Senator Harriette Chandler and Paul Franco
Recorded live on Wednesday, October 8, 2014, at the Small Business Candidates' Night, hosted by MassLandlords.net at Worcester Technical High School.
Senator Harriette Chandler and Paul Franco for 1st Worcester Senate
Raymond Mariano: Our second debate is for the State Senate, the 1st Worcester District candidates Harriette Chandler and Paul Franco. Harriette Chandler, a former public school teacher, professor, and mediator, is the first Worcester woman elected to the Massachusetts State Senate. She now serves as the assistant majority leader. Sen. Chandler holds a B.A. from Wellesley, an MBA from Simmons, and a PhD from Clark University. She and her husband, Burton, have three grown children and four grandchildren.
Paul Franco has served as an officer in the US Army JAG Corps for 31 years, recently retiring as a lieutenant colonel. During the last 20 years, Paul has served as a coaching director in numerous local youth sports leagues, as a member of the Conservation Commission and as Chair of the Worcester Republican City Committee. Paul and his wife, Mary Ann, have lived in Worcester for 26 years where they have raised their six children and he has practiced law.
We did a coin flip right at the very beginning. Mr. Franco won, and as he said, Bill Belichick. He took the Bill Belichick approach and deferred, so Miss Chandler will go first for her opening statement. She has 2 minutes.
Harriette Chandler: Thank you! Good evening, everyone. Thank you for being here tonight and my thanks to the MassLandlords for sponsoring this debate. I hope it will be an informative discussion. It’s been my privilege to represent the 1st Worcester District in the State Senate where I have worked on issues of importance to the people I serve ‑ economic development, healthcare, housing, education, veterans services, and transportation – and with the exception of education, I have either chaired or co-chaired each of these joint committees.
For the last 2 years, I have been the senate assistant majority leader and vice-chairman of the Senate Steering and Policy Committee. I am the highest-ranking legislator in Central Massachusetts, and I have used these positions to ensure that my district’s concerns are heard and addressed.
In partnership with my delegation colleagues and municipal leaders, I have worked hard to bring billions of state dollars and attention to communities in my district for economic development, for job creation, for transportation improvements, and school construction. Just as important, I have responded to hundreds and hundreds of requests from constituents who needed problem-solving assistance in dealing with state government and its agencies.
Whether it is the housing bond bill, which authorized $1.4 billion in capital spending over the next five years to fund the production and preservation of affordable housing in the commonwealth or a $12.7 billion transportation finance legislation to bolster the state’s transportation system, or the angel investor tax credit to incentivize investment and foster growth in newly formed startups over $75,000. I was able to secure the share for Worcester jobs funding.
My attention has always been to create opportunities for local residents for good living wage jobs and match local residents with training, so that they can fill these positions as well as have housing in which more middle income and working families can afford to live.
I welcome the chance to talk about this more in the course of this evening, and I thank you.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, Sen. Chandler. Just so that the candidates know and I apologize, timekeeper is right there, and when she shows the timecard‑
Harriette Chandler: That’s it.
Raymond Mariano: That’s it. Okay, Mr. Franco, you have 2 minutes for your opening statement.
Paul Franco: Thank you MassLandlords association for inviting me tonight. Thank you everyone for coming. I’m Paul Franco. I’m the Republican candidate for State Senate. I decided to run for this position because I have witnessed a state government that is completely out of touch with the interests of the hardworking families of this district. I have seen the state government looking more towards raising taxes, to perpetuate self-interests, and not to provide upward mobility for all residents.
Consider these facts: 62 percent of our recent college graduates are either unemployed, underemployed, or not seeking any kind of work. The number of jobs in our state today is no greater than it was in 2000. In the past 8 years, we have seen a 40 percent growth in our state budget, yet zero increase in funding of education and local aid to cities and towns. No new ideas ‑ just tax, spend, and cater to special interests.
Our plan for upward mobility has three parts: excellence in education, job creation, and efficient, accountable, and transparent government. Excellence in education involves providing principal’s autonomy to seek the status that they need to manage educating our K-12. 12 to Life program, so get the disadvantaged students a chance to get a high school diploma and get a job. We also talked about MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, to provide a cheaper way to go to college. Job creation involves the implementation of simplified tax form. The implementation of intrastate crowdfunding, which will allow startups to obtain capital they need to grow jobs locally, local investment, local businesses. That’s what we need.
This is my plan. I am the best person available to provide an upper mobility for all the residents of Massachusetts in our district. I ask you to join us and create a government that we can all believe in.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, Mr. Franco. Next section we have broad questions, and we will give the candidates 2 minutes each to respond. First question goes to Mr. Franco regarding affordable housing. Mr. Franco, most housing authorities across the state have very lengthy waiting lists. In Worcester, the housing authority has more than 12,000 applicants, many of them homeless and some who have been on the waiting list for more than a decade. What would you do to reduce that backlog and help those families on the waiting list find housing?
Paul Franco: I think the problem we have is that we don’t have enough people having opportunities to acquire housing. It’s probably due to the fact that many of us, the people that can afford housing, lack jobs. They lack opportunities and access to upward mobility. What we need to do is take the abandoned properties, the properties that have failed to provide taxes, clear the titles so that the properties can be auctioned back from the cities to private investors to put those houses back on the market.
Second, we need to create jobs. We need to get people back to work so that they can have the means necessary to buy housing, to grow businesses, to get what they need to do, to afford the housing in our market. Once we get the job creators creating jobs and get people back to work, they will have the means necessary to afford housing, and that’s my primary goal, and that’s what we’ve talked about our platform from day 1 and that’s what’s resonated with voters that I have talked to in the last 6 months of campaigning.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, Mr. Franco. Miss Chandler.
Harriette Chandler: For far too long, many people have been one paycheck away from being in bankruptcy. Unfortunately, when a recession hit about 5 or 6 years ago, we really saw what happened. We saw lots of people who found themselves unable to continue to pay the mortgage on their homes. That became a very serious problem for Massachusetts. It became a very serious problem here in Worcester where we have not had but have the highest foreclosure rate in the whole state. That is something that we must do something about. There are bills that are still going on in the legislature to try to deal with that issue.
I must tell you and I don’t mean to pander to you, Mr. Moderator, but one of the most interesting and most innovative ideas that have come forth recently came forth from the gentleman to my right, and that was the issue of the Better Life Program, a better life chance. Excuse me, as you probably are aware, it’s a self-sufficiency program created and administered by the director of the Housing Administration and the Housing Authority in conjunction with Worcester Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts.
What do we do is change the way public housing is provided to families and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and intergenerational living in public housing. These were not meant to be lived in for generations. They were built after World War II. It was a stopgap measure, and they were built that way for stopgap measure. We’ve been living in them for far too long. His idea of saying that the people who would come to him and say, “I will either take education, get a job, or do community service. If I do these things and sign an agreement with you, I will be able to go to the top of the list for housing.” This is very important. We’ve got to break this intergenerational issue, and I think Mr. Mariano has found a way of doing it.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, senator. The next question is on economic development. It goes to Sen. Chandler. What specific plans would you propose or support to spur economic growth in Greater Worcester?
Harriette Chandler: Well, we’ve done an awful lot of things in Worcester and at the state already, and we’ve put $10 million into the Gateway Cities Transformative Development Fund. To spur economic development, you have to give people incentives. I spoke at my introduction about the angel program that we have, the angel investor program, but quite frankly, one of our problems has to be you’ve got to look at all of these things together, all of the various facets that produce the problems we have had. We have a problem of recession. We have a problem of a lot of absentee landlords, which has caused a very serious problem in terms of our foreclosure issues, and we have a problem of education, not really being able to get these children up, out, and into jobs, into opportunities for themselves.
My concern would be to basically put investment as much investment as we can, to expand the economic development program that we already have, the incentive program that we already have, to expand I-Cubed, to do the kinds of things that provide for opportunities for people. I’ve done two things that were interesting in this past session. I did the Nursing Home Stability Bill and I did the Nursing Home Transparency Bill. One, which is the first stability bill, which says that you just can’t keep paying the reimbursement rate at 2005 levels. It doesn’t work. No wonder these nursing homes are having $37 a day per person deficits. You got to change that. We were able to get it up a little bit. That’s a step in the right direction. We also said you can’t have nursing homes that just go out of business and sold overnight in some backroom.
Thank you. I see the time.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, senator. The next section is property owner and property‑
Paul Franco: Ray, I haven’t had the chance to respond.
Harriette Chandler: He didn’t respond.
Raymond Mariano: I apologize. I apologize, Mr. Franco.
Paul Franco: Since 2000, we have had no growth in jobs. For 14 years, we have gone nowhere, and it’s time to go in the right direction. Small businesses create most of the jobs. One of the new and innovative ideas that we are proposing, which is the news in other states, is called intrastate crowdfunding. What this does not involve is allowing local investors to invest in local business without going through the time-consuming and expensive process. What this does is it creates access to capital so that businesses, people that create businesses have access to the capital to create the jobs. It’s been done in other states, and in all states, there has been a remarkable dramatic increase in jobs.
Think of it this way: right now, if a person came up to me and said, “I want to invest $5,000 in your idea, in your business,” it would be illegal for me to do that. But if you came up to me and said, “Let’s take $5,000 and go down [unintelligible 0:13:06] blow that money, we can do that.” Listen: we’re not electing venture capitalists. We need to empower the job creators to create jobs. They’ve done it in other states. Once we get everybody back to work, things are going to get better, and we’re going to have all the things that we need. My platform, that’s one of our key elements. I’d like you all to join me on that because when I’m elected as your next state senator that will be the first bill that I will introduce in the legislature.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, Mr. Franco. The next section is property owner-related questions. You will have 1 minute to respond to each question. Mr. Franco, we will start with you. Massachusetts is the only state or one of the only states in the country that requires landlords and property managers to wait 30 days to assess late fees. House Bill 1670 would allow a late fee to be assessed after 10 days. Do you support this bill? Why or why not?
Paul Franco: I support this bill because like the rest of us that have to pay our bills, landlords have to pay their mortgages. Many landlords themselves are private individuals. They are people that have families. They’ve invested maybe in a three-decker, and they have to pay bills like everyone else. Landlords need to know that the rent is going to be on time, and failure to pay the rent on time is going to result in a penalty. It’s the same thing with car payments. It’s the same thing with credit card purchases. People need to pay their bills, and we pay those bills on time and I think that landlords shouldn’t be treated any differently from anyone else. That’s in there for the business and has to pay the bills because that’s all that we have to do at the end of the day.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, Mr. Franco. Sen. Chandler.
Harriette Chandler: Yes, thank you. Thirty days is a long time when you have to pay your mortgage, and I sympathize with the landlords in this situation. But I do think that we have to also consider the fact that people who are not paying on time have a problem, and we’ve got to deal with the problem of people who just don’t have the money.
Raymond Mariano: Stop! Hold it right now. Excuse me. I’m the moderator. If we have any of that, I’ll just walk off the stage. Knock it off. Go ahead, senator.
Harriette Chandler: All right. I think that I have no qualm about the 10 days. I think that it will work, but I think we also have to be sensitive to the fact that we have lots of economic problems in this community, and we have to realize that.
Raymond Mariano: Okay. Thank you, senator. The next question goes to Sen. Chandler. Worcester has a large number of undergraduate and graduate students, but according to the Worcester Municipal Research Bureau, only half of the graduates plan to stay in Massachusetts and only 18 percent in Worcester. Half of the students cited the “look and feel” of Worcester’s neighborhoods as a major reason for not staying. What can you do about this?
Harriette Chandler: I don’t think that it’s the look and the feel of Worcester’s neighborhoods that are causing the problem. I think what’s causing the problem and keeping so many, encouraging so many of our young children, our young people and the children who go to college here and they’re an important source of strength for us for the future. But we have to offer them something. We have to offer them jobs, and we have to offer them housing that they can afford. One of our major problems today is the fact that we have such limited middle income and working family housing for them. I believe that is the real issue here.
Raymond Mariano: Mr. Franco.
Paul Franco: Thank you. Sixty-two percent of the students that recently graduated from our colleges and universities are either unemployed, underemployed, or not seeking work at all. The reason behind that is there are no jobs out there. As I stated earlier, we have created no new jobs in 14 years under the current incumbent leadership and the rest of the state government. That is unacceptable. Young men and women who graduate from our universities have substantial debt. They need access to employment. I, myself, as a father of six, I want my children and my granddaughter to live in the area, so we need to provide jobs.
As I said before and our platform addresses it, we need to provide the means for job creation by empowering the job creators to create jobs. We need to set forth a regulatory and political environment that’s conducive to job growth. Believe me once we do that, the kids will stay and they’ll love it here just like I have and my wife for the last 26 years.
Raymond Mariano: Last section in this section starts with Mr. Franco. Because of scandals involving widespread shoddy practices on behalf of major banks filing for foreclosure, Massachusetts and other states boosted regulations. One of the results is an increase in the number of abandoned properties that sit unoccupied in the neighborhood for a long time before those properties can be put up for sale. According to an article published in the Worcester Telegram, Worcester County has ranked in the top 10 in the country in these properties. What can you do to reduce the time properties remain abandoned?
Paul Franco: As I stated earlier, the problem is when people lack the employment, lack the income to pay their rent, to pay their mortgages, they end up having their houses foreclosed. We need obviously, as I stated in my platform numerous times, we need to get these people back to work. Once these people are back to work, they’ll be able to afford housing. The immediate problem with these abandoned properties, I think the state can do this. When properties are left for foreclosure, tax bills aren’t paid. They can be taken and seized by the cities. We need to facilitate the city being able to clear the titles, so these properties can go up for auction and get back to the developers and the business people that want to invest in it. Then once we get those properties on the market, there will be more affordable housing because the supply of housing will increase, and we will make the housing problem solved. That’s one of the things of being an efficient, accountable, and transparent government doing the things that make it work.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, Mr. Franco. Sen. Chandler, same question.
Harriette Chandler: We’ve been trying to do this for some time, and there are real differences about how long, how you do this, how long the cure period should be, and at what point we should be able to take over property. I tend to agree with my opponent in saying that we should use those foreclosed properties for people who have been homeless for example. We should use the city to clean those up and put them back on the market because we need that property very badly. I tend to agree with you, and I feel very strongly that this needs to be done, but we have to first of all determine how long and at what point we can determine the cure period is over.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, senator. Final section. The responses will be one and a half minutes for each. First question goes to Sen. Chandler. There have been several tragic examples of failure by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). What needs to be done to ensure that this agency operates effectively and that vulnerable children are protected, Sen. Chandler?
Harriette Chandler: It’s a very serious problem, and I would say that one of the problems that we’ve had is that we have over the years we have taken away money from our social workers, who work for DCF, and given them larger and larger cases to deal with. You can’t stretch them that far, and if we look at the cases that the tragedies that we have seen, and we’ve seen a few of them, we have to be able and we have already started to do this to put more money into DCF, more money to hire more caseworkers.
Clearly giving the caseworkers some resources to use so that they can communicate more effectively with their offices rather than carrying around all kinds of paperwork would help, too. But I think we really have to understand that our society has some monumental problems to deal with, and maybe parts of it, we have to make all those resources to surround children who are in troubled family situations. We have to give them support. We have to make certain for example that we provide early education for them. We have to revive slots in daycare for them. We have to do all of those issues that will help and basically help these kids to have a chance and to help their parents have a chance because they need it, too.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, senator. Mr. Franco, same question.
Paul Franco: Thank you. Every child deserves an excellent and appropriate education regardless of their circumstances within our district. We need to make sure that our children, which are our most precious resources, are protected. We can’t allow the abuses that occurred this last few years where children are dying under DCF care and custody. We have to make sure that adequate funding is provided to DCF. There’s no excuse for this. It took so long for a change in leadership to change the culture, and we still need to make sure that DCF is fully equipped with the resources they need to protect our children.
In addition, we need to protect our children through innovative ideas and education. One of the things that we’ve talked about in our platform is the 12 for Life program where we take children that are disadvantaged children that are performing poorly. This has been done in other states like Georgia and Alabama where companies, who are private collaborative, get together with the schools and take those students that can’t perform well and put them in an environment where not only do they get there high school diploma, but they get a job and they work while they go to school. So they have a direct access to better education and better employment opportunities. We need to think outside the box. We need to take care of our children and make sure we give them every means necessary to achieve success because they’re our future and they’re precious, and we need to protect them.
Raymond Mariano: Thank you, Mr. Franco. Next question goes to Mr. Franco. Last year the legislature passed and government signed a welfare reform bill. Are there additional steps that should be taken to protect against fraud and abuse of public benefits?
Paul Franco: I think the best way to address that problem is to look at the fact that we’ve had no job growth in the last 14 years, and nothing seems to change. There is no new ideas, no innovations, no thinking outside the box to create jobs, and to make those people that are in dire circumstances have the means to protect themselves and to become upwardly mobile. I think that we need to approach it and the idea that by creating jobs and making sure that those people that are applying for benefits are qualified residents of Massachusetts.
We need to make sure that they are properly identified as Massachusetts residents. They are entitled. We do not want people in temporary housing, in motels, homeless, who do not have the opportunity to get public housing because the people ahead of them are not otherwise qualified. We need to ensure that those people that receive those benefits are entitled. We need to make sure that we enforce the EBT reforms that we’ve talked about, to make sure that our government resources are used efficiently, economically, and [unintelligible 0:25:01].
Like I said, we need to do that. Every dollar that the state government wastes is a dollar that can’t be used to help someone in dire need. It’s a travesty when we don’t put in the measures to make sure those entitled to benefits receive them, and I’ll do my best as your next state senator to ensure that every dollar spent is a part of a sacred trust that’s only going to be used for the public ‑
Raymond Mariano: Time, Mr. Franco. Sorry. Sen. Chandler, let me repeat the question. Last year, the legislature passed and the government has signed a welfare reform bill. Are there additional steps that should be taken to protect against fraud and abuse of public benefits?
Harriette Chandler: Clearly one of the steps that was very important was to put photographs on EBT cards. That’s a big step forward in terms of making sure that the cards are not misused. We’re going to have to see how the EBT reforms work out and how these welfare reforms work out. I think we have to take it step by step and see where we are. In general, you hear about the misuse. You hear about the waste. You hear about the fraud, but there are a lot of people, who use those in the desperate straits that they are in for the time being, and they don’t see it as a short-term kind of thing or they do see it as a short-term kind of thing. However, it’s our job as government officials to make sure that there isn’t fraud, to make sure that people don’t use these cards and the money in an unwise or inappropriate way.
Raymond Mariano: The last question starts with Mr. Franco. Tell me an idea proposed by your opponent that you would consider adopting if you got elected.
Paul Franco: With all due respect to my opponent, one of the reasons why I’m running is I pretty much disagree with all the policies she’s enacted. I mean you can’t be in the state legislature for the last 14 years and allow zero job growth. You can’t let the state budget go up by 40 percent in the last 8 years and then provide zero growth in funding for local aid and for education. You can’t allow five supplemental budgets in 2013 and one supplemental budget in 2014 to go by and not increase funding for education and increase funding for local aid.
The cities and towns need that money, and I’m telling you right now, you let me as the next state senator for the 1st Worcester District, I’ll make sure every single dollar that’s supposed to go to cities and towns gets there. If I can’t get it, I expect to get called on it. I know no one or anything at the state house. I don’t have special interest except for people like yourselves, the hardworking families of the district. I’ll find out where that money is. I’ll tell you who’s stopping it, and believe collectively, we’re going to make the state government work and we’re going to do things that are going to make a difference and give ourselves a chance to be proud of our state government once again [applause].
Raymond Mariano: Sen. Chandler, the same question. Tell me an idea proposed by your opponent that you would consider adopting if you’ll get elected.
Harriette Chandler: Well, I don't know too many ideas that he’s had because he’s hadn’t had a chance to vote on anything and he really hasn’t expressed his ideas too thoroughly in channels that I’m familiar with, but he has suggested that he wants increased funding for a variety. He just told you he wants to increase funding, but how can you have increased funding if you don’t want to raise taxes? I think the two go hand in hand, but maybe that’s my small-minded Democratic view of things.
I think that one issue that is very important here is that my opponent is interested in increasing charter schools. I’m not interested in increasing charter schools, and there’s a reason for that. We’ve had a very mixed experience here in Massachusetts, particularly here in Worcester. We’ve had one school that has gone absolutely financially defunct. The examples that we’ve had are not good, but I think that there are still probably is hope for charter schools, not the way Mr. Franco suggests that they be taken over by outside private interests and run that way because I don’t believe that’s the way it should be run. We should be putting our money into public education and really expanding the public education as much as we can. I feel very strongly about that [applause].
Raymond Mariano: Well once again, she doesn’t like anything he proposed, and he doesn’t like anything that she proposed. I want to thank our candidates for state senate. How about a nice round of applause [applause]?