The two candidates for the 21st Middlesex District State Representative seat, Walter Zenkin, R-Burlington, and Kenneth Gordon, D-Bedford, met on Wednesday in a debate hosted by Burlington Cable Access Television that covered a range of issues.
Gordon, Vice Chair of the Zoning Board in Bedford, and Zenkin, a Burlington Selectmen, are vying for the seat left vacant by retiring State Rep. Charles Murphy in the 21st Middlesex District which includes Bedford, Burlington and Precinct 3 in Wilmington.
The debate, which was moderated by BCAT Board of Directors member Sally Willard, allowed each candidate the opportunity to respond to several question posed by members of the local media as well as one posed by their opponent. The questions were asked by Burlington Union editor Christine Warren and Burlington Patch editor Richard Hosford.
When asked about the similarities between the three communities in the 21st district, Gordon said one thing that each town has in common is a strong education system, citing the $550,000 appropriation Bedford receives from the state government for educating the children of military families stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base.
"I want to fight to keep that appropriation, to perhaps increase that appropriation, but at least to secure it," Gordon said. "We value education and we value our schools. We have that in common throughout our communities and I intend to continue to fight for that."
Zenkin said that while the tax base is different in each town in the district, the needs of each community are the same.
"The needs of the towns are pretty similar," Zenkin said. "Local and impact aid, economic development and environmental issues. Those are the three things I am going to focus on."
The candidates were then asked about economic development and how to secure development in the district while protecting open spaces and preventing roadways from becoming over congested.
Zenkin said he believes the traffic issues along the Middlesex Turnpike have long been ignored by politicians on Beacon Hill.
"The traffic problem on the Middlesex Turnpike has been going on for 20 years, for as long as I can think about," Zenkin said. "We need to be more focused on that, and I want the state to be focused on us."
Both candidates had a chance to discuss how they would lessen the debt facing the MBTA if elected, and while both stressed the importance of the transportation system to the 21st district, they differed on how they would tackle the debt.
"The first thing I would like to do is look through the budget and find instances of waste, fraud, abuse and duplicate spending, but I think that's everyone's job," Gordon said. "I think we've got to role up our sleeves and find some dedicated revenue to solve this problem because we can't just cut spending to do it."
Zenkin said he would not increase revenue in order to lessen the debt facing the MBTA.
"I don't believe we need to increase revenue from either a tax or fees. It's not the answer," Zenkin said. "Let's start working together, finding the efficiencies across the board. It's not about quantity of service, it's about quality, and we can do it."
Gordon said his priority in addressing the debt facing the MBTA would be to ensure the 21st district does not lose the bus routes that run out to the area.
"If we lose the MBTA it's going to affect our communities in a tremendous way and I don't want to see that," Gordon said. "We can't raise fares, we've just done that. If we raise fares any more people with choose to drive which will exacerbate our traffic situation and increase pollution."