By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Democrats Warren Tolman and Maura Healey, locked in one of the fiercest primary struggles of this year's election cycle, clashed Tuesday in a feisty debate in which Healey accused Tolman of trying to gloss over his record as a lobbyist.
The Democrats running to replace Attorney General Martha Coakley also tangled over their approaches toward addressing campus sexual assault, their levels of experience in the courtroom, and how they would have handled allegations of verbal harassment by members of the Teamsters union against the crew of Bravo's hit show Top Chef.
The latest Suffolk University poll showed Tolman, a former state senate from Watertown, holding a six-point lead over Healey among very likely Democratic primary voters with two weeks left in the campaign. The winner of the primary will face Republican John Miller in the general election.
Healey, who appeared at times to grow frustrated by Tolman's loquacious answers, said Tolman owes it to be upfront with the voters about his lobbying work and his past associations with the online gaming group Fast Strike Games and a hedge fund if he serious about tackling corruption and bird-dogging the fledgling casino industry in Massachusetts.
"I wish you'd talk more about what you've done for the past 10 years," Healey challenged Tolman during the final moments of the debate, pivoting off Tolman's discussion of his work on ethics law reforms during his time in the state Senate.
"You are not the people's lobbyist.
Tolman responded, "Maura, It's just unbecoming. I'm just surprised you continue to push these issues rather than talk about the issues people care about."
While Tolman seemed to deny the characterization as a lobbyist on stage, Healey said her campaign had the records to prove it. It later provided documentation showing that in addition to being listed as a lobbyist for SEIU Local 1199, which was later corrected, he had also been listed while working at Holland & Knight as a federal lobbyist for Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads and Greater Jamaica Development Corp.
Tolman after the debate suggested that despite the paperwork he never actively lobbied at the state or federal level, but participated in developing strategy for clients and was registered by his employer - Holland & Knight - as a matter of course.
"She's trying to paint a picture. I don't think there's anything wrong with lobbying but I'm not going to be accused of doing something that I didn't do. If it was accurate and I did it, she could say it but it's something that doesn't bear up to the facts and she knows it," Tolman said.
The debate, sponsored by the Boston Globe Op/Ed page and hosted at the newspaper's Dorchester headquarters, opened with a question from moderators Joanna Weiss and Joan Vennochi about when the last time either of them appeared in a courtroom.
Tolman and Healey have offered somewhat different visions for the role of attorney general on the campaign trail, with Tolman making a case for using the bully pulpit and his power to influence policy from the office.
Tolman said he spent the first 13 years of his legal career from 1987 through 1999 in and out of the courtroom as an attorney with Burns and Levinson, while Healey, who resigned from the attorney general's office to campaign, noted her role successfully arguing against the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court and said she last appeared before a judge last summer.
"That is what it means, Warren, to be the people's lawyer," she said, looking straight at Tolman.
She later criticized Tolman on the issue of gun violence for being singularly focused on implementing smart-gun trigger lock technology at the expense of discussing other issues like gun trafficking. "It's something we can do," Tolman insisted, acknowledging it is just part of the solution to gun violence.
Healey said she had called the head of the Teamsters, a union that endorsed her candidacy, to discuss allegations that members of that union used racial and homophobic epithets to verbally harass the crew of Top Chef while filming in Boston. When they denied the allegations, she said she reached out to Bravo to hear their side. Tolman said he "never" would have called the union boss first if he were attorney general, but would have immediately launched an investigation.
"I obviously don't have the power, but I hope to," Healey shot back, explaining she acted as a private citizen but supports an investigation into the incident earlier this summer.
During a lightning round, both candidates said former Senate President William Bulger's name did not belong on a South Boston Library, supported wheelchair ramps on Beacon Hill sidewalks and said they agreed with the Red Sox decision to send rookie centerfield Jackie Bradley Jr. to the minors because of his hitting woes.
While Healey said Ruth Bader Ginsburg should not resign from the Supreme Court, Tolman said he hoped the justice would retire within the next two years, which would give President Barack Obama the chance to nominate her successor.
Asked whether they would take a pledge not to run for higher office if they win the attorney general's office, Healey declined, but Tolman said, "In four years? Absolutely."
Healey also gave the nod to Angie Harmon for best district attorney on "Law and Order," while Tolman agreed but only after punting to Healey when he couldn't think of an answer.
On the issue of campus sexual assault, both Democrats expressed concern with a California bill moving toward Gov. Jerry Brown's desk that would set an "affirmative consent" legal standard for sexual encounters between students.
Healey, however, criticized Tolman's plan to call a summit of college leaders in Massachusetts to discuss ways to address campus sexual violence, which he said he would convene in December and not wait until he takes the oath of office, if elected.
"You don't get at solving sexual assault by growing the executive conference suite and convening meetings," Healey said. "You solve campus sexual assault by giving schools the resources they need, rape crisis counseling centers, forensic investigators, and relationships with police and district attorneys that are working so people can come forward."
When Tolman suggested that as head of the civil rights division in the attorney general's office Healey should have done more to address campus violence against women, Healey shot back, "You've never prosecuted a crime, I have . . . I don't need to be lectured by you."
Asked if they could imagine an instance when as attorney general they would decline to defend the state, Tolman said he would not have defended Massachusetts against a civil lawsuit brought by a Maryland child welfare group alleging deficiencies in the Department of Children and Families before troubles at that agency came to a head with the death of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver.
Healey said she would consider each case brought to her office individually, but with regard to the DCF lawsuit she said, "In that situation, I agree with how the office handled it in terms of the defense and how things were presented."
Both candidates said they would respect the will of the voters if casino gambling is repealed on the ballot in November. Healey opposes casinos, while Tolman has said he plans to vote against repeal.
"If Charlie Baker tries to cram a casino down, I'm going to do everything I can to speak up," said Tolman, referring to Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, who has said he would file legislation to build a casino in Springfield even if the casino repeal question is approved by voters.