Democratic state representative candidates Pam Richardson and Chris Walsh squared off in an hour-long debate in front of a standing-room only audience at the Framingham Public Library Tuesday night, taking opportunities to highlight their differences.
The debate was put together at the last minute by the MetroWest Daily News after the only scheduled debate before Sept. 14’s primary election was canceled by the League of Women Voters.
Downtown revitalization was a recurring theme throughout the debate.
Walsh returned to the topic in a few contexts including how to deal with the abundance of nonprofit-owned property in town. He said that rather penalizing social service agencies, the town should focus on revitalizing places like downtown Framingham and Nobscot.
“What we have to do is not demonize social services but create economic opportunities in urban areas that compete viably with social services agencies,” said Walsh.
By making the town attractive to a wider range of businesses, Framingham will have a greater economic base and raise the assessed values of properties in town, he said.
Richardson offered another perspective on downtown revitalization. She said she’s been researching the national Main Streets program and has talked to Framingham officials about it as well as officials in Salem, a town she said successfully adopted the program.
Later, she talked about the importance of reaching out to Brazilian community members, many of whom run businesses downtown.
“The Brazilian community in many ways feels discriminated against… I think it’s critical that they step up and be part of the community,” said Richardson. “The Brazilian families who own businesses downtown need to work with Town Hall. We shouldn’t be trying to push out the people we don’t like.”
Walsh said the revitalization would give greater voice to underrepresented members of the community like people who live on the south side of town. “We need to get stakeholders in that community…Economic development in downtown and surrounding areas [will cause] the areas to rise and once the areas rise, they feel they have more at stake,” he said.
He said that redeveloping 22 acres of waterfront property in downtown Framingham that’s now used as a railyard would be a major boost to the town’s revitalization efforts. But he said getting state-level help is necessary to do this.
Walsh is challenging Richardson in the Democrat primary in a bid to become state representative for the House's Sixth Middlesex District seat, which represents Framingham precincts 1 through 7, 9, 13, 14, and 17.
Richardson won the seat during a write-in campaign in 2006. Walsh challenged her in 2008 but lost by only 138 votes in a race that featured a third candidate.
Neither candidate supports the November state ballot question that would roll back the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent.
When asked about casinos, Richardson said she was supportive of the proposals including racinos due to the prospect of 15,000 permanent jobs and $2 billion in capital investments, while Walsh took a more cautionary approach. He said he views expanded as inevitable in the state, but said the legislature should proceed with caution by allowing only one first, then assessing the outcomes.
Walsh was critical of standardized testing—“I think the point is for children to learn to learn, not learn to the test”—while Richardson lauded the state’s “high standards.” Walsh said he’d like to see harsher penalties for people who drive without licenses and insurance, while Richardson worried this would create another “unfunded mandate.”
The primary winner will face independents Jim Pillsbury and Jim Rizoli in November’s general election.
Click here to read the Globe's profile of the Richardson-Walsh race.
Megan McKee can be reached at email@example.com.