The forum at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was hosted by the interfaith Essex County Community Organization, which advocates for improved economic and social conditions on the North Shore.
Independent candidate Chris Stockwell and Democratic candidate Seth Moulton spoke at separate times, but both answered the same questions. Republican candidate and former state legislator Richard Tisei was also scheduled to attend the event, but withdrew because he was ill.
“He’s just under the weather,” Tisei spokesman Charlie Szoid said. “He won’t be out for long. It’s just a small cold.”
Stockwell, a businessman, began the night by promising to support immigration reform, including amnesty for some in the country illegally.
“I believe in a path to citizenship for long-time, law-abiding, undocumented immigrants,” Stockwell said.
But amnesty, he argued, would have to be paired with measures like tight border security and aid to Latin American countries in order to ensure that the United States is not overwhelmed by immigrants for which the country cannot provide.
Moulton also promised the audience, which included many Spanish speakers, that he would back immigration reform.
Welcoming undocumented workers into the nation’s tax base would help strengthen the country financially and socially, he said.
“We’re not going to send them all home,” Moulton said. “They’re a part of our communities, part of our small businesses, and part of our churches.”
The candidates also agreed that vocational job training and English as a second language classes should be the foundations of a local economy on the rebound.
Stockwell proposed the creation of an “economic transformation council” in the district that would back training programs and woo businesses to the area.
“I want to create a strategic plan,” he said. “I want to package this district in a new way that is transformative.”
Moulton described Lynn as a city with vast untapped resources in the form of vacant industrial property.
He pointed to his experience managing a high-speed rail project in Texas, and said he would push for infrastructure projects that would bring business to Lynn, such as expanding the Blue Line to the city.
But in order for businesses to set their roots in the district, he said, the area needs a trained workforce.
“Having good schools, having good training, that’s what businesses are looking for,” Moulton said.
The final question of the night came from a Hispanic youth pastor at St. Stephen’s, who said that despite his master’s degree and community work he still feels that many people profile him as a criminal because of his appearance.
He asked the candidates how they would combat racial disparities in law enforcement and in the courts.
Stockwell said he “abhors” racial profiling, and he told the audience about lessons he learned while participating as a child in a camp that sent affluent suburban children to minority neighborhoods in Hartford and vice versa.
“I will support the reduction of sentencing guidelines for certain nonviolent crimes” like drug possession, he said.
Moulton said reducing racial disparities began with police forces and local governments that represented the diversity of their communities. He invoked the recent racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo., and warned the audience that such internal struggles were not confined to far-away communities.
“One of the most important things we can do is that throughout our communities we should have representative leadership,” he said.
The election for the Sixth Congressional District will be held on Nov. firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ToddFeathers.