NEWTON — In their first televised debate showdown, the three Republicans hoping to fill the congressional seat being vacated by longtime US Representative Barney Frank took aim not at one another, but at the likely Democratic nominee, Joseph P. Kennedy III.
Prompted by a question during a televised debate on the New England Cable News program Broadside with Jim Braude, Sean Bielat gave Kennedy low marks for his performance on the campaign trail.
“The guy doesn’t say anything,” said Bielat, who ran a surprisingly strong campaign against Frank in 2010.
Another Republican primary hopeful, Brookline psychiatrist Elizabeth Childs, said that Kennedy, who has never held elective office, has no track record working in a bipartisan fashion.
Republican David Steinhof, a Fall River dentist, also criticized Kennedy for his privileged background and his lack of private-sector experience.
Kennedy’s campaign said in a brief statement that he was focused on the Democratic primary and on issues affecting the district.
The Kennedy jabs came near the end of the 30-minute debate that touched briefly on health care, foreign affairs, tax issues, gun control, and entitlement programs.
While the candidates often took similar positions, only Bielat and Childs said they could support a compromise on extending the Bush-era tax cuts. Both said they could support a measure on extending the cuts for the middle class, even if that plan allowed tax cuts on earnings over $250,000 to expire.
Steinhof said he could not support such a compromise, aligning himself with lawmakers in Washington seeking the tax cut extension for all.
But the sharpest exchange among the primary challengers came after the debate had ended, in the lobby of the television station, when Childs attacked Bielat for what she said was his lack of transparency over his consulting salary.
“On your [federal] ethics report, a public document, you [reported that you] were paid $130,000 over the course of seven months,” an angry Childs told her opponent during an impromptu gathering with reporters.
Bielat said he did not dispute the seven-month tally, but asked Childs what she was getting at. “Nobody knows who’s paying you,” Childs said.
“You’re not making any sense, Beth,” Bielat shot back.
Bielat recently identified his current employer as One Click Politics, a political website that allows voters to contact members of Congress about any issue, using either a prepared message sponsored by an advocacy group, or one they write on their own.
If he wins a seat in Congress, Bielat said earlier this month, he will resign from One Click Politics.
Steinhof asked Bielat how he has earned money over the last three years. Bielat said he earned his living during that time first as an independent consultant and now as part of the start-up company. “I think the obvious question was: Are there campaign contributions, or [are] there campaign expenditures going through either one of those jobs?” Steinhof asked. “Absolutely not,” Bielat said.
Bielat joined One Click Politics last August and oversees two full-time employees. He worked as an executive at iRobot Corp. in Bedford from 2006 to 2009 and served on active duty in the Marine Corps from 1998 to 2002.