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Gubernatorial candidates debate immigration, economy during debate at Roxbury Community College

Nate Homan
Gubernatorial candidates	debate immigration, economy during debate at Roxbury Community College
Left to right: Don Berwick (D), Evan Falchuk (I) Martha Coakley (D), Steve Grossman (D), Jeff McCormick (I) talked about the Massachusetts economy under their governorship at Roxbury Community College.

In the first post-convention gubernatorial debate held in Roxbury, State Treasurer Steve Grossman went on the offensive, attacking Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley over immigration policies.

The forum, held at Roxbury Community College, was focused on jobs and workforce development. When asked about immigrant access to job training and English as a second language training, Grossman took a shot at Coakley for supporting Secure Communities Act, a Department of Homeland Security program that identifies undocumented immigrants, and opposing the state giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

“More than 50 percent of the people who have been deported have no criminal record. It tears families apart,” Grossman said. “So to say you support immigrants when you’ve taken so many positions that are hostile towards them, to me, just doesn’t make any sense.”

In her response, Coakley cited support from former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

“I have championed for people in this country to be safe, have the opportunity to learn English,” she said. “When Secure Communities first came in, it was accepted by Mayor Menino and [former Police] Chief Ed Davis. That city said ‘we want this here’ because it will make sure that the worst of the worst and the predators in those communities would be removed.”

Coakley went on to say that she did not support the act if it had lost its mission, but did not say whether or not she felt it had.

“If Mayor Walsh and [Somerville] Mayor [John] Curtatone and their police chiefs don’t think it’s keeping people safe, then I don’t support it either. I did oppose, five years ago, the driver’s license issue because we do not have a federal solution here in Massachusetts. I have an open mind about how Massachusetts can, looking at other states, work with immigrant communities and see how other models work in order to give people driver’s licenses.”

Other candidates signaled their support for immigrant rights while staying out of the combat between Grossman and Coakley.

Democratic candidate Don Berwick echoed the need to assimilate immigrants into the education field and the workforce, saying that immigrants have started 61 percent of the new businesses in Massachusetts. He said that training programs are in dire need of reform, citing the 20,000-person waiting list for English classes as well as the societal attitude towards new arrivals.

“Everything we’re talking about with immigrants pertains to human rights: Equity and justice,” Berwick said. “The way we deal with the immigrant community is a test of our moral fiber. We have to fight like the dickens against the misclassification of workers. It is ugly.”

Independent candidates Jeff McCormick and Evan Falchuk joined Berwick, Grossman and Coakley in discussing strategies for growing a skilled workforce should they be elected governor. The candidates agreed on the importance of boosting business and government efforts to help low-income and low-skill workers have better access to education and job training partnerships between community colleges, vocational-technical schools.

Coakley highlighted the partnership between Bunker Hill Community College and EMC and Worcester Polytechnic Institute and National Grid as examples of local schools and big businesses preparing an incoming workforce for real life job training.

Grossman went after the high number of unpaid internships, saying he would like to “create 5,000 paid internships for college students in Massachusetts, 50 percent paid for by the state, 50 percent paid for by the business community. I’m going to challenge the business community to step up to the plate.”

Falchuk, founder of the United Independent Party, said that the cost of living in Massachusetts is too high because of the high healthcare costs.

“These costs are driven by the monopolistic consolidation of hospitals into giant systems and because we do not construct starter homes for people to live in in any real numbers.”

Falchuk said that lowering the cost of living is essential to creating new jobs because it puts more money in people’s pockets.

Independent Jeff McCormick said his mission is to attack the root of the achievement gap in education in order to grow a better workforce.

“When I found out that the number-one reason young men of color drop out of high school is because they struggle with math, we decided we wanted to do something about it,” McCormick said. “Today, we have a math software company that teaches millions of kids in 41 different states basic math skills which are essential for kids to graduate high school.”

In his closing remarks, Grossman called for criminal justice system reform.

“We have tens of thousands of people who are incarcerated in our jails and prisons. Overwhelmingly, they are people of color. Overwhelmingly, they are people who have been involved in low-level drug offenses. We are treating them as a criminal justice issue. We should be treating them as a health care issue.”

Grossman said that improving the rehabilitation programs in the prison system means improving job training on the inside and outside of the walls.

NECN Business Editor and emcee of the debate Peter Howe asked each candidate to talk about their first job and what they learned from them. Falchuk told the audience about running a snack bar at school with friends. Coakley described working for 50 cents an hour scooping ice cream at Howard Johnson’s. McCormick said he wanted to be the sixth member of the Jackson 5 when he was 5 years old, but his first job was working in the construction and manual labor field, and that teachers and coaches pushed him to go to college. He said their faith in the person he could be made all the difference in his life.

Grossman worked in his father’s envelop company as a salesman. He said his father told him that he had “two ears and one mouth and I should use them in that proportion. Nobody ever learned anything by talking. Listen to your customers.”

Berwick described his first job as a waiter in a small resort town in Connecticut and recalled his experience with a woman who berated him for bringing her a roast beef that was too well done. He said he brought it back to the chef who flipped it over, poured gravy on it and said, “There. Rare.” The crowd burst into laughter as he described his inability to forget the embarrassing and difficult tasks of waiting tables.

Republican candidate Charlie Baker was not present at the debate.

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