The race for Brockton mayor has turned nasty, after an activist group that opposes a proposed power plant in the city released personal financial information about a candidate who supports it, making public the fact he filed for bankruptcy protection three times in the last nine years.
The revelation by Stop the Power about Bill Carpenter prompted other candidates in the five-person race to question his ability to manage money. Several said Carpenter, a city Board of Health employee, should end his campaign.
Carpenter, 56, is seeking the job held by incumbent Mayor Linda Balzotti, 52, the city’s first female mayor, who is running for a third term. The others in the race are retired businessman Ron Matta, 70; Ward 7 City Councilman Christopher MacMillan, 48; and travel agency owner Arnold Greenblatt, 81, who is making his ninth try for the office.
Carpenter, also on the Brockton School Committee, launched his campaign this spring with a promise to “bring Brockton back” by reclaiming neighborhoods, adding jobs and businesses, and offering “real” property tax relief.
But he also supports the controversial 350-megawatt power plant proposed by Advanced Power AG, and is pushing for the city to buy the Aquaria Desalinization Plant in the Taunton River, which he says would be a way to bring in revenue when the city can sell the Swiss power company the millions of gallons of water it would need each day to cool its facility’s towers.
Most city officials have been steadfast in their opposition to the power plant, both in and out of court. Brockton pays $5.8 million a year under contract for the desalinization plant but does not draw any water from it. A majority of the City Council has said it will not sell the company water, and the state agency that oversees power plants has refused to allow the company to use treated waste water for cooling, as the company originally asked.
Earlier this month, Stop the Power and its attorney, Paul Glickman, provided court records showing that Carpenter made three separate bankruptcy filings in 2004, 2007, and 2012. The records show he owed more than $400,000 to creditors.
Most recently, Carpenter listed debts to the Internal Revenue Service of approximately $215,000, and to the state Department of Revenue for approximately $34,000. The records in the Plymouth Registry of Deeds also report that the IRS liens were forgiven in March, according to Glickman.
In a mailing to city residents, Stop the Power and its leader, Ed Byers, mocked a video Carpenter prepared about the merits of a power plant in Brockton, ripping what he described as his “financial blueprint” for Brockton in light of his own financial woes.
“Residents and Brockton business owners, don’t fall for this modern day snake oil salesman and power plant pitchman,’’ the mailing said. “Brockton deserves better than this from our elected officials. Bill Carpenter is not qualified to run for public office.”
Carpenter, who is divorced, has said he tried to restructure his debt but eventually had to declare bankruptcy to assist his six children, some of whom were living in a family home he also eventually lost.
He released a written response to the attack through his campaign, after declining to return a call and e-mail seeking comment.
“The opponents of the electric generating plant have chosen to malign my character and attack my family instead of addressing the issue on its merits,’’ he said in his statement. “I believe I have put forth effective arguments which show how such a project would benefit Brockton taxpayers in both the short and long term.”
Carpenter said he did not plan to answer any character assassinations but would gladly discuss the issue with anyone, at any time.
“You should ask yourself, ‘Why would anyone choose to attack someone because they struggled as the single parent of six children, rather than debate the merits of that person’s ideas?’ ”
Still, Matta said Carpenter should immediately withdraw.
“Filing for bankruptcy three times over the past nine years is unacceptable of a mayoral candidate tasked with handling municipal finances and taxpayer dollars, especially in light of him owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes to the IRS,” Matta said.
MacMillan said he was aware of Carpenter’s woes but had not planned to expose them, having pledged to take the “high road” in his campaign. But he spoke once the news was out, saying that declaring bankruptcy in extreme circumstances is one thing, but perhaps not three times.
“That made me take a step back,’’ he said. “That lack of good decision-making says he shouldn’t be in the race at all.”
Balzotti did not respond to a request for comment.
Byers defended his actions, saying the release of records, and the mailing, were not a personal attack. Owning a business in an “under-served” community like Brockton demands social responsibility and engagement, he said.
“I care deeply for Brockton,” said Byers, a city native who works in the city and lives in Easton. “Bill Carpenter has an extremely bad track record and I find that to be vital information for voters.”
In his written response, Carpenter said it’s obvious Byers has a personal agenda.
“And if elected mayor, he feels I would be an obstacle toward that agenda,’’ he said. “But I am running to serve the best interests of the people of Brockton, not Mr. Byers.”
The mayoral candidates have been invited to a debate on Monday sponsored by WATD radio, 95.5 FM, in Marshfield.