Saturday, May 18, 2024

The candidates can’t wait for formal debates in the fiercely fought race for state representative in the 26th Middlesex District — literally. After a Tuesday debate in Somerville, Democratic incumbent Tim Toomey sent out a “fact check” by e-mail Thursday, and independent Mike Connolly sent his own early Friday.

In it, the candidate responds to two comments by Toomey, a two-decade Cambridge city councillor as well as state representative, starting with one the debate structure prevented Connolly from addressing directly: Toomey saying that while he would consider a higher gas tax to pay for mass transit and infrastructure improvements, he wouldn’t support a parking space tax, “which my opponent supports” and which would “cost the families of Somerville [and Cambridge] hundreds of dollars more a year, in fact more than those wealthy families living in Newton. That parking space tax is regressive, not progressive.”

The problem: It’s not Connolly’s idea, nor is he on record supporting it.

“On my campaign website I have created a section called ‘The People’s Blog.’ The concept here is that I want to invite residents to share their ideas with me — and if I am elected as state representative, my hope would be for us to use this blog as a way to promote citizen engagement on the state-level issues of the day. A young supporter of mine named Sean Diamond posted his ideas for funding the MBTA on the blog — under his own name — and one of his ideas was indeed a parking space tax,” Connolly said.

The only appearance of the tax on Connolly’s site is under Diamond’s name, and a search of the Internet using the terms “parking space tax” with Connolly’s name turns up nothing else.

“I am not sure why state Rep. Toomey would choose to attribute Diamond’s ideas to me. Sean Diamond’s blog post even starts by addressing me in the form of a letter,” Connolly said. “It should be clear that this was never meant to be construed as a statement of my own views. Anyone can go to the front page of The People’s Blog and post anything they want.”

Answering on Autonomy

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)

Toomey made his charge during the second portion of the debate, which answered residents’ questions but didn’t allow for rebuttal from candidates. When Connolly asked moderator Joe Lynch if he could reply, Lynch suggested he save it for the third portion, but it never came up — possibly because Toomey began that third portion of direct, candidate-to-candidate questioning with a broadside against Connolly’s employment by a company called Hewlett-Packard’s Autonomy division, which Toomey felt was morally suspect. He cited an article from The Guardian noting its work for British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell and Halliburton and accusing it of providing eavesdropping and e-mail-monitoring products to governments around the world.

“That would not be a company I could ever work for,” Toomey said, saying its work “could be detrimental to the constituents of Somerville and Cambridge by taking away their personal liberties” and on Thursday suggesting the same voters might mind having Connolly “turn around and spend that [salary] on the signs and fliers he’s putting up in our neighborhoods.”

Connolly explained that he felt lucky to have any job in this economy and needed the work to pay back his massive student debt, afford a Cambridge apartment and pay for his upcoming wedding.

The Republican hoping to replace Toomey on Nov. 6, Thomas Vasconcelos, made the point during the Somerville debate that Toomey’s work with the government is vulnerable to the same criticisms. “You yourself are part of a system, this bureaucratic machine that hurts so many people around the world and your own citizens,” Vasconcelos said.

Connolly agreed.

“By Toomey’s own logic, one would be justified in saying that Toomey’s character is suspect. After all, he is a career politician on Beacon Hill; our state government is part of our federal system, and our federal government is known to spy on its own citizens. Therefore, Toomey is implicated for being part of a system that is part of a larger system that is doing something many of us would agree is wrong,” he said Friday.

“This is just a demonstration of the trouble with using a ‘guilt-by-association’ standard to judge another person’s morals, as Toomey has done,” Connolly added.

He also explained his employment at length:

When I applied to work at Autonomy in January 2011, I specifically sought work in a division of the company that deals with archiving, sorting and searching e-mails for use by attorneys in legal investigations and compliance with regulatory standards.

This division actually traces its roots back to a company called Zantaz — and the same general business mission of the original Zantaz company continues to this day within my distinct division at Autonomy. In fact, many of our coffee mugs still say Zantaz, and many of our internal systems are still labeled Zantaz as well.

It is well worth it to point out that one of the most critical aspects of work that is done in my specific division at Autonomy is to provide tools that allow corporations to adhere to the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This law was passed in 2002 to reform accounting practices and protect investors after the infamous Enron collapse, and as you probably know, it required many corporations to keep more detailed records. Our software allows the biggest companies to do this.

To make a long story short, in 1996, Dr. Michael Lynch started Autonomy in Cambridge, England. The goal of the company was to create a search engine for making sense of all the unstructured information common to our digital age. Dr. Lynch’s technology proved to be very, very successful, and eventually it became clear that the underlying technology that Lynch had come up with could be applied in a countless variety of applications. Ultimately, Autonomy was purchased by Hewlett Packard in 2011.

Essentially, Autonomy came up with a search engine that is really, really good at working with “big data,” but I have nothing to do with the development of the underlying search technology or the way it is deployed in other areas or other divisions, and I was not even aware of any of the allegations that have been raised by the Toomey campaign. The article he cited came from 2003.

In sum, Toomey’s ad hominem attacks are wildly misleading — because my role as a project manager for the legal, regulatory, and compliance division of Autonomy has absolutely nothing to do with surveillance, spies or espionage.

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