18th Middlesex Debate – August 19, 2014

This past Tuesday, the KhmerPost USA, the city’s Cambodian language newspaper, hosted a debate of the five Democratic candidates (Brian Donovan, Jim Leary, Rady Mom, Dave Ouellette and Paul Ratha Yem).  It was televised live on Lowell Cable TV and is now available on the LTC website.  I’ve watched a replay and took the following notes on what was said by the candidates:

Opening Statements

Brian Donovan: Retired 18 months ago as a manager at Fidelity Investments. He sees state rep position as an opportunity to give back to the city.  In every neighborhood people raise the same issues.  They want good jobs, they want to be safe.  Violence and improving education are his priorities.

Jim Leary: Is running because his experience in business and as a member of the school committee would allow him to contribute on Beacon Hill.  Lowell schools greatly benefit from state funding and he wants that to continue.  Would like to change state to a two year budget cycle rather than one year.

Rady Mom: Came to US as refugee 20 years ago.  Owns a business in Lowell.  Is product of Lowell public schools.  Where he came from there was little opportunity.  He appreciates what we have here in the greatest country in the world.

David Ouellette: Five years ago in response to shootings in the Acre, the police chief said the city needed someone to be vocal on behalf of the neighborhood.  Dave created ACTION, an Acre neighborhood group.  Their first project was to renovate the amphitheater on the North Common.  Also mentions getting a landlord to install surveillance cameras in a dangerous area which made it safer.

Paul Ratha-Yem: Came to America as a young man in the 1970s.  Came to Lowell from Boston area in 1989.  Immigration – family reunification – is a big issue for many residents of the district.  Back in the 1980s, he worked with public safety organizations as a member of the gang task force.  He also was the executive director of the Cambodian American League of Lowell.  They renovated the Garnick’s Building successfully.

Questions 1: Is Lowell a safe city? What would you do as a state rep to make it safer?

Leary: It’s a safe city but there are challenges that must be addressed.  I would try to increase state funding for a state rep.  Says he used to run every night through the neighborhood and felt very safe.  But now there’s fireworks and shootings late at night.  The neighbors have to assist law enforcement. We can’t simply rely on the police.  I would be a voice in the neighborhood working with the city.  I would also get the schools involved.

Mom: Earlier in my life I had to dodge bullets; I don’t want my children to have to do the same.  It’s a safe city but there are problems.  Violence is not just about guns.  It’s about education, families, housing.  The police are doing their best.  Because I speak a different language, I can better connect and help many of the citizens.

Ouellette: Safety is a big issue. One night while I was sleeping two gunshots were fired into the house across from me.  I talked to the police but also to code enforcement.  We have to make better use of our code department.  I’m the senior sanitary code enforcement officer for Lowell and I’ve seen what we can accomplish when we work together with the police.  This can give instant relief to the neighborhood.  We have to teach children that drug dealers are not their friends.

Yem: I feel safe in Lowell.  Chief Taylor has statistics that show that crime is down.  If I’m elected I will help promote community policing which creates a dialogue between the police and the community.  In my past work, I’ve shown the ability to bring everyone together to solve problems.  Chief Taylor has said his dream is to have a police force that better reflects the community.  I could help do that.

Donovan: The police are doing a great job and the council is supporting them.  I think violent crime is on the rise.  It’s easy to say it’s a safe city if it’s not in your neighborhood. Violence is the result primarily of gang issues.  We need to have a gang unit. As a state rep I’ll work to get funding for gang units.  We have to make sure the courts enforce the laws on the books, like Rita Mercier urged the city to write to the judges at the district court asking them to enforce the laws.

Question 2 – How would you engage members of the Asian community as a state representative?

Mom:  As a small business owner I know what a struggle it is.  I’m a former refugee; I speak the language.  I can definitely connect with Asian-owned businesses.

Ouellette: I’m good friends with the Asian Business Association of the Merrimack Valley.  I’ve spoken to them about some of the details of opening businesses and being successful.

Yem: I have much experience promoting small businesses in the Asian community especially when I worked for Lowell Institution for Savings in the 1980s and as ED of Cambodian American League of Lowell.  I’m currently the secretary of Cambodian Town, an organization that promotes Cambodian businesses in the Highlands.

Donovan: I would work with the Cambodian community to help them expand beyond their present locations to other places in the city.  I would help get small business grants from the state.

Leary:  There’s great opportunity here.  I would find out what current businesses need to succeed.  Next I would discover what the consumers actually want from businesses.  We should also link Cambodia Town to the JAM Plan.

Questions 3:  Market Basket

Ouellette: There’s a big Market Basket in the Acre.  It’s impacted everyone’s life because most people who live there don’t have cars so they can’t go elsewhere.  I was there with a lady with a WIC coupon but she couldn’t find any products to buy.  A big Lowell company like Notini’s is also being harmed.  The leaders of Market Basket have to come to the table and work this out.  Market Basket provided great food that wasn’t otherwise available.

Yem:  The state legislature must address this because it affects everyone.  Governor Patrick made a mistake by not getting involved earlier.  If I was the state rep, I would try to convince the family to negotiate a settlement for everyone’s benefit.

Donovan: It’s a significant impact for those in the Acre.  Same on Wood Street.  I support the people and Artie T.  This is a matter of greed.  The governor waited too long to get involved so now he owns it and it’s up to him to get it resolved.

Leary:  It’s not just the Market Baskets; it’s affected all the other stores too.  The governor should have stepped in earlier.  But I think everyone is surprised that the employees did what they did without union representation.  We learn from this.  In the future, government officials will be more pro-active and get involved sooner.

Mom: I worked at the Dummer St store in 1984.  With 20,000 people out of work this is a huge economic issue.  I support Artie T but ask the whole DeMoulas family to come together for the good of the community.

Question 4:  How can young people obtain college education without going deeply into debt?

Yem:  This is very important issue for low and moderate income families.  We must give people who can’t afford this the opportunity to continue their education.  I support President Obama’s proposal to allow people to refinance their student debt to a lower interest rate.

Donovan: Will support funding of colleges.  The state should provide funding for them.  We should make more money available to those seeking higher education.  We’re very fortunate that UMass Lowell is so affordable compared to other colleges.

Leary: I’d look for ways to increase funding for the state university system.  In the Lowell public schools we have dual enrollment in which high school students can take college courses for credit.  I’d try to increase this.  Looking at the interest rates is also important.

Mom: Higher education is everyone’s dream.  Lowell has one of the finest institutions of higher ed.  Challenge is to find ways to allow ALL of our children to take advantage of that.

Ouellette: I agree with funding to keep costs down.  It’s important for everyone to get more education.  Long term consequences of student debt: Kids are too busy paying off student loans to buy houses.

Question 5: Hamilton Canal District and affordable housing

Donovan: The Hamilton Canal project is critical to city of Lowell.  A certain amount of the housing there is supposed to be low income so that should help although I don’t know whether we do have a shortage of affordable housing.

Leary: The big issue is creating good jobs for people so they can earn enough to pay for their housing.  In Lowell you want to help people move from renting to owning houses.  We have pretty good housing stock in Lowell.  You can find a home with a yard and a garage.

Mom:  I’m fortunate to be a home owner in Lowell but there are plenty of families who need help with housing.  If elected, I will talk to the experts and try to help resolve this issue.

Ouellette: Hamilton Canal is important.  It connects the Highlands to downtown.  We have a lot of different housing stock in Lowell.  A big problem is the cost of putting sprinklers in houses.  It’s very expensive and the cost is keeping landlords from renovating their houses.  We should find ways to encourage landlords to install sprinklers with creative payment plans.

Yem:  I’m an expert on this because I’m in real estate.  The rental market is very high in Lowell.  I would continue pushing for completion of the Hamilton Canal district.  It should have a certain amount designated as affordable housing.  But downtown could use more market rate housing for people with disposable income to spend.

Question 6:  Assess state rep career of Kevin Murphy

Leary: He’s now the city manager so I’d want to engage with him to be sure of his goals and to assist him in achieving them.

Mom: I’d like to continue the good work of Kevin Murphy.  I would welcome his guidance.

Ouellette: Kevin Murphy and I worked together on a lot of projects in the Acre.  He provided a lot of support.  If I’m elected, I’d meet with him and find out what he feels the city needs.

Yem: A lot has changed in the 18th Middlesex District since Kevin Murphy was first elected.  It’s now a majority of minority residents.  The needs of the neighborhoods within the district differ.  I would work with the city manager and the statehouse delegation to get what was needed for the city.

Donovan: Kevin Murphy did a great job as a state rep.  He’s doing a great job as city manager.  As state rep, I would emulate much of what he did.

Question 7:  The majority of the 18th Middlesex District is Cambodian residents; how would that affect your priorities for the district?

Mom:  It’s a diverse community.  We have to work for all of us to connect with all the citizens.

Ouellette:  I would work to make sure the economic success of Cambodia Town continues.  I would work to have all the businesses succeed and try to improve the housing stock.

Yem: The needs of the district have changed.  Immigration, economic development to create jobs for residents and education are all priorities.

Donovan: We need to look at all facets of the district.  The most important issue is violence.  We have to get everyone on the same page so that Lowell has the funding it needs to address public safety.

Leary: I’d meet with city manager to make sure our goals coincide.  Education is most important because that assists everyone.  Cambodia Town is a great opportunity.  We have to help that spread.

Question 8: What can you do to increase the number of women involved in leadership roles?

Ouellette: I’d help figure out where the jobs of tomorrow are then get the education system to better prepare everyone for those jobs.  Everyone should be paid equally.

Yem:  At Cambodia Town at first it was all men.  I recruited women to participate.  I would do the same thing as a state rep, especially with women from cultures in which men are traditionally dominant.

Donovan: I’d work with women who are leaders in the community today to connect them with the women’s study program at UMass Lowell to develop a mentor program.

Leary: Start listening to find out what’s important.  Look for leaders to be mentors.  Equal pay is important.

Mom:  I believe in equal opportunity.  Mentorship is important.  I worked on a mentor program with CMAA.

Question 9:  Support casinos?

Yem:  I’m against casinos in Massachusetts.  Nothing but trouble.  You bring family down and increase crime.

Donovan: In favor of casinos.  They create economic development

Leary: Is for casinos because of the revenue.

Mom:  It’s a dilemma.  It’s a great business opportunity but it causes addiction.  I will ask the voters what they want.

Ouellette: Supports casinos but they have to be watched closely.

Question 10: Do you agree or disagree with support Governor’s Patrick’s offer to house refugee children in Massachusetts?

Donovan: Disagree

Leary: Disagree

Mom: Disagree

Ouellette: Disagree

Yem: Agree

Question 11: Support keeping the cap on the number of charter schools?

All five support the cap on charter schools

Closing statements:

Brian Donovan:  We’re all good candidates but what separates me from the others is that I’m retired and so I’ll be able to perform this job as a fulltime member of the state legislature.  I have the background, skills and leadership to be a first class representative and I ask for your vote.

Jim Leary: Five great candidates.  What distinguishes me is my experience running my own business and my service on the Lowell School Committee.  Beyond education, I want to focus on economic development.  Cambodia town is a good example of that.  UMass Lowell and the innovation center is very important.  How do we get people to want to come to and stay in Lowell.  I ask for your vote.

Rady Mom:  I’m so excited to have this opportunity.  I look forward to connect with public safety, education and economic growth.  When you speak to me, you’re speaking to an average guy.  I’ll do my best in representing you.

Dave Ouellette:  Respectfully asks for your vote.  I’ve been doing this for five years, working with community organizations and nonprofits.  I look forward to continuing the hard work.  If elected, I will quit my job and be a full time state representative.  I will be asking the public what they want because public matters.  I know how to bring people to the table to work together.

Yem: I’m running a sticker write-in campaign.  I believe I’m the right candidate because I have experience and accomplishments in Lowell.  I ask for your vote.  I developed 16 Middlesex Street from a blighted building to a nice apartment building.  We want to expand economic development beyond Cambodia town.  [continues in Cambodian language].