Field reporting by Walt Buteau,Field reporting by Tim White
Updated: Oct 17, 2012 3:01 PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The candidates for one of the most hotly contested U.S. House races in the country squared off Tuesday night for the first time in an Eyewitness News/Providence Journal Campaign 2012 Debate.
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and his Republican challenger, former Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police Brendan Doherty, took the stage at the Providence Performing Arts Center to answer questions posed by moderator, Target 12 Investigator Tim White, and panelists, WPRI.com reporter Ted Nesi and Providence Journal report Ed Achorn.
The debate, sometimes contentious, covered topics from Rhode Island's unemployment rate to the deadly terror attack in Libya several weeks ago.
During opening statements, both candidates laid the groundwork for their individual positions.
"The stakes are high in this election and this is about priorities," said Cicilline, who then reiterated President Obama's main talking point: "Making sure everyone plays by the same rules and everyone gets a fair shot."
During his opening statements, Doherty spoke of bringing a strong voice to Washington.
"We can all agree that Congress is broken," he said. "Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree that it's dark out right now."
The first topic of the debate was Rhode Island's dismal unemployment rate.
Doherty said nationally, the country should concentrate on its natural resources and capitalize on opportunities in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, which he said would help create 1.2 million jobs per year nationwide.
As for Rhode Island, he said closing the job skills gap, through increased job training, was key to putting residents back to work.
Doherty said he spoke to manufacturers who have jobs to offer, but can't find people qualified to do them.
Cicilline touted his "Make it in America" Block Grant Act, a six-point manufacturing plan for Rhode Island that he said would include incentives and tax breaks for small businesses, and investments in clean energy and research and development.
"If we're going to remain a power in this world, we have to make things in this country," Cicilline said.
Doherty criticized Cicilline's plan, saying it would take money out of people's pockets to redistribute wealth.
"The Make it in America Block Grant picks winners and losers," Doherty said.
Providence Journal editor Ed Achorn asked the first question related to the fiscal condition in which Cicilline left the City of Providence.
He asked the congressman if he owed his 2010 Republican challenger, John Loughlin, an apology for accusing him of playing politics when Loughlin questioned the financial stability of Providence.
At that time, Cicilline maintained the city was in "excellent financial condition." However, soon after he left office, newly elected Mayor Angel Taveras declared that the city was approaching a Category 5 emergency.
"I've accepted responsibility for everything I've done," Cicilline replied, but he maintained that he did not owe Loughlin an apology.
When asked if it was time to move on from Cicilline's job performance as Providence mayor, Doherty said it wasn't.
"As mayor, he was the captain of that ship and drove it into what Taveras called a Category 5 hurricane. Then just before the storm arrived he jumped ship to Washington," Doherty said.
Plans in Washington
Throughout the campaign, Cicilline has tried to tie Doherty in with the national Republican party and what he called its "extreme" agenda.
"Let's be clear, if Mr. Doherty actually talked about what he would do in Washington, Rhode Island voters wouldn't vote for it," Cicilline said.
Doherty countered, saying he's his own man. "I will go to Washington to reach across the table and come up with common sense solutions," he said.
WPRI.com reporter Ted Nesi then asked each candidate to name one thing on which they agreed with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and one they disagreed. Both agreed they supported bringing down the corporate tax rate.
Doherty said he disagreed with any kind of privatization or voucher program for Medicare.
"I would never vote for it," he said.
Tim White asked Cicilline, who sits on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, why he hasn't called for a hearing into the
terrorist attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya, in which four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, were killed.
Cicilline said a full review is underway at the U.S. State Department, and that Congress should await the outcome of that review before holding any hearings.
When asked if the White House, which initially blamed the coordinated attack on a spontaneous protest sparked by a YouTube video, was transparent, Cicilline said it had been.
"I don't think there's been any evidence to suggest the White House has been anything less than transparent," Cicilline said.
While Doherty was less confident in the transparency at the White House, he did say that "political rhetoric gets carried away" and that lawmakers must be cautious about how they discuss sensitive information in public.
Social Security and Budgets
Ed Achorn pointed to a recent Eyewitness News poll, which found a majority of Rhode Islanders felt it was more important to protect Social Security and Medicare than it was to bring down the national debt, which now stands at more than $16 trillion.
Doherty said the country needs to strengthen Social Security now, but do so in a reasonable manner.
He pointed to the report from the Simpson-Bowles debt commission as a jumping-off point for tackling the country's debt issues, saying it creates a flatter and more fair tax structure, while cutting loopholes.
While Cicilline said he liked that Simpson-Bowles put additional tax revenue on the table, he said it also would raise the Social Security retirement age and cut benefits for seniors.
Doherty accused Cicilline of using scare tactics to frighten seniors and said he would work with Democrats.
"Republicans come up with good ideas and so do Democrats," he said.
Ed Achorn asked Doherty about a recent
Politifact, which found false a claim by the Doherty campaign that Cicilline espoused Providence as a sanctuary city.
While Doherty conceded he should have said Cicilline "tacitly espoused" the sanctuary city status, he said Cicilline and his then-police chief, Dean Esserman, would not let the Providence Police Department work with federal immigration officials.
Cicilline said he didn't understand why Doherty would make those statements, pointing out that Providence had its lowest crime rate in 30 years under his administration.
Doherty then pointed to the case of
Marco Riz, an illegal immigrant convicted of kidnapping and woman in Warwick and raping her at Roger Williams Park in Providence.
"Marco Riz was arrested several times before and should have been deported if ICE had know. But ICE wasn't informed," Doherty said.
Both men agreed the country is in need of immigration reform.
"I'm glad Rhode Island is home to many immigrants," Ciciline said. "We have to continue to be a place where we can attract the brightest minds."
Yes or No Questions
Would you vote to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act?
Would you support term limits and what would they be?
Doherty: Yes (Six years or three 2-year terms)
Do you support Rhode Island's new voter ID law?
"I will continue to fight for the things important to your families," Cicilline said.
"I ask you to take a look at the two candidates," Doherty said. "I will always tell you the truth, it's as simple as that."
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