SNA Candidates forum

Summit Neighborhood Association board member Tom Schmeling moderates the discussion by candidates, from left, David N. Cicilline, David Vogel and Brendan P. Doherty.

Summit residents got a generous helping of grassroots democracy Wednesday when the candidates for two major offices came to the neighborhood to demonstrate their qualifications.

The Summit Neighborhood Association’s candidates’ forum brought together Democratic U.S. Rep David N. Cicilline and his two challengers, Republican Brendan P. Doherty and independent David Vogel plus R.I. House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, a Democrat, and his opponent, Mark Binder, an independent.

They spoke to about 75 people – which included the candidates’ own staffers as well as representatives of the media – at a question-and-answer format moderated by SNA board of directors member Thomas Schmeling, a professor of political science at Rhode Island College, at Summit Commons, 99 Hillside Ave.

The discussion began with an exchange among the congressional candidates after an introduction by SNA President Dean Weinberg, who called for a moment of silence for recently deceased long-time SNA member Judith Brown.

Cicilline said he believes there is a tremendous amount of work still to be done and that he would continue to fight against the power of Big Oil and Big Banks in Congress that espouse the Bush presidency’s “trickle-down” theory, “a failed economic policy.” He said his Republican opponent’s proposals are consistent with his party’s presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and “the Republicans in the House who have held hostage small business.” Cicilline said the nation “cannot afford to give tax cuts to the very wealthy” and that he supported the Obama administration’s health-care law, calling it “good for Rhode Island and the country.”

Doherty said Obamacare had some good parts and he would “vote to repeal only with a new and better plan.” He said he thinks “Congress is broken” and needs new leadership. He added that he would tackle the national debt by halting “fraud and waste first in Medicare” and other areas, but would not cut the military budget. Doherty said the Bush tax cuts need to carry over until there is comprehensive tax reform, but that small businesses that make more than $250,000 a year should not be hit with tax hikes. He also said that the issue of same-sex marriage is up to the states, but that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” He said he is “pro-life by faith” and would not vote for any funds for Planned Parenthood “as it relates to abortion.”

Vogel said he was frustrated with partisan politics and was not “going to sit by and watch my government fail and fail and fail.” He said the stalemate in Congress was “exactly why I’m running.” He supported the new health-care law calling it an “essential piece of legislation.” Vogel said the military budget is “outsized in degrees of magnitude” and would vote to cut it, saying, “If that closes bases in Newport, so be it,” adding that “I don’t pander for votes.” On energy policy, he said “even a six-year-old understands” that increased drilling is not the answer, but that “green” power works. Vogel said voters need to “step outside their comfort zone” and do something different to affect the future.

The program then turned to the contest for the R.I. House seat held by the Speaker.

Binder said he is running because there have been “lots of shady deals with the Speaker” and that much legislation is developed through “cronyism.” Binder said he supports public education, but it started to decline with the “No Child Left Behind Act” that took power from the teachers. He said he backs equality of marriage, but that Rhode Island doesn’t have it because the Speaker didn’t bring it to a vote. Binder said he could be effective in office despite his lack of experience and political power because legislation in the past has been done “in backroom deals” and that he was running on the premise of “legislators having their own power.’

Fox cited his record of leadership in education, health care and housing coming from a “biracial gay kid who wasn’t supposed to be Speaker.” He defended his role in a state loan to the 38 Studios video-game company headed by Curt Schilling by saying the House never voted directly on the loan but added funds to the Economic Development Corporation after being asked to do so by former Governor Carcieri. He further said that the EDC “experts” promised to study and vet all applicants and “that didn’t happen.” Fox said that same-sex marriage is “a very complicated issue” that is “very sensitive to me” and promised to bring it up when it has a chance to succeed. He stressed his experience in “hardball” politics.

The evening closed with small group discussions over light refreshments.

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