The two Democratic candidates for state auditor went head-to-head in a primary debate Wednesday, where each made their case to succeed Suzanne M. Bump, one of only two people to hold the statewide position since 1987.
State Senator Diana DiZoglio and former transportation advocate Chris Dempsey pitched voters on why they should be the state’s next government watchdog, at times attacking each other for past votes or campaign promises.
DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat first elected to the Massachusetts House in 2012, cast herself as a political outsider who will be aggressive in fighting for more transparency and accountability in state government. Dempsey, who served as assistant secretary of transportation under former governor Deval Patrick, pitched himself as a candidate with the executive-level experience to be “fiercely independent” in collecting data and investigating state agencies.
The debate, moderated by “Radio Boston” host Tiziana Dearing, was hosted by WBUR in partnership with WCVB Channel 5 and The Boston Globe.
“I know what it’s like to struggle and to have to be scrappy,” said DiZoglio, who was raised by a single mother and grew up housing insecure. “Without the investments made through state government, I would not have the opportunities I did. I know how important it is that our investments made through your tax dollars are spent wisely.”
Dempsey said his parents, both public school teachers, influenced his interest in public service, and taught him “that facts matter.” It was them who inspired him to serve in the Patrick administration.
“I am the only candidate in this race with experience making our state bureaucracy work better for all of us,” said Dempsey, who lives in Brookline.
With about five weeks until the Sept. 6 primary, the two candidates are fighting to make themselves known.
Dempsey gained statewide attention as a leader of a campaign that ultimately helped sink Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Dempsey worked as a private consultant and led the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts for four years. He stepped down in 2021 to run for auditor.
DiZoglio, a Wellesley College graduate, has served in the Legislature since 2013 and worked as a legislative aide before that. Before her time on Beacon Hill, DiZoglio worked for the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts as a chief of staff to the president, various nonprofit organizations, and owned a small cleaning business.
The role of auditor is little known.
In the 2014 general election, 9 percent of voters — a whopping 198,844 people — left the auditor’s race blank, the biggest drop-off among statewide races that year.
But the Democratic primary this year has still proven contentious.
Both Dempsey and DiZoglio attacked the other’s record, campaign strategies, and endorsers at the debate.
During the debate, DiZoglio accused Dempsey of supporting nondisclosure agreements as a Brookline Town Meeting member, while Dempsey, who has been endorsed by both Bump and the Massachusetts Democratic Party, slammed DiZoglio for her call to do a safety audit of the MBTA, which he described as “empty calories and a press release.”
Dempsey ended by pitching himself as the “only candidate in this race with the experience reforming state government from the inside.”
DiZoglio, who has won support from many major unions including the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the National Association of Government Employees contrasted herself with Dempsey.
“We have the support of the workers, my opponent has the support of former management,” she said.
The auditor’s office, which is responsible for regularly auditing the state’s 200-plus agencies, has not been known for making big news or having an outsized influence. The auditor’s main duty is to oversee the collection of data from a government entity, program, or contractor to identify misspending or neglect of duties.
However, Wednesday’s debate largely focused on topics outside the auditor’s usual purview, ranging from DiZoglio’s campaign to end the use of nondisclosure agreements in state government to Dempsey’s promise to hold state agencies accountable for their carbon emissions.
Whoever wins the primary election will face Republican Anthony Amore, the director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum who unsuccessfully ran for secretary of state in 2018, in the Nov. 8 general election.
While DiZoglio has led in fundraising, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, she raised less than Dempsey in July, bringing in about $36,000. Dempsey raised about $80,000, according to his campaign, though the totals were not yet reported on official reports.
DiZoglio continues to lead in total fundraising, with about $564,000 in cash on hand at the end of July, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Dempsey has about $438,500 according to his campaign, though the totals were not yet reported on official July reports as of Wednesday afternoon.