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massachusetts house debate Candidates for the open House seat representing Massachusetts 4th congressional district, Democrat Joseph P. "Joe" Kennedy III and Republican Sean Bielat, debate at Wellesley College on October 15, 2012. (Photo: Soe Lin Post/Wellesley College)

Election 2012: A Closely-Watched House Race

Candidates seeking retiring Rep. Barney Frank's seat debate

By Coleman Hirschberg | null null , null

WELLESLEY, Massachusetts — Last Monday, Democrat Joseph P. "Joe" Kennedy III and Republican Sean Bielat, the two Massachusetts candidates running for retiring Congressman Barney Frank's seat, argued over many issues in a debate at Wellesley College.        

Though there are hundreds of elections for the House of Representatives, this is one to pay close attention to. Representative Frank (a Democrat) was the first openly gay congressperson and was also a very involved member of the House. He was first elected in 1980 and has been a member ever since. From 2007 to 2011, he was chair of the House Financial Services Committee. He also worked at length on the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure act.

But these are his last few months in office. He's retiring at the conclusion of the current session of the House of Representatives.

At Wellesley, eager voters from all over Massachusetts 4th congressional district packed the debate all to see and hear the candidates who want to be their representative.

Everybody was there for a different reason. Mary McGaw, a resident of the 4th District, hadn't yet decided who to vote for. "I'm here tonight to learn more about these two men and their opinions because there haven't been a lot of ads on TV like there has been for the senate and president races," she said.

Others, like Maureen Febigier, were there to support their candidate. "I'm here because I care desperately about the future of our country and I want to support Joe."

Joe Kennedy was born in Massachusetts, graduated from Stanford and Harvard Law, and spent two years in the Peace Corps. In 2006, he ran Senator Ted Kennedy's (his uncle) reelection campaign.

Sean Bielat is a U.S. Marine Corps Reservist and a businessman from Rochester, New York. He went to Georgetown and Harvard for his masters of public policy. He ran for Congress in 2010 against Representative Frank and lost by 10 points.

The debate began with a discussion of the Ryan budget. Kennedy strongly stood against it while Bielat stated, "It's a great starting point." This soon turned into an argument of the overall economy and the federal budget deficit. Kennedy talked about how we should come up with a plan that involves both tax increases and spending cuts, while Bielat talked about tax cuts and spending cuts as the best way to grow the economy.

After the economy, the two debated immigration. Kennedy talked about how he thinks undocumented workers should be able to come out of the shadows, pay a fine, and start to work towards citizenship. Bielat thought that we should strengthen our borders, not just in the south but also in the north to protect against terrorist acts.

Though the two have very different views on most topics, they did agree on one thing: Fixing the economy is the biggest issue facing this congressional district and the country.

After the debate I got to catch up with the both candidates. Because this is Barney Frank's seat, I decided to ask about their views on marriage equality. Bielat responded by talking about the importance of people being able to own property together, but did not say if he was for or against gay marriage. Kennedy said that he was in favor of marriage equality. "I don't believe the government should be able to decide who somebody can and can not love and can and can not marry," Kennedy told the Kids Press Corps.

Kennedy has been ahead by several points in recent polling, but it's not too late for Bielat to turn it around. We'll see how this debate plays out after Election Day on November 6.


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