It was around 9:30 p.m. Monday night, Aug. 28, in the auditorium when the main event at theCandidates' Night Forum which most residents came to see finally got underway.
While the sparks flew on the under card – the three Democrats seeking the Governor's Council position let questions of ethics and competence fly about – the most interest was reserved for the three candidates seeking to replace Belmont's current state senator as state representative for for the 24th Middlesex District that includes Belmont and precincts in Arlington and Cambridge.
Democrats Dave Rogers, Margaret Hegarty and Bobby Reardon stepped away for a summer of retail politics – it is a rare resident who hasn't seen one of the trio holding a sign or had them knocking on their door – to discuss issues placed before them by residents.
And while there were no haymakers thrown in this group – the forum's structure did not allow candidates to debate each other but only to answer audience questions – each candidate was able to provided insight to what are their main issues and concerns if elected to Beacon Hill.
The three brought their own narrative to the Chenery stage, emphasizing those qualities that brought them to decide to run for the open seat.
For Hegarty, a live-long Belmont resident, attorney and single mother, it is the notion of "a state government committed to service all but mostly those in need" and "firmly committed to the common good."
Rogers' will advocate for a more active role for government in society, stemming from when he was 12 and his father suddenly died. He, his mother and his six siblings relied on Social Security Survivor Benefits, a safety net that only government could provide.
Reardon – the youngest (in his early 20s) and least experience of the three – echoed Tip O'Neill's comment that it is not what you've done but "how much you put into it and how hard you try" that will prove telling on election night.
The long shadow of the previous occupant of the district seat was evident when the candidates list of major concerns were quite similar to issues taken up by the popular Brownsberger: the need to restore quality public transportation, promoting environmental protection while protecting and increase state education funding.
Yes to increasing the income tax rate
One area Rogers came out in favor of is increasing the income tax rate from the 5.25 percent to 5.95 percent but only after looking at business loopholes and tax credits. Rogers, a business attorney from North Cambridge, said that the state is suffering from a "revenue problem" rather than state government spending too much. The higher rate would bring back $2.5 billion in addition revenue each year, said Rogers.
Reardon, who graduated from Bentley University this past May, said he would not be so eager to immediately step up the income tax rate, saying that people he's met during his campaigning have told him that the economy is still hurting and a rise in income tax rates "would be harmful."
Reardon would rather first go through the state budget line-by-line to find efficiencies and also areas of reduction.
Hegarty took a middle ground between Reardon and Rogers, advocating restoring the 5.95 percent rate but only with an accompanying increase in personal exemptions aimed at the poor and middle class. And while the state would be taking in more – an estimated $1.25 billion annually – Hegarty would protect the amount of local aid coming to the three communities in the district.
"For every dollar in local aid is a dollar you don't pay in property taxes," said Hegarty.
On other issues, Hegarty pointed to the need for sentencing reform that will reduce prison overcrowding along with expansive rehabilitation services.
"I have been a vocal advocate for my clients legal services as prosecutor public defender fiercely defender of the accused"
Each would also adopt Brownsberger's independent voice on Beacon Hill, willing to sacrifice chairmanships and advancement rather than be a rubber stamp to House leadership.
"I don't crave or covert a committee chairmanship and I have no ambition to go along to get along," said Rogers, who has worked on several national campaigns and is a bit of a "political junkie."
Yet the three noted that they have experience working successfully in hostile environs like the legislature, whether it is the courthouse or, as for Reardon, as a baseball umpire.
"That's nothing new," he said, getting the best line of the night.
The three would attempt to route out fraud in transitional assistance programs such as welfare and would be a full-time legislator with only a few minimal hours need to make ends meet, according to Rogers.
At the end of the forum, Belmont League official Bonnie Friedman noted that "what we saw were a testament to three candidates who are committed to bringing the best into this campaign and I think each gave voters a reason to cast their ballot for them."