They haven’t agreed on much so far, but when it comes to Thursday night’s scheduled debate between incumbent state Rep. Geraldo Alicea, D-Charlton, and Republican challenger Peter Durant of Spencer, both men are in agreement about one thing: They want it to be about the issues.
Taxes, voting records, the economy – all these and more are likely to take center stage once the TV cameras start to roll inside Charlton Town Hall at 7 p.m.
Three days out from the debate, however, Alicea was seeing red over the latest accusations coming from Durant, who has charged the two-term lawmaker with trying to avoid a debate. Durant challenged Alicea several weeks ago to five debates. The final terms of agreement for the first (and possibly only forum), however, weren’t realized until recently.
That, according to Alicea, is as much Durant’s responsibility as his. The Spencer resident and former selectmen, he said, could have agreed to a debate much earlier, but “it was him dragging his feet.”
Still, Alicea has set the terms on pretty much all aspects of the debate, including the date, time, place and moderator. Durant pushed to have part of the night done Lincoln-Douglas style.
An ornery Alicea bristled at suggestions that, after telling Durant when and where the debate would be, he tried to change the terms, by threatening to cancel the event if it wasn’t limited to an hour. He said he has a family commitment at 8:30.
Reminded that he picked the night, even when Durant wanted it one day later, and asked why he couldn’t have foreseen any conflicts beforehand, Alicea, speaking by cell phone late Monday, said: “Just because I’m campaigning doesn’t mean I’m not doing my job. [On Monday] I was out in the district. Now I’ve got to pick up my kids. I have all of these other commitments.”
Pressed further on the issue, and again reminded that he had chosen the date, Alicea said he picked Thursday because, “I had an understanding that it was going to be an hour. That’s what I told [his campaign manager] Larry [McDonald] and Jim Whitney. So I blocked off an hour.”
Whitney, a former Dudley town administrator and moderator, is moderating the debate.
According to a series of e-mails between the two rivals, Durant never formally agreed to the date. In fact, he asked Alicea if it could be held Friday, Oct. 22. Durant has said his wife is unable to attend on Thursday.
Alicea issued a firm, “No, not at all” when asked whether he was, in fact, forcing the terms of the debate upon his opponent, taking the opportunity to poke holes in a claim by Durant that he had agreed to all terms.
“He wasn’t agreeing on terms with Jim,” said Alicea. “I modified it again on the format. He wanted a half hour for Lincoln-Douglas. I said we need to do five questions each.”
It is more important, he continued, to hear questions from the moderator and audience.
“I worked really hard to make sure it would be a fair debate,” said Alicea. “I went above and beyond to make sure we have a fair and healthy debate. If he’s painting it another way, he’s wrong.
“If it was left to Pete, we’d still be waiting.”