US Representative John F. Tierney on Monday called on organizers of a debate Thursday between him and challenger Richard R. Tisei to make the “very first question” for the candidates about family.
“Mr. Tisei’s attacks on my wife and her family are a continuing attempt to distract voters from his Tea Party ties. I am happy to address this issue, as I have in the past, and had always expected Mr. Tisei to make it his central theme of the debate,” Tierney said in a prepared statement.
Last week, it appeared that Tierney had made efforts to control the focus of two upcoming forums.
An organizer of one debate had said that Tierney’s campaign sought assurances that the face-off would be focused on “public policy and policy matters.” An organizer of another debate, the one slated for Thursday, had said that Tierney nearly withdrew after learning that the format included time for the candidates to pose questions to each other. Four debates in all are scheduled.
Tierney’s wife, Patrice, was sentenced to a month in prison followed by five months of house arrest after pleading guilty in October 2010 to charges that she aided and abetted the filing of false tax returns for one of her brothers, a federal fugitive charged with illegal gambling and money laundering for allegedly running an offshore gambling ring. Another brother, also accused of involvement in the ring, is serving a prison sentence.
The congressman himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing. He said at a news conference in July that he believed his brothers-in-law were running a legitimate online gambling business.
Tierney said in Monday’s statement, “In working with debate organizers, my campaign’s intent was to make sure that serious issues” like jobs, the economy, and health care, were not “cast aside by my opponent’s negative attacks on my wife and her painful family crisis.”
He also charged Tisei with “dodging two debates on critical issues for Massachusetts voters. . . . He is clearly afraid of voters’ reaction to his Tea Party positions.”
Tisei said in a statement that Tierney “just wants to do whatever it takes to keep his job. Like a leaf blowing in the wind, when Tierney saw how everyone reacted to his getting caught trying to change the debate rules, he turned around and changed them back!”