deficit, the troubled Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, religion-based health care insurance providers being forced to provide their employees contraception, health-care reform in general, poverty, and education.
“I will watch them like a hawk,” said Kucinich of the management at the nuclear power station. He had previously called for the nuclear power plant to be shut down.
Ms. Kaptur called her opponents “Johnny-come-lately” to the fight to keep Davis-Besse safe.
The debate, at times, reached metaphorical terms. Veysey talked about “climbing mountains” as a political newcomer against the veteran Congressman. Kucinich mentioned “slaying the dragons” of war, a reference to his opposition of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ms. Kaptur emphasized her number two role on the powerful Appropriations Committee, so that she can continue to bring federal dollars back to the district through legislation such as Great Lakes restoration. Kucinich countered that since there are no more Congressional earmarks, her role on that committee doesn’t matter anymore.
“The fact is no matter what committees you sit on and no matter how many years you’ve been in Congress, we’re still in this fiscal crisis,” said Veysey. “That’s the reality check.”
The recent announcement that the federal postal sorting center in Toledo will close became a topic of debate as well. That proposed closure will cost more than 350 people their jobs.
Veysey has labeled his opponents the “one-two poverty punch.” He mentioned speaking to voters in one of the poorest census tracts in North Toledo over the past week. He called for a “two-prong approach” to breaking the cycle of poverty, including improved early childhood development.
Ms. Kaptur vehemently defended her record fighting poverty, especially in the North Toledo area surrounding Woodward High School, which she labeled “the Bush Street neighborhood.” She rattled off a long list of federally-assisted efforts to help impoverished residents there.
“I’ve spent my life trying to rebuild this community and I intend to keep on doing that,” she said with force.
“Quit wasting money on wars,” Kucinich said, noting those federal funds could be redirected to help poverty-stricken communities like Toledo and Cleveland.
Some of the questions were submitted by viewers via Facebook. One dealt with rising gas prices and their positions on the construction of the Keystone Pipeline that was recently rejected by President Obama.
Ms. Kaptur and Kucinich each referred to each other as “my friend,” but their exchanges over the war in Iraq and Afghanistan became very tense. It was pointed out that none of the bills sponsored or introduced by either member of the House have become law in a Republican-controlled Congress.
Woodward principal Emilio Ramirez stated he was pleased the newly-constructed high school could serve as a community showcase for the debate.
“We’ve been open for 14 months, this is our second year in the building,” Ramirez said. “It’s good to bring publicity and bring the community in here.”
Woodward High School government students served as greeters at the debate. Some of those students were seated in the audience as a homework assignment. Some of their teachers accompanied them.
“Our kids are in the audience to be more active and hear what’s going on in America,” noted Ramirez. “It’s good for us, good for the kids.”
To see how your Rep voted, go to: http://politics.nytimes.com/congress/votes/111/house/2/625