DRACUT -- For the most part, the 10 political hopefuls vying for a seat on one of four boards who participated in 2014 Candidates Night abided by the behavioral guideline set by Moderator Melinda Bettencourt to steer clear of personal attacks.
It got personal only at the very beginning and very end. As first, Dracut Housing Authority candidate Brian Bond used part of his opening statement to question the integrity of his opponent, Jesse Forcier; and later, during the event's closing minutes, selectman candidate Ted Kosiavelon challenged incumbent Bob Cox for admitting that he planned to accept his grandfathered town health-insurance benefit "for life," if Cox is elected to a fourth term.
Otherwise, the two-hour, televised forum, held Wednesday night at Harmony Hall, featured participants -- including selectmen candidates Alison Hughes and Tami Dristiliaris, and School Committee incumbent Matt Sheehan and challenger Michelle McCarthy -- focusing solely on what they would bring to their board's meeting tables, if elected on May 5.
In the School Committee race, McCarthy and Sheehan's prepared statements and interactions took on a decidedly civil tone. Sheehan touted his experience and numerous accomplishments during his six-year tenure on the school board, including his having been the lead advocate of the hiring of Superintendent Steven Stone, and "creating full-day kindergarten at no charge," Sheehan said.
As for his outspoken opposition to last September's failed $2.9 million override to boost the school budget, which the other four members of the School Committee favored, Sheehan said he correctly predicted that the board erred in requesting an "all or nothing" amount from the voters that Dracut's taxpayers could not afford.
McCarthy told voters she could provide "the voice that is missing on the School Committee, that of a mother of young children attending the Dracut schools," she said.
"I know the struggles parents and their children face; I know the issues."
During last summer's debate on the override, McCarthy said she was dismayed to hear people "trashing" the reputation of the Dracut schools.
"Communication is something I'd like to work on," said McCarthy. "A lot of parents feel there is not enough communication from the school board."
McCarthy and Sheehan each said they would like to see more teachers added to reduce the district's student-to-teacher ratio.
In the selectmen's race, each candidate read a prepared statement highlighting their personal and career accomplishments.
Dristiliaris, a 22-year resident who is also a 30-year registered nurse, told the audience that through her Dracut law practice she has come to know intimately the struggles of the town's families and taxpayers.
She is always accessible to voters, added Dristiliaris, who was the only candidate to recite aloud her phone number during the event.
Hughes, a 12-year Dracut resident and Cape Cod native, who works full time as a marketing-communications manager, said she would put her business savvy to use in boosting Dracut's much-needed economic development in an effort to ease the town's heavily residential tax burden.
Kosiavelon, a longtime resident, Dracut High grad and owner of a home-improvement contracting business, told the audience he hoped his third run for a selectman's seat will be successful. He also expressed his disappointment to Bettencourt that the selectman candidates would not be permitted to question their opponents directly, due to what the moderator said was a time constraint.
So Kosiavelon used his allotted closing statement time to question Cox as to how he could justify accepting a lifetime health insurance benefit at a time when the town's taxpayers are hurting.
"Anyone, if their employer says you have a benefit available to you, you're going to take it," Cox responded to Kosiavleon during his own closing statement.
Because Kosiavelon "attacked" him, Cox added, he wanted to inform the public that he took issue with Kosiavelon's taking credit that he "spearheaded" the vote-no campaign on the override, with Cox naming Lucky Vezina, the owner of Lucky Oil, as the vote-no campaign's leader instead.
Kosiavelon said after the forum that contrary to Cox's charge, he has the signed and dated political action committee filing at Town Hall and state campaign financial reports to prove he that he led and spent much of his own money on the "Vote No" on the $2.9 million campaign from the moment the special-election ballot question was formed.
In fact, Kosiavelon clashed with School Committee chairman Michael McNamara in July when McNamara claimed Kosiavelon was installing his bright yellow "No $2.9 Million Override" signs all over town "too early"in last summer.s campaign, Kosiavelon noted.
Bond, who is seeking to move from a seat on the Dracut Housing Authority, to which he was appointed by the governor, to a three-year term that he may be elected to by residents instead, said he was forced to address in his prepared remarks the "dirty and deceitful campaigning" that has involved spreading false rumors about him around town, Bond said.
Forcier, veering from his prepared remarks which included his thanks to his wife and four children for their support of his first run for office, said he was "disappointed" Bond had chosen to use the forum to attack him personally.
Next, Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee candidates Joseph Espinola and Victor Olson both cited their blue-collar backgrounds as a factor that made them best-suited to hold the seat representing Dracut on the vocational school's eight-member board.
The most heated moment during the pair's time came when Espinola, a retired police officer, told Olson the GLTHS school-resource officer needs to spend more time meeting students at the school and at their homes, and less time "hanging out at the courthouse because by then he's too late" to address the problems, Espinola said.
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