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August 18, 2005

Impressions from the Candidates Forum

We're pleased to welcome Cos, an experienced blogger and activist who has often contributed to the comments on this blog, as a Blue Mass. Group guest blogger.  Cos will be posting his thoughts on Massachusetts politics here from time to time.  And so, without further ado, here is Cos's excellent rundown of the events at last week's Candidates Forum for the Second Middlesex Senate seat.  -David

I hadn't expected to take notes at the Second Middlesex candidates forum last Wednesday night at the Somerville Theatre. I came out of curiosity, to learn a little more about the two candidates I didn't know as well, and to see how all four of them presented themselves and what they communicated to the audience. I didn't expect surprises, and I certainly didn't expect as many laughs as we got. It was Mackey, though, who spurred me to pull out my notebook, during one of the first round of questions, when I found my jaw dropping at one of his answers. And he was one of the candidates I knew!

Soon after, the room erupted in laughter several times as the candidates and moderator puzzled through the finer points of the ground rules in a raucous exchange. For every question, each candidate got to answer it in turn, but right after their answer, any of the other candidates could have a short rebuttal if they wanted. After one of Pat Jehlen's answers, Paul Casey chose to rebut, and asked her about the infamous Lowell Street Bridge - which, as every resident of Somerville is painfully aware, has been closed for years, waiting for state funds to repair it. Jehlen responded by pointing out that the bridge is under construction as we speak (work began earlier this summer, and Somervillians rejoiced!). It had been scheduled for a few years, and it was only as the deadline was getting close enough that people started to worry the state wouldn't come through on time, that Jehlen and Shannon got involved. That was last year, so they apparently got results pretty quickly.

She started to explain that there was an issue with pedestrian access, but the timekeeper signaled that she was out of time. At that point, Jarrett Barrios, the moderator, interjected with a process clarification: rebuttals should be statements, not questions, and candidates shouldn't answer rebuttals. He started to explain that he'd allowed Jehlen to answer Casey's rebuttal because Casey had put it in the form of questions directed at her, but at the same time Pat thought Barrios was criticizing her for answering when she hadn't realized she wasn't supposed to, and some confusion ensued. Then it was Mackey's turn (I think), and this time, Jehlen opted to rebut. Instead of rebutting anything Mackey said, she used the time to finish her explanation about the Lowell Street bridge - apparently, it turned out that the state wanted to repair the bridge without pedestrian access, and local residents were upset. Jehlen and Shannon were able to work things out such that there would be pedestrian access, without any significant extra delay in the project. Casey interjected to ask Jarrett whether he shouldn't require rebuttals to actually stick to the question at hand, and Jarrett agreed that would be the policy from now on... and that under this policy, Casey shouldn't have been allowed to bring up the Lowell Street Bridge in the first place, in his earlier rebuttal. Even Casey laughed at that one.

So let me back up a bit. I should tell you where I stood, before the debate began:
I support Pat Jehlen, and volunteer for her campaign. She was my state rep when I lived in Somerville ward 2 for seven years - the same ward she had previously represented on the Somerville School Committee in the 70s and 80s. Joe Mackey was out of politics by the time I moved to Somerville, but I had seen him speak during this campaign already. I thought he was a good political speaker, and I like most of his positions, so my impression was generally positive. I had never seen Paul Casey speak, but knew that I did not support him due to some pointed differences of opinion on key issues. And Callahan was a puzzle to me - I'd known his name before he entered this race, but despite all those lawn signs I see all over Medford asserting that "he helps people", I had no sense of what he or his campaign was about, other than being the only candidate from Medford.

In terms of personality, Casey and Callahan were the clear opposites here. Callahan speaks slowly and haltingly. He talks about kids' sports games, about people he knows, with simple sentences. He seems to be a friendly, likable fellow. Casey talks mostly about policy, about money, and he does it quickly. He clearly cares about these things, and he also seems a bit high-strung. Mackey is the smoothest talker of the four, a skilled politican. Jehlen is informal, grandmotherly, like she's having a chat with you.

What struck me the most about the candidates' personalities was the interplay between them, especially between Jehlen and Casey. Although they're on opposite sides of the political spectrum in this race, they had a constant back-channel, exchanging friendly looks and comments. They are incumbent state representatives from nearby districts, and the fact that they're colleagues who are used to working together was palpable. Overall the candidates all seemed friendly to each other, though I may have detected a bit of tension between Casey and Mackey - it was subtle and I'm not really sure.

Jarrett Barrios was an interesting choice for moderator. He's the sitting state senator in the next district over, and represents the portion of Somerville that isn't part of the Second Middlesex. Usually debate moderators are further removed from the election at hand. Or retired.

The debate format brought several other moments of levity and drama, such as the time Callahan was answering a question and got to, "[...] and my plan is, [pause]" - at which point his time ran up. Mackey tried to rebut and cede his rebuttal time to Callahan so we could hear his plan, but Jarrett ruled that out of order. Instead, Callahan chose to rebut after Casey answered the question, and then he told us his plan: to lift the lottery cap, and to put slot machines at state-operated racetracks.

At another point, Mackey started to answer a rebuttal to one of his answers, and Casey erupted in indignation, calling on Jarrett to enforce the rules. Casey was right, of course, but he also reinforced the impression I was starting to get of him as high-strung.

I tried to pay attention to what campaign message each candidate tried to project, overall. My paraphrases of their main themes:

Paul Casey had the sharpest, clearest message, though I don't think it's one that resonates with the district: "I'm the reasonable conservative choice. I know how to say no to spending we can't afford. I'm good with money."

Pat Jehlen's message was about what I expected to hear: "I'm a principled, experienced progressive who you can trust to get good progressive things done, and I have very broad knowledge of state issues."

Joe Mackey's message at the forum was also in two parts, and also not a surprise: "I'm really effective, I can get things done to a degree that surprises people. My time out of politics has been useful and gives me a perspective the other candidates don't have."

Mike Callahan ... I'm not entirely sure. He talked about gambling a lot - the lottery cap, slot machines, racetracks. He talked about money for communities - money that would come from the lottery. I expected him to emphasize that "he helps people", since that's the slogan on his signs, but he didn't focus on that. Is he the lottery candidate? If he was trying to communicate a campaign message at this forum, he failed, at least for me. On a different occasion, I heard someone suggest that Callahan's slogan should be, "he helps people gamble." :)

The one thing they all violently agreed about was, you guessed it - Romney. The question was, how will you lobby Governor Romney to get the things that you want through? All four candidates acted like a team, giving one answer in four parts. Pat Jehlen started it off by saying that working with Romney has been demonstrated to be pointless, and he's getting irrelevant. We're not going to lobby Romney, she said, we're going to override him. Casey and Mackey echoed this opinion, adding some numbers about how often he's been overridden and the desire that we'll be rid of him soon, and Callahan was last, with one of the best lines of the night:

    "I serve on the Governor's Council, and I haven't seen him in three months."

My favorite round was the "Pointed Questions" from the Somerville Journal. They came up with individual questions for each candidate, honing in on the things their opponents say about them. This was followed by questions from the audience, written on cards and delivered to Jarrett during the debate.

The first pointed question went to Mackey, who did a masterful job of turning it around and presenting a liability as an asset. "You've been out of politics for fifteen years," the question began. What makes him think he can come back now? Mackey talked about raising his children, and how much he's learned from involvement in the community. He'd never been so politically active as he has in these past fifteen years. Beacon Hill is not the whole world, he exclaimed, and there's an outside perspective you get from just living in the district that is missing from the state house environment. This is the perspective he'll bring back to the state house, as a "citizen legislator". By the end of his answer, you could almost think he'd deliberately left politics to spend time among the people, to learn, and to come back now with this new perspective (actually, he ran for office and lost, then ran for office again two years later and lost again). And if you didn't think about it too much, you could imagine that legislators who actually live in their districts full time and commute to the state house like a normal job, are enveloped in a Washington-DC-like beltway, detached from the rhythms and currents of their home towns. It really was a masterful response. I've seen him defuse this concern before (at the PDS forum), and he's getting even better at it as the campaign continues.

Pat Jehlen got two opportunities to turn the tables on pointed questions, and used them both quite well. The first one was the basic, "what have you done for your people?" This question has been floating around because her main rival for the more liberal voters, Mackey, focuses his message on being "effective", and also because Pat has never been one to trumpet her legislative achievements, which means people outside Somerville tend not to know about them. Putting this to her directly gave her a chance to trumpet some of them, and she did, as much as possible in the time permitted:

    - She's brought greatly increased local aid to Somerville, and we've built five new schools during the time she's been in office.
    - She has built effective coalitions in the legislature, such as the Progressive legislators group, and the Elder Caucus which she co-chairs, and they've been able to bring many people together to get bills through despite the Finneran-dominated environment, bills such as

    • the affordable housing bond bill
    • contraceptive coverage
    • raising the minimum wage

    - She listed several of the most recent bills she introduced and was primary sponsor of, that passed:

    • A Braille literacy law, giving blind children the opportunity to be taught in braille at school
    • Civil rights for the mentally impaired who are involuntarily committed: this new bill gives them the right to send and receive mail, make and receive private phone calls, and have a lawyer
    • Compensation for people wrongfully imprisoned, who are later cleared and released

She ran out of time, and it was clear that she had plenty more to list.

The second question-turned-opportunity for Jehlen was about her endorsements. If you've been endorsed by so many special interests, won't that interfere with your ability to represent your constituents, she was asked? First of all, this gave her a perfect opportunity to rattle off part of her very impressive list of endorsements, from groups that most voters don't consider insidious "special interests". But she went further than that, explaining that 1) these groups have endorsed her because she's always supported their interests as a legislator, not the other way around, and 2) their interests are broad, not special. To give you a flavor of her answer, "the nurses union cares about nurses, and they also care about patients, and they endorsed me because I do too; the teachers' unions care about about teachers, and they also care about children and parents, and they endorse me because I've always represented the interests of children and parents;" and so on and on. Again, time ran out, and she obviously had many more endorsements to go through.

Paul Casey also got a "what have you done?" question, and used it well. First, he told us about how, when he was first elected, he discovered that the Stone Zoo was slated to be closed soon due to budget cutbacks, but he fought to save it, and against the odds, succeeded. He worked in a small dig at Mackey here - apparently Mackey was on the Ways & Means Committee at the time, and was not interested in restoring funding for the zoo. Casey then talked about his achievements as the chairman of taxation, closing corporate tax loopholes, giving tax incentives, and lowering the income tax.

Casey flubbed his most pointed question, though, which came earlier. "Your district in Winchester is suburban; do you know how to represent more urban places like Medford and Somerville?" The contrast is indeed stark. Winchester, which holds 14% of the population of the Second Middlesex, is a place of single-family and two-family houses and leafy lawns. Somerville, 42% of the district, is one of the top ten most densely populated cities in the country, 30% immigrant (2/3 of whom are noncitizens), and a renter to owner-occupied ratio of 2-to-1. Casey's answer was,

  • Shannon was from Winchester, and he did it
  • As a Representative, I've worked on a lot of statewide issues
  • I've done volunteer work, and I've solved problems
  • It comes down to knowing people, and working hard

I think he needed to say something to show that he understands denser, poorer, urban areas, and he just didn't address that at all. Parts of his answer were relevant, but he missed the main point.

Callahan's pointed question was about the jump from Governor's Council to the legislature. The Council has a very narrow job, approving the Governor's appointments; the legislature, on the other hand, deals with everything the state does. Callahan started out weak, telling us that he's interviewed over 360 of 400-something judges, including 5 supreme judicial court justices, and how he's never applied a litmus test. He talked about being on the consumer commission for this area, and advocating for the rights of consumers. I thought he was going to miss the main point of his question, as Casey had just done, but then he saved it: He talked about his many years of experience working on the staffs of two former state senators. Through that work, he got to know the state senate quite well. What sets him apart from the other candidates, he said, is his ability to talk to and work with many different kinds of people.

Mackey at one point got asked, "how do you disagree philosophically with Pat Jehlen?" This was a reference to the apparent similarity between so many of his positions and hers. However, he kept his answer focused mainly on being "effective", and on his perspective from being out of politics. He only brought up one actual difference on a policy position: He advocates allowing crime victims to be present at parole board hearings.

Oh! At this point, you might still be wondering, what was it Mackey said, that prompted me to pull out my notebook and start taking notes? Early in the debate, candidates were asked about the income tax and state revenues. Mackey listed some bills he'd passed that brought in new revenue streams to allow the state to lower the income tax. Among these were a bottle bill and, to my shock, a drug civil asset forfeiture law. I couldn't believe he was actually touting this law for its virtues as a revenue stream. I think that's double wrong: first because targeting fines or enforcement-related income as a source of revenue distorts priorities (the Cambridge City budget proudly trumpets their intent to use parking fines to offset the need for taxes, which I think is insane), but even more importantly because civil asset forfeiture laws are blatant conflicts of interest and violations of fairness. I hate seeing an issue of justice and civil liberties treated as a source of revenue.

The taxes and revenue round brought out a sharp contrast between Casey and Jehlen, as well. When asked about lowering the income tax to 5%, Casey expressed great satisfaction and pride about having been able to bring it back down to 5.3% - remember, he's chair of taxation, and gets to take some credit. He talked about ways he was able to help bring in more money through other means. He stopped short of advocating for lowering it to 5%, but implied strongly that he'd love to do that if it were possible to make up the difference.

Callahan's answer was his oft-repeated refrain: lift the lottery cap. That money belongs to the cities and towns, and they need it for things like schools, and afterschool sports programs for their children. It's not fair for the state to keep all that lottery money.

Jehlen, in response to the same question, said one of those things I always want to hear politicians say: A lower income tax means less local aid means higher property taxes. Property taxes are regressive, and damaging to our economy. Despite the recent improvement in our economy, we have not made up lost ground in bringing local aid to where it was in the 90s. She'd rather have a higher income tax, and use the money to increase local aid. The implication is that if people want lower taxes, they can get their local elected officials to bring down their property tax - unless, of course, they decide they'd rather spend that increased local aid on services like schools, fire, police, and libraries. This is the sort of answer that highlights for me why she is my choice.

Another such answer, where she also drew a contrast with Casey, was on economic development. She opposes the use of tax breaks to lure businesses, she said - it just doesn't work. Instead, the factors affecting our state's economic success are:

  • The need for a good public education, because employers need educated workers
  • The high cost of housing, so people have to move away and employers have to go elsewhere to hire them
  • A lack of universal single-payer healthcare, which burdens employers with the responsibility for dealing with health care costs and bureaucracy

In their closing statements, three of the four started with a reference to Charlie Shannon's legacy, but interestingly, they each cast that legacy in their own special way, to fit with their campaign message. A brief run-down of what the candidates chose to use their closing statements to highlight (in my words):

Callahan: Mourns Shannon's loss. Shannon represented care & compassion, Callahan will continue that legacy. He'll work for senior prescription advantage, affordable property taxes, and school funding; he'll work hard and fight for what's right.

Mackey: It's an honor to run for Shannon's seat. Shannon was an effective Senator, who impacted people's lives - that's what Mackey intends to be. Also, we need a vibrant Democratic party, with a real agenda to do great things.

Jehlen: Homage to Shannon's tradition of constituent service, and also Senator Albano's, his predecessor. Jehlen is experienced in and knowledgeable about all current state issues. There are a bunch of important things coming up soon: The emergency contraception override, an economic stimulus package, the constitutional convention on gay marriage and also a constitutional amendment for universal health care, changes to the education funding formula... all in the next few months! She knows them all. She also works a lot for the elderly, and home care, and [time's up!]

Casey: We're often tempted to buy things, but we can't have everything we want. It's like parents and their children who want them to buy them things. The parents say no but the kids keep asking and eventually the parents can no longer resist. He knows how to say no. Other people say yes and then they can't always deliver. Also, he will work hard, full time, on this job. He'll have a real district office, hold seminars, and other ways to stay in touch with voters. He has a record of keeping his promises.

Posted by Cos at 09:53 AM in Massachusetts | Permalink


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"Pat thought Barrios was criticizing her"
To me the beginning, as described by coz, was a great example of "do-nothing- headline grabbiing" - progressives like Barrios and Jehlen not being able to organize a 2 car funeral. What fools. They, and politicians like them, are why this party keeps losing the corner office.

Now coz, you were there as a jehlen supporter, as well you should be. So please don't insult us with the self-serving diatribe about why you attended the debate.

Every city and town built new schools. Thjat's a joke for her to take credit. She was not responmsib;e in anyway for the legislation she cites. She was a "me too" sign on. Only vote she ever delivered was her own. School departments know how they got the money- Tom Birmingham

"Pat has never been one to trumpet her legislative achievements" Because she has none and that coupled with she doesn't do meat and potato constituent work means she will not get the votes many commentors here believe.

Coz, You are so reight about drug forfeture laws. GOOD JOB

I will do a final handicap of this race next week sometime.
But right now i see it as

Candidate Odds
Callahan 1:1
Jehlen 3:2
Mackey 2:1
Casey 4:1

Which means, it is nopt what you hear o or see among your limited circle of progressives. It is what people who we do not know and never heard of who are planning to go out and vote for a certain candidate. They may have to be prodded. But monday morning quarter backing can account for a victory by any of them, including Casey.
I don't know who casey has rtalked to during the last 3 months. DO YOU?

Posted by: The troll | Aug 18, 2005 10:44:58 AM

Great rundown, Cos, and welcome! Wanna come help me up here in Lowell to look at the City Council race? *grin*

Hey Troll, I know it's your trademark, but can you tone down the rudeness a little? People would take you more seriously if you did. Cos did a great job of writing his impressions here, and I think he was very fair while still letting us know who he agrees with and who doesn't. I feel it was well balanced.

Not everything is a personal insult to you. Just cool the hell down. Sheesh.

Posted by: Lynne | Aug 18, 2005 11:27:52 AM

No, that would be no fun. I like the troll.
Think of the troll as a college professor who makes nasty comments about students work, yet is right and they are better off for it. Learn from this asshole called the troll.
For instance, coz wrote a very good piece. I pointed out, in a nasty way, that his intro hurts his credibility. He is hiding the obvious. Sounded like John Kerry.
I also pointed out the facts don't fit when it comes to Jehlen. And yes we all know I can't stand Barrios and am not particularly fond of Jehlen. Coz story re-enforced these human feelings of mine

Posted by: The troll | Aug 18, 2005 11:36:14 AM

(Yes, I'm very clear about being a Jehlen supporter, however I attended the forum for exactly the reasons I said I did in this post.)

Posted by: Cos | Aug 18, 2005 11:37:18 AM

Perhaps I will ask if I can give an occasional piece like coz. One in which I edit, back up with facts, and take a different tone. More subtle tone, yet still have a bad attitude.

a lovable asshole perhaps?

Posted by: The troll | Aug 18, 2005 11:38:42 AM

See, I just don't see that "you're right" and we're "better off for it." I also didn't believe EVERYthing my professors told me, either. And the best ones were not rude at all, but still straight with you. (God, I wanted to smack an art prof who rudely took my paintbrush and used it on my own painting to "show" me something - how am *I* supposed to learn that way?)

For people who didn't know Cos before, an intro about his biases is perfectly fine. I don't get your perspective on this, it seems rather just crotchety for the sake of being grumpy.

As to the facts not fitting on Jehlen, you have not made any sort of compelling argument that I've ever seen. You just seem to just not like her and that colors everything including your logic. If you have some concrete evidence of her not being fit for the Senate seat, please, by all means, you should share that! If not, don't assume you sound at all reasonable...

Posted by: Lynne | Aug 18, 2005 12:04:47 PM

Troll writes: Every city and town built new schools. Thjat's a joke for her to take credit.

Rightly or wrongly, state legislators are partly judged for their ability to bring state money to their communities, to do things like build schools. Or fix bridges :)

But in this case, it's a lot more rightly than usual. Pat started out on the school committee, for 16 years, and says her main motivation for running for state rep was the way she saw school budgets floating up and down with the vagaries of local aid. The volatility really hurt Somerville's schools, which rely on local aid more than most. Stabilizing local aid was something she put a lot of her time and energy into when she got to the House, and Somerville did get a very substantial increase from the pre-Jehlen days. Some of the increase can certainly be attributed to the McDuffy decision that came in 1993 - but Pat was part of the group that brought the lawsuit that led to that decision.

P.S. Mackey really surprised me with that mention of the asset forfeiture law. Those of you have have been following this race: Have you heard him talk about it anywhere else?

Posted by: Cos | Aug 18, 2005 12:11:12 PM

unfortunately coz, nobody but you and I, and a few others care about the forfeoture law, and it plays well with the old ladies.
It is an outrage - keep fightin

Posted by: The troll | Aug 18, 2005 3:29:16 PM

she has no record,
i'm sorry lynne, she does not offer anything but a guarantted vote on certain issues. The is a lot of legitamate "backroom" deals made wwhere compromose and personal relationships are vital. Jehlan does not do that and ther district suffers. Specific instances don't apply here because you can't prove a negative. However the fact odf the matter is her recorc is not what it should be for her district for the years in office. other reps keep their progressive roots and still work within a system that is not corupt.

Posted by: The troll | Aug 18, 2005 3:33:52 PM

Toughen up, puppy

Posted by: The troll | Aug 18, 2005 3:34:48 PM

I think Mackey also mentioned the forfeiture at the Medford Dems forum the next night.

Posted by: eury13 | Aug 18, 2005 4:32:28 PM

It's also touted on his website. Honestly I don't know much about it (I know about drug asset forfeiture, but not about the law we have in MA). Anyone care to elaborate as to why it's so terrible? Are you opposed to drug asset forfeitures in general, or specifically to the MA system?

Posted by: David | Aug 18, 2005 5:51:15 PM

David - when I called Mackey's office, they told me it allowed seized assets to go back to the local police departments, but other than that it's hard to find details because I'm pretty sure drug asset forfeiture law was changed a few years ago, so the current law isn't what Mackey authored. I'm concerned about the corrupting influence of any asset forfeiture law that sends seized assets back to the police departments responsible for seizing it, though. That's not the kind of financial incentive I want to make police departments operate under. There's also the issue of using civil process to evade due process requirements of criminal law, but I'm not sure how Mackey's bill dealt with that. My gut reaction to hearing Mackey say that was mostly about the very concept of treating a justice and civil liberties matter as a "revenue source" in a discussion of taxation. I very much do not want us to be budgeting based on money we expect to come in from asset forfeiture - it creates pressure to seize assets.

Posted by: Cos | Aug 18, 2005 6:11:18 PM

Got more detail from Mackey: The law he authored is MGL Chapter 94C Section 47 - which he says has not been amended.

Posted by: Cos | Aug 18, 2005 6:41:36 PM

You know, I don't personally care what sort of attack you use, Troll. I'm pointing out that a reasonable tone of voice is useful for getting people to listen to you, that's all.

But hey, attack if you like, all you want. I'm not a wimp. I just prefer a conversation to a knock-down fight, unless such a fight is warrented.

Posted by: Lynne | Aug 18, 2005 9:21:32 PM

Mackey authored the forfeiture law because he was runniong for D.A. - open seat that Scott Harshbarger won. Harshbarger was a top prosecutor in the office. He won. Tom Rielly was his first assistant - Reilly ran for AG and one of his top prosecutors, Martha Coakly ran against Cambridge Councillor Mike Sullivan and Tim Flaherty, son of Speaker Charlie Flaherty and, like ten thjousand other boston lawyers, was an assiatant D.A. for 2 or 3 years. (Different then long term pros like Harsh, RFeilly, Coakly, Gerry Leone)
Mackey needed law and order record and drug fofieture were the new big thing.
he wass doing what Barrios is doing now. Watch as Barrios sells his soul to the fascists cops and prosecutirs to get record and endorsements.

Posted by: The troll | Aug 19, 2005 11:02:52 AM

Drug forfeiture laws trerat police officers and other agents with arrest powers as insurance agents. Every state has them and FEds are among worst abusers. The more you make of certain kinds of arrests the more you get. Cars boats condos (for unsercover) and what you don't use you sell homes, property, and keep the cash to by morfe nuneeded toys to play with. Mobile command stations, machine guns. More jobs (d.a.'s love that) they get dough too so jobs jobs jobs
A guy was shot dead in his home in CA when police serverd warrant and he thought he was being kidnapped. He had awsome piece of CA land, worth millions and the law enforcement types got a hard-on so they made the facts fit for growing some marijuana - and they were wrong - Totally innocent.
That is most known story but other typical abusers are families losingh their homes bvecause Junior was breaking up q.p.'s into dime bads in his bedroom, or maybe was growing a few plants ion the field behind the house.

Posted by: The troll | Aug 19, 2005 11:20:17 AM

CLARIFICATION-quarter pounds into dime bags

Posted by: The troll | Aug 19, 2005 11:21:48 AM

Reilly beat Mackey - sorry for mistake,
Harshbarger elected after John Droney died. Right?

Posted by: The troll | Aug 19, 2005 11:26:06 AM

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