Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Tim Toomey, the Democratic state representative for the 26th Middlesex District, and independent challenger Mike “No Money” Connolly at Tuesday’s debate in Somerville. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A debate “fact check” was sent Thursday by state Rep. Tim Toomey’s campaign for reelection in the 26th Middlesex District, defending his work including Somerville in construction talks for the Craigie Drawbridge and his vote on reforming what can be bought with Electronic Benefit Transfer cards used by people on Welfare.

The document gave Toomey a chance to follow up on issues raised at a debate held Tuesday in Union Square, Somerville.

“As is sometimes the case when tensions are high, there were some unsubstantiated remarks made by candidates during the course of the debate,” wrote Max Chalkin, campaign manager for the longtime state representative and Cambridge city councillor.

Toomey’s defense, though, goes over the top in a couple of instances, both against independent candidate Mike “No Money” Connolly.

Question about dual roles

In the Craigie Drawbridge criticism, Connolly asked Toomey about a refrain he said he heard while campaigning: that Toomey’s dual roles were a conflict and could hurt constituents in Somerville. He cited a Sept. 24, 2010, article from The Somerville News quoting acting police chief Michael Cabral saying “We were never thought about when this construction was undertaken. Our state legislators never thought of us” and Ward 1 alderman William Roche saying “The State House delegation should have thought of Somerville’s concerns. This is unacceptable.” In the same article quoted by Connolly, alderwoman Maryann Heuston took credit for discovering the issue on her own.

“This is in no way a personal attack. As I said earlier, you are a complete role model when it comes to how to provide constituent service, and I think you have set a wonderful example of a lifetime of public service. I have heard that message reiterated hundreds of time all over Somerville and Cambridge,” Connolly said during the debate. But he also heard many people who were concerned about the overlapping roles and wanted him to raise it as an issue. “What do you say when issues like this come up?” he asked Toomey.

The question, quotes and the article it relied on were inaccurate, Toomey said, because he made sure at the time Somerville was alerted to work on the bridge, which carries Route 28 — Monsignor O’Brien Highway in Cambridge and McGrath Highway in Somerville — from Land Boulevard in Cambridge to Leverett Circle in Boston. In the e-mail, he said:

The truth of the matter is that as soon as I got word from the Department of Transportation that work had to be done on the Craigie Drawbridge, I contacted the City of Somerville and also organized several meetings to inform the public of any inconveniences the construction might cause. In those meetings, Cambridge and Somerville residents had the ability to hear from and consult with the Cambridge city councillors, the Somerville board of aldermen, the Cambridge and Somerville state delegation and representatives from [the state Department of Transportation]. The charge that Somerville was not notified of the construction is patently untrue.

He also quoted Roche and Heuston in the e-mail. Roche is quoted as saying Toomey “took the lead in organizing a public meeting and making sure that the City of Somerville was prepared … Anyone who thinks that Tim Toomey wasn’t an advocate for East Somerville on the Craigie Drawbridge issue or any other issue just doesn’t have their facts straight.” Heuston’s quote: “Tim Toomey did his due diligence in contacting the city well before the bridge closed to inform us about the restoration project.”

After citing his own Oct. 4, 2010, blog post — up 10 days after the Somerville News article — as evidence, Toomey said “Connolly appears to be grasping at straws in his attempts to substantiate personal attacks on me,” although, in fact, what Connolly said was not a personal attack, but a politely phrased question about Toomey’s professional roles.

Connolly’s employment

In fact it was Toomey making a personal attack against Connolly during the debate, when he asked how the independent could morally justify working for a multinational corporation with ties to companies such as Halliburton and government spying. Connolly, who is aligned with the Occupy movement but works at Autonomy on computer software targeted for use by lawyers, explained that he felt lucky to have any job in this economy and needed it to pay back his massive student debt, afford a Cambridge apartment and pay for an upcoming wedding.

Toomey was unrelenting, though.

“I think this is an important question that the voters should be asking,” Toomey said.

“Mr. Connolly has said it himself, you can’t check your morals at the door when you go to work in the morning. I want to know if Mr. Connolly is truly comfortable accepting a paycheck from a company that engages in practices that I think he would find objectionable and whether the voters think that it’s okay for him to turn around and spend that money on the signs and fliers he’s putting up in our neighborhoods,” Toomey said before again pointing out that Connolly hasn’t released three years of tax returns, as Toomey did last month.

Connolly and Republican candidate Thomas Vasconcelos dismissed the incumbent’s call to release tax returns as a distraction answering a question no one had been asking.

EBT card reform vote

Republican candidate Thomas Vasconcelos prepares for Tuesday’s debate. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Vasconcelos also came in for a fact check Thursday, but without the emotion Toomey employed in the response against Connolly.

The Republican blasted Toomey for voting in April against reforming spending rules for EBT cards, but Toomey said that didn’t capture the reality of the situation. Toomey said he introduced an amendment that “would have clarified a part of the state budget that could have possibly prevented welfare recipients from buying shampoo and toothpaste and paying their rent with their benefits.”

“I was afraid of the kinds of unintended consequences that could have arisen out of such a strong crackdown on the benefits that many low-income people rely on for the bare essentials,” Toomey said. “I introduced an amendment that guaranteed that essential items like toiletries would remain legal to purchase. When a further amendment was introduced that weakened the protections I was fighting for, I joined many of my colleagues in voting against that amendment. That vote did not change the part of the bill that outlawed abuses like gambling or buying jewelry with EBT cards.”

The next debate is to be Oct. 30 in Cambridge, but other details haven’t been pinned down.