Baker, Coakley in synch at church forum

Candidates agree on the issues, for a while

Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker bowed their heads in prayer next to Rev. Burns Stanfield at a Greater Boston Interfaith Organization Forum in Boston on Sunday.
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker bowed their heads in prayer next to Rev. Burns Stanfield at a Greater Boston Interfaith Organization Forum in Boston on Sunday.

Maybe it was the presence of all the religious leaders. Or the rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.”

But in the midst of a bitterly contested election, riven by differences in policy and vision, something unusual happened at a packed Boston church on Sunday: Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker agreed. Again and again.

The major party candidates for governor both pledged to work to limit the growth of health care spending; reappoint the state Health Policy Commission’s chairman; complete the Dearborn Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Academy project; and ask gun manufacturers for more information about their practices, with an eye toward reducing gun violence.


At a Greater Boston Interfaith Organization forum, designed to press the candidates to agree to major prongs of its agenda, Baker and Coakley did just that.

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The afternoon event came after each made separate campaign appearances earlier Sunday, hitting the trail nine days before voters choose Governor Deval Patrick’s successor on Nov. 4.

Coakley, Patrick, and other top Massachusetts Democrats rallied party stalwarts at a breakfast in Lynn. Baker participated in a community walk in Mattapan and, embracing his goofier side, visited costumed kids and their parents attending a Halloween celebration at Castle Island in South Boston.

On their own, each worked to draw distinctions with their main rival. But together — at least for most of the forum — Baker and Coakley offered stances in line with each other and the interfaith group.

Both candidates were asked whether they would work to reduce the increase in health care spending and reappoint Stuart Altman as the chairman of the Health Policy Commission, a state watchdog agency focused on developing policies to reduce cost growth and improve quality of care.


In front of about 250 people at Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston, Baker and Coakley both said yes and yes, provided Altman wants to serve.

Both candidates were asked whether they would make sure the Dearborn project is completed.

The question referred to the Roxbury school that is slated to become a STEM academy and get a new building, but has run into roadblocks.

Baker and Coakley, seated next to each other, each came up to a microphone and said yes.

Both candidates were asked whether, in an effort to reduce gun violence, they would sign on to a request for information from gun manufacturers.


That request would ask manufacturers to give more information about how they distribute firearms, how they work to reduce illegal gun trafficking, and how they incorporate safety technology.

Baker said yes, adding that he really wanted to focus on addressing illegal gun trafficking.

Coakley said yes, adding “I do agree with Charlie. Though it’s not the only thing, but it’s a good place to start.”

But the agreement between the two major party candidates — three independent candidates are also running — did not last.

In her closing statement, Coakley said there was a “stark contrast” between her and her opponent.

“I believe every child is entitled to get early education,” Coakley told the people at the church. “My Republican opponent, not so much.”

Baker, seated behind her, sported a pained look on his face and jiggled his foot.

Later, outside the church, he accused her of flip-flopping on support for universal early childhood education.

He said she was for it, but then put forward a much more modest proposal to get Massachusetts children off waiting lists for early childhood education programs, by expanding a state voucher program to help low-income families pay for them.

“Is it universal early childhood education?” Baker said to reporters. Or is it “dealing with the waiting list and making targeted investments in early childhood education.”

If it’s the latter, Baker said, “then her position and mine are not any different.”

Coakley, speaking to reporters a few minutes later, said there had been no flip-flop.

“Obviously the goal is universal pre-K,” she said, and indicated getting children off waiting lists was part of that effort.

And, comity long gone, she went on the attack against him again, repeating a familiar contrast: that she will always stand up for people, and Baker will always start by looking at the bottom line and helping corporations — a charge he denies.

Earlier in the day, at the Halloween celebration, an ebullient Baker shook hands with dozens of costumed kids and their parents.

He spotted a massive dog and knelt on the ground to snap a selfie with it. The canine momentarily shuffled away, but was coaxed back toward Baker, who seemed very pleased with the cellphone shot he finally got.

In Lynn on Sunday morning, top Massachusetts Democrats rallied supporters, exhorting them to work tirelessly to get out the vote for Coakley.

“Don’t be deterred by pollsters and pundits and naysayers and the gloom-and-doomers,” a fired-up Patrick told the crowd at a party unity breakfast. “It’s Martha’s time!”

Coakley cited the importance of a phone-calling, door-knocking, get-out-the-vote push as the election looms.

But perhaps she expressed the sentiment most succinctly at the interfaith forum, speaking about another topic. Coakley recalled wisdom from the nuns of her youth: “We’ll pray as if everything depends upon God, but we’ll work as if everything depends upon us.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.