With less than six weeks until the primary election in the race to succeed Edward J. Markey in the US House of Representatives, the debate and forum season has arrived in earnest for the seven Democratic candidates vying for the Fifth Congressional District seat, with at least two formal events scheduled this week.
The candidates have been campaigning around the mostly suburban district since the end of
June, when Markey was elected to the US Senate in a special election. But a slew of formal forums will give each candidate a chance to differentiate himself or herself from the crowded field of contenders hoping to represent the district that runs from Winthrop to Woburn to Southborough to Holliston.
Given that the Oct. 15 special primary election is expected to draw a relatively low turnout, the forums will offer the candidates a chance to connect with the type of involved voters who are likely to show up at the polls. There are also three Republicans vying for their party’s nomination.
All seven Democratic candidates are expected to attend a panel discussion in Watertown on Tuesday sponsored by the Belmont and Watertown Democratic town committees, which will be the first formal event to include all of the contenders.
‘My hope is it will be more of a conversation than a formal debate, with a lot of back-and-forth.’
The five candidates who are elected officials have accepted invitations to attend a forum at Lesley University in Cambridge on Thursday that is being sponsored by an array of groups.
Public forums and debates have also been planned in Framingham, Lexington, Cambridge, and other communities for the weeks leading up to the primary.
The seven candidates who will be on the Democratic ballot are Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian of Waltham; state Representative Carl M. Sciortino of Medford; state Senators Will Brownsberger of Belmont, Katherine Clark of Melrose, and Karen Spilka of Ashland; author Martin Long of Arlington; and Stoneham resident Paul John Maisano, who works in the construction industry.
The three Republicans running for the seat are Harvard nanophysics researcher Mike Stopa of Holliston; businessman and lawyer Frank J. Addivinola Jr. of Boston; and actuary Tom Tierney of Framingham.
The gathering for the Democratic candidates Tuesday, set for 7 p.m. at Watertown Middle School, will be moderated by former state senator George Bachrach, who twice sought the party’s nomination for the Eighth Congressional District.
Bachrach said he hoped to dive deep into the issues and avoid well-hewn talking points from the candidates.
“My hope is it will be more of a conversation than a formal debate, with a lot of back-and-forth and with a lot of the easy answers taken away to avoid some of the political rhetoric and stump speeches,” he said.
The event on Thursday, scheduled for 7:30 p.m., is cosponsored by seven groups: 350 Massachusetts, Better Future Project, Massachusetts Peace Action, National Organization for Women, Progressive Democrats of America, Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, and Democratic Socialists of America.
J. Michael Gilbreath, an organizer for Progressive Democrats of America who helped put together the event, said the format would be aimed at allowing the candidates to expound on specific policy issues.
He said the nine questions that would be asked, covering both foreign and domestic policy, were shared with the candidates so they could thoughtfully prepare their answers.
In an interview last week, Gilbreath said Long and Maisano, who were not invited to the forum, announced their candidacies after the event had already been planned, and, due to time constraints, could not be accommodated. But a spokesman for Long said last week he would attend, invited or not.
Asked about Democratic Socialists of America cosponsoring the forum, Gilbreath called them an important organization in progressive circles. “We see them as being just as valuable a member of the group . . . as any other organization.”
The Fifth District is heavily Democratic, so the winner of that party’s primary is the favorite to win the Dec. 10 special general election.
Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, one of the seven Democrats running, held a policy discussion last week
Koutoujian, who was formerly a state representative, said addressing issues of mental health and substance abuse has always been important to him, but the issues came into starker relief in his current position.
On an average day, the Middlesex sheriff’s office oversees about 1,500 inmates and detainees, many of whom report struggles with addiction, he said.
As part of his campaign’s rollout of policy proposals, Koutoujian brought together about 10 advocates on the issues. He said one focus of the discussion was on improving access to mental health and substance abuse care.
“This is not just about [the] incarcerated, this is about getting more services out in the community,” he said.
While the sheriff said issues of mental health and substance abuse treatment are only part of his platform, he emphasized they resonated with many of the voters he has met during his campaign.
“When I’ve been out knocking doors, this is one of the issues people speak about,” he said.
State Senator Katherine Clark, another one of the seven Democrats running for the Fifth Congressional seat, attended a rally against gun violence held in Boston late last month.
Many of the city’s and state’s top elected officials attended the rally outside Faneuil Hall, where the overarching messages were pressing Congress to pass stronger gun-control legislation, and remembering the victims of gun violence by reading their names aloud.
The event was set up under the auspices of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization that is chaired by Mayors Thomas M. Menino of Boston and Michael Bloomberg of New York.
The rally included passionate speeches by Menino, Edward Markey, now the state’s junior US senator, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and others.
Clark, a member of the Legislature’s committee on public safety, attended the event as part of her official duties as a state senator and did not speak at the rally.
But in a subsequent interview, she said pushing for expanded gun-control legislation would be one of her top priorities if she were elected as a US representative. She said it was “outrageous” that Congress had not yet passed legislation mandating expanded background checks for gun buyers.
“It is absolutely a priority for me in Congress to address” gun violence, Clark said, calling it “a public health crisis.”
With votes in Congress expected this week on whether to authorize President Obama to use military force against Syria, the issue took center stage in the Fifth Congressional District race.
State Representative Carl M. Sciortino said early last week that if he were in Congress, he would vote against authorizing the president to strike Syria. A spokesman said it remained the candidate’s position on Friday.
Obama and top congressional leaders continued to make the case for taking action against Syria after the alleged use of chemical weapons by the forces of President Bashar Assad.
Koutoujian and the three state senators in the race, Brownsberger, Spilka, and Clark, were all following the matter and gathering more information on Friday, according to their spokesmen.
All have expressed varying levels of skepticism about the potential military intervention.
Long would “vote against it today,” according to a spokesman on Friday.
Maisano, who works in the construction industry, said last week that if he were in Congress, “at this time” he would not give Obama the authorization to strike Syria.
Joshua Miller can be reached at email@example.com.