LEXINGTON — And they’re off. Cordially.
For the first time in the 2014 race for governor, the five declared Democratic candidates shared a stage Thursday and politely discussed the issues of the day, eschewing barbed comments and heated contrasts for thoughtful explanations of who they were and where they stood.
At a forum in front of hundreds of people at the Cary Memorial Building in the heart of this suburban and liberal-leaning enclave, the candidates spoke about issues ranging from granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants to health care to how each would deal with the Legislature.
But answering queries from a moderator — and from one another — they often weaved aspects of their biographies and their career triumphs into their comments about issues, introducing themselves to audience members who, in large measure, were getting their first look at the hopefuls.
State Treasurer Steven Grossman repeatedly emphasized his decades as a businessman and said he “took that leadership role into” his current office, mentioning a program he started to move some of state’s reserve deposits from foreign banks to local Massachusetts banks to boost local businesses.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, a former county district attorney, spoke about her experience with the criminal justice system, discussing her desire to improve it, in particular for people with behavioral health problems. She also mentioned her visit Wednesday to the Supreme Court for arguments about the Massachusetts abortion clinic buffer zone law.
Juliette Kayyem, a former state and federal homeland security official, referenced her work on issues of counterterrorism and on the federal response to the BP oil spill.
Donald M. Berwick, a former Obama administration official, talked about his time overseeing the massive Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Joseph C. Avellone, an executive at a bio-pharmaceutical research firm, mentioned his time as chief operating officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts in the 1990s and what he was able to accomplish there.
“I come from the private sector . . . and I’ve had to live by results,” Avellone said.
On issues facing the state there was much agreement, from raising the minimum wage to the many successes of the man they hope to succeed, Governor Deval Patrick.
Grossman asked his competitors whether they would join him in supporting a bill in the Legislature that would grant the lower in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants who had gone to high school for at least three years in the state and either graduated or received an equivalency certificate.
All said they would.
“I am the daughter of a Lebanese immigrant family and I have a strong passion for this issue,” Kayyem said.
Currently Massachusetts students who were in the United States illegally but obtained work permits through a federal program instituted in 2012 can receive in-state tuition. But that program did not cover every student here illegally, a gap some lawmakers are trying to close.
The audience politely applauded after a number of a different candidates’ statements on issues. But a few comments drew a louder response.
Coakley, one of two women running for governor, made a glancing reference to her gender when describing how the state’s chief executive could best work with the Legislature.
“This is how I look at it, the governor has a job to do when she is in charge —” Coakley said, pausing briefly as she was interrupted by applause.
Berwick, who has worked to position himself to the left of his opponents during his campaign, did the same Thursday.
At one point, discussing health care, he said, “I am the only candidate for governor that has put single-payer on the table” for the state, referring to a single-payer health care system. The audience broke into their loudest applause of the evening.
The forum was moderated by state Representative Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, who ended the event by inviting one of the five people on the stage — “we don’t yet know who,” he said — back to the historic hall in September for a forum with the GOP nominee.
The two Republicans currently vying for the nomination are Charlie Baker, who was his party’s 2010 nominee for governor, and Mark R. Fisher, a political novice from Shrewsbury who aligns himself with the Tea Party.
Two independent candidates are running for governor. They are Evan Falchuk, an attorney and former business executive, and evangelical Christian pastor Scott Lively.
Venture capital investor Jeffrey S. McCormick, an independent, is seriously considering a run as well.