Reporter’s Notebook: Fifth District contenders make their cases at forum

Two of the four Democrats vying to replace former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur tackled a slew of issues at a Tuesday night forum, including illegal immigration, casino gambling, and federal stimulus funds. Few differences emerged between high school teacher Barry Lawton and former City Hall aide Carlos Henriquez at a forum sponsored by nonpartisan voting rights group MassVOTE and held at Hibernian Hall. The Dorchester Reporter was a co-sponsor.

The two other Democrats in the Fifth Suffolk District race, former state Rep. Althea Garrison and perennial candidate Roy Owens, were no-shows.

“I have trained for over 30 years for this position,” Lawton said, pointing to his past work as an aide at the State House. Lawton, who has also run for the seat twice before and lost, said the district, which has a high unemployment rate, needs leadership it hasn’t received in recent years.

“I’m essentially a power tool” that needs “voltage” from voters, he said.

Henriquez said he has worked in City Hall, handling constituent services, and as a community activist, has worked with local youth.

On immigration, a hot topic nationwide and elsewhere in the Bay State, Lawton said immigrants should not be “political footballs.” “We’ve seen it in New Bedford, we’ve seen it in the Worcester area,” he said, referring to federal agents raiding businesses that employ illegal immigrants. “They’re herded like animals to other states.”

Henriquez, who described himself as the son of an immigrant, said state lawmakers are charged with upholding the law, but a “path to citizenship” should be available to those in the country. He urged the community to have a dialogue about the hurdles facing immigrants attempting to become citizens.

Both candidates also support bringing casino gaming to the state. Henriquez said he supports it with conditions, including that some of the revenue go towards gambling addiction programs, and on the condition that construction and casino jobs go to district residents. Lawton called for a re-examination of the aid cities and towns receive from the state’s Lottery, saying that the district isn’t getting its fair share.

Asked about how much the state has received in federal stimulus funds, neither candidate knew the exact number. Henriquez said the government should do a better job of getting the information to residents, while Lawton said it’s unclear how much the district is getting.

“I support the governor, but I don’t see the money here,” Lawton said, adding later, “Right now I feel un-stimulated.”

According to the Patrick administration, state agencies have received $5.7 billion in stimulus funds so far. The funds have gone to a variety of projects and programs across the state. One of the more visible projects is the overhaul of numerous Dorchester Avenue intersections.

Both candidates also cited education and public safety as top priorities, and said they support legislation demanding that state agencies and cities receiving state funds require contractors to hire minority and women before beginning a contract.

The candidates face off again on Sept. 8 at the Vine St. Community Center on Dudley St. at 6:30pm.

Lynch and challenger to debate on WBZ on Aug 29

U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch and his Democratic primary challenger are set for a 15-minute debate scheduled to air this weekend on WBZ-TV. Lynch, who represents the Ninth Congressional District, faces Milton Democrat Mac D’Alessandro on Sept. 14.

Lynch, who represents parts of Dorchester, has served in the seat since a special election in 2001.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face off against the winner of the Republican primary. Two Republicans are running: war photojournalist Keith Lepor and Vernon Harrison of Braintree.

Independent candidate Phil Dunkelbarger, who challenged Lynch in 2006, is also running. The debate, which will be taped Friday morning, will air on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. It will also be available on the web.

Wilkerson sentencing postponed until late fall, after Turner trial

A federal judge last week moved to delay the sentencing of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson until after the October trial of Roxbury’s City Councillor Chuck Turner. Wilkerson and prosecutors had pushed for a Sept. 14 sentencing, the same day voters will go to the polls for Democratic and Republican primaries.

Wilkerson pleaded guilty in June to federal charges of attempted extortion, which included taking $23,500 in bribes. Turner, a Green-Rainbow Party member, is accused of taking $1,000 in bribes and lying to FBI officials. He has staunchly maintained his innocence and says his case has no connection to Wilkerson’s.

In a recent e-mail to supporters, Turner asked for character witnesses for his trial. “In addition to exposing the corruption of the government’s actions, my defense will focus on my 45 years of dedicated service,” he wrote. “My lawyers plan to put on the stand those who can testify regarding help received from me and whether money ever stood between their needs and my service.”

Wilkerson is a Roxbury Democrat who had represented the Second Suffolk District from 1993 to 2008. Prosecutors are recommending up to four years in prison and three years of supervised release for her.

Former state rep taking job at YouthBuild USA

Former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie is taking a top job at an organization that sponsors programs providing job skills to underemployed youth. YouthBuild USA on Tuesday announced that Richie, a veteran of both the State House and City Hall, is joining the Somerville-based organization as its senior vice president for public policy, advocacy, and government relations.

A Dorchester Democrat, she served in the Massachusetts House from 1995 to 2000, representing the Fifth Suffolk District.

Before leaving to become Mayor Thomas Menino’s housing and neighborhood development chief, Richie served as House chair of the Committee on Housing and Urban Development.

She also served as a senior adviser to Gov. Deval Patrick and later had a brief tenure as the executive director of his re-election campaign. She left in November 2009. She is a graduate of Rutgers College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Dorothy Stoneman, president and founder of YouthBuild USA, said in a statement, “Charlotte has spent her professional life working to end the cycle of poverty for low-income young people and their families. She is the perfect person for this role.”

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