The three Democrats looking to be on the November ballot for the open 21st Middlesex District State Representative seat participated in a candidate forum at the Burlington Council on Aging last week.
The 21 Middlesex District includes the towns of Burlington, Bedford and Precinct 3 of Wilmington. Incumbent Charles Murphy announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election. However, due to the timing of the election, his is the only name that will appear on the Sept. 6 primary ballot. The three candidates are also running write-in campaigns.
The three candidates are CPA and business owner , Vice Chair of the Bedford Zoning Board and attorney and former Burlington Selectman and current Town Meeting member . (Click the candidate's name for their candidacy announcements.)
EBT Cards and Immigration:
The candidates answered questions posed by the seniors in attendance. The first two questions revolved around the Massachusetts Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. Up first was a question on what the candidates would do to ensure the benefits, which are paid by the state for low-income residents, are used for food and not other, non-vital goods such as lottery tickets and cigarettes.
Fionda said he would approach the issue with "commons sense" and that he believes having stores state up front that the cards can only be used for food was a good first step.
"The cards should only be used to buy the necessities of life," he said. "Telling people up front what they can be used for is a good idea."
He also said the state must work to eliminate fraud in regards to the EBT cards. However, he said that the legislature should use a common sense approach when dealing with the issue and not simply scrap the program or make changes based on quick solutions.
Gordon said that was is needed is "clear legislation" that informs people what the cards can and cannot be used to purchase.
Mooney said she would focus on educating the sellers.
"We need to educate people that are selling things with EBT cards," she said. "We have to educate them and address why they aren’t being told what they can and cannot sell."
The follow-up to the EBT card question revolved around illegal immigration. The question focused on whether undocumented people should be allowed to have and use the cards, but the candidates all focused on the larger question of what the Massachusetts government could and should do when dealing with undocumented residents.
Gordon said that enforcing the laws on illegal immigration is a federal issue and made the argument that once they are here they can't be left out in the cold.
"They have to be able to supply for themselves," he said, in favor of allowing undocumented persons to use EBT cards. "If they can't, where will they turn? All we do is make new problems if we make their existence unmanageable. The question is when people are here, how do you treat them? Do you take so much dignity away they turn to crime?"
Gordon added that many people who come to the United States illegally do so for job opportunities and that the focus of the legislature should be on addressing the business owners who hire them.
"Another problem is that once they are here employers will employ them for low wages," he said. "We have to address the incentive for employers. Quiet lobbying for those employers is significant; a lot of businesses don’t want to pay full wages and so they hire illegals. That is why they are here, for jobs."
Fionda also said immigration control was a federal issue. He also spoke about the proper way to become citizens and said all people who wish to live in the United States should do so legally.
"My family were immigrants; my mother came here in 1954 and they had ten people living in one house," he said. "My parents went out and got a job, learned English and got registered. That is the way it should be. If someone is going to immigrate they should be on the books, pay taxes and get the proper benefits. However illegal immigration is a big question beyond the state legislature, more of a federal issue."
Mooney said in her view there were "different kinds" of immigrants and society should respond differently depending on the ethics of those who come to the country.
"With immigrants, there are different kinds," she said. "Some come here to make money or commit crimes and then there are those that want to make good lives for their family, those are the ones we should support more."
Development and Growth:
The next question was on growth in Burlington and the surrounding area. The questioner said that Burlington has grown very quickly in the past few decades, which has caused issues with traffic and the 'small town' feel of Burlington and wanted to know the candidates thoughts on how growth should be approached.
Fionda spoke about what he calls "smart growth." He said the town needs businesses to develop and property tax base, which then helps residents with lower taxes, but that development can "get out of whack with the needs of the residents."
"You've got to have balanced growth," he said. "You can’t have projects come in that will generate money but not address the needs of residents. Smart growth addresses that."
Mooney said she would like to see a three-year moratorium on any economic growth in town.
"I’m sick over whole thing," she said. "If you go down Middlesex Turnpike it’s terrible. I want to see slower growth and would like a moratorium for at least three years."
Mooney said she is also concerned that some businesses, if they are not properly checked, could cause problems in town. For instance, she pointed to growth near Mill Pond and other town water supplies.
"If something happens to that area we will have problems," she said.
Gordon agreed that "smart growth" was needed and said his experience on the Bedford Board of Appeals would help him handle development issues. He said traffic has been a big concern for Bedford residents and something the board has had to deal with just as town officials in Burlington.
"As the vice chair of the zoning board I’m involved in these issues," he said. "I love being involved in town government in that capacity. Right now I'm working with colleagues on a plan for how to handle growth. We need to grow in a way that is controlled and doesn’t harm the neighborhood.
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