US Rep. Tierney family gambling ring is fair game in debates, opponent Tisei says

Representative John Tierney hopes to keep the focus on jobs and the state economy.
Representative John Tierney hopes to keep the focus on jobs and the state economy.

Richard R. Tisei, Republican candidate for Congress, said Friday that the gambling operation that landed the wife of of US Representative John F. Tierney in prison briefly will be a topic during debates, despite apparent efforts by the incumbent Democrat to control the focus of the forums.

“I expect it will come up one way or another during the course of the debate,” Tisei said. “There can’t be two sets of rules, one for John Tierney and one for everyone else. He doesn’t think that he should be questioned. It’s a typical example of the arrogance that people are so upset about in Washington, D.C., that he’s displaying.”

The Boston Herald reported Friday that Tierney’s campaign sought conditions before agreeing to two of four upcoming debates with his opponents. Each of those debates was already expected to be narrowly focused on issues related to the economy, sponsors said. However, one organizer said that Tierney’s campaign sought additional assurances that the debate would be focused on “public policy and policy matters.”

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Peter Webber, senior vice president for the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, said he understood that a focus on public policy meant that the gambling matter would not be discussed. “I gathered that that was implied in their request,” he said.

The Tierney campaign also requested that the Oct. 26 breakfast debate include the Libertarian candidate, Daniel Fishman, who was not initially invited, Webber said.

The other organizer — Bruce Mohl, editor of CommonWealth Magazine, published by the nonpartisan think tank, MassINC — said Tierney nearly withdrew from a debate set for next Thursday after learning the format included time for candidates to pose questions to one another.

“The Tierney folks were unwilling to go ahead unless that segment was dropped,” Mohl said. “We ultimately decided we wanted to have the debate . . . and we dropped it.”

Both debate sponsors said they had already intended to focus the discussion on particular issues, in CommonWealth Magazine’s case, on the American dream, and at the Cape Ann Chamber debate, on the concerns of the local business community.

“A request to keep it focused on issues was an easy one to accede to because we were planning to do it anyway,” added Webber. Two other planned debates are not expected to be restricted.

Matt Robison, campaign manager for Tierney, issued a statement saying the three candidates had agreed to “debates that would focus on the serious issues facing our communities and families, such as the economy, job creation, health care, and education.”

“Is Richard Tisei now suggesting that he would rather debate family issues including those of his own family?” said Robison, pointing to questions that have been raised about his parents’ business dealings. He also pointed to negative advertising “trying to make John’s extended family the only issue of this campaign.

“While Tisei continues using that strategy to duck questions on where he stands on issues, Congressman Tierney will be talking with voters about what he can do to make their lives and our community better,” Robison said.

For the past two weeks, Tierney has been slammed in a hard-hitting television ad called “Man Up” that was paid for by the YG Action fund, a superPAC affiliated with the so-called Young Guns, conservatives in Congress.

The ad focuses on Tierney’s wife, Patrice, who was convicted on tax fraud charges related to profits one of her brother’s made from an offshore gambling ring. Though Tierney has not been implicated in any wrongdoing in the gambling operation, he has faced questions about hisknowledge of illegal activities in his family and whether he should have reported his wife’s earnings on his financial disclosures.

“Imagine what we don’t know,” the ad says. “It’s time for John Tierney to man up and tell the truth — the whole truth.”

On Friday, Tisei’s campaign also criticized Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, for her plan to campaign with Tierney at a fund-raiser Monday in Peabody, pointing to the “dark cloud of ethical questions hanging over Tierney’s head,” and her role as the state’s top law enforcement official. “It’s unbelievable that the attorney general would associate herself with him, let alone raise money for him,” his campaign spokeswoman said.

Coakley supports Tierney because “he has been a strong voice in Washington on important issues like protecting the local fishing industry and reducing health care costs for all,” a spokesperson for Coakley said.

Republicans nationally view Tierney, an eight-term Democrat, as vulnerable and his Sixth Congressional District election as their best shot at gaining a seat. The YG Action Fund launched nearly $2 million in television ads this month in Democratic-held districts that Republicans are challenging, Politico reported.

Tierney and the Democrats, meanwhile, have run ads portraying Tisei , a moderate Republican in his 26 years in the Legislature who is openly gay, as someone who is in lockstep with the conservative Tea Party. “Tea Party Republicans and Richard Tisei: What it is is too extreme,” says the ad, which features images of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich.

Tisei said he would participate in the debates regardless of the format requested by Tierney, but that he would not drop the subject.

“I’m going to talk about all of the issues that I think are important in the congressional race,” Tisei said. “I’m not going to limit myself or preclude anything.”