First Democratic Gubernatorial Debate – Reactions, Analysis

By David Bloch | 08/20/2014

The three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Governor squared off in the first of five debates to be held before the primary election on September 9th. The hour-long debate, streamed online from Stonehill’s website, was largely uneventful. The candidates mostly reiterated their positions on a variety of key issues and gave their opinions on two important ongoing crises – the Market Basket fiasco and the protests in Ferguson, MO.

Martha Coakley, current Attorney General and favorite to win, played it safe last night. She didn’t take any strong positions and continued to espouse moderate, dispassionate views on everything from the Economy to Universal Pre-K.

Current state treasurer Steve Grossman, in his attempt to differentiate himself from Coakley, took much stronger positions and emphasized his private sector experience. Being the consummate insider and business-friendly candidate, he gave polished, well-rehearsed answers straight from the Clinton/DLC handbook.

Berwick continued to distinguish himself as by-far the most progressive of the three candidates. He used the phrase ‘politics as usual’ several times to decry the policies of the establishment candidates sharing the stage with him. The doctor and former Medicare administrator made sure to mention that he was the only candidate to come forward in support of single-payer healthcare. For me, this is reason enough to vote for him.

Berwick, lacking the name recognition and resources of Coakley and Grossman, is lagging far behind in the polls, but has raised the most money in the month August.

For a full play-by-play check out my liveblog from last night. Watch the whole debate at Stonehill’s site. Here is a rundown of some of the highlights from the debate:

Market Basket

All three candidates came out in support of Gov. Patrick’s intervention in the Market Basket negotiations, feeling that even though the governor has no right to intervene in the operations of a private business, the jobs provided by the company are too important. None of them would recommend the current boycott if they were governor, but they support the right of consumers to boycott if desired.

Berwick: Made sure to announce his support of the workers involved, (notably the only candidate to do so), saying they were a great example of employees standing up to corporate greed.

Grossman: Pointed out that he would only support such an intervention by the governor on the condition that it was requested by the business in question.


Coakley: If tasked with such a situation in Massachusetts, she would make sure the investigation was handled properly from the beginning and work to deescalate conflict by building trust between police and community.

Grossman: He would emulate Gov. Patrick’s leadership in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings. He emphasized the importance of diversity (the first of several mentions of diversity throughout the debate) in law enforcement.

Berwick: “I’m for community policing, not combat policing… This kind of violence is inexcusable…” He also mentioned the importance of transparency, diversity, building trust between community and law enforcement.

Universal Pre-K Education

Grossman: Talked about a four-part solution to funding universal pre-k – Jobs growth, public-private partnerships, more savings, and fairer, more progressive tax code.

Berwick: “I’m the only candidate for governor in favor of single-payer healthcare.” He said that savings yielded from single-payer healthcare and a fairer tax code would help to fund universal pre-k.

Coakley: Called universal pre-k important for the commonwealth and investment should be a priority in future budgets. Budget should be reexamined to allocate funds for it.


Berwick: Reiterated his strong opposition to casinos and gambling: “Casinos destroy communities. They destroy jobs… More jobs are lost then gained… They are predators on the poor. Income inequality is the biggest problem in this country. There are better ways to add jobs… My colleagues are not looking at the data, they are taking positions of convenience.”

Coakley: Came across as rather ambivalent on the issue, but stated she wouldn’t have turned to casinos as a first option for generating revenue and creating jobs. She would not seek to repeal the casino legislation.

Grossman: Reiterated his strong support for in-state casinos, saying they will generate tax revenue that would otherwise be brought to surrounding states, and create construction and service jobs.


All three candidates took similar positions on medical marijuana and legalization for recreational use – they support limited medical use and will reserve opinion on legalization until experiments in Washington and Colorado yield results.

Berwick: Says that he, as someone with healthcare expertise, would have been able to manage the medical marijuana rollout here in MA better.

Coakley: Seemed the most cautious when it came to implementation of medical marijuana and legalization for recreational use.

Grossman: Similarly cautious, but appeared to be more open to the possibility of legalization in the future. He also mentioned that he could have managed the medical marijuana program better.

Affordable Housing/Homelessness

Coakley: She said that the stigma attached to mental and behavioral healthcare, and the lagging economy are the underlying problems causing homelessness.

Grossman: Declared that investment in affordable housing is essential to keeping young professionals and families in the state. He would give away state-owned land to developers in return for promising to build affordable housing.

Berwick: “I regard housing as a human right – food, clothing, and shelter… We will have no chronic homelessness if I am elected governor… We need to develop affordable housing.” He would expand existing programs like housing vouchers.

Charter Schools

Grossman: Supports expansion of charter schools and lifting of cap.

Coakley: Supports a limited lift of the cap on charter schools. To her, there is a false debate between charters and public schools. The best practices from both types of schools should be implemented.

Berwick: He would also take a nuanced approach to charter schools, says charter schools bring innovation and ideas to public schools. Does not support any weakening of the public school system or establishment of for-profit charter schools. Says charter schools should exist to strengthen the public school system, not weaken it.