2006.10.12: October 12, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Fiji: Politics: Congress: Westport Minuteman: The gloves come off in Shays/Farrell debate

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The gloves come off in Shays/Farrell debate

The gloves come off in Shays/Farrell debate

Throughout the debate, Farrell continued to ask the audience three questions that they needed to answer: "When Chris Shays has agreed with the President have the results been good? When he's disagreed with the Republican leadership has it made any difference? And can we stand two more years of the status quo." Shays bristled at Farrell's interpretation of his record in office and challenged those in attendance "to find any statement she has made during the course of the campaign that does not smack of partisan politics."

The gloves come off in Shays/Farrell debate

The gloves come off in Shays/Farrell debate

By:Rob Sullivan, Staff Writer


As Election Day draws near, the tone of the campaign between the two main candidates for the Fourth Congressional District seat has grown noticeably harsher than their first go-round in 2004.

That is evidenced by the increasingly negative campaign ads being released on behalf of Republican incumbent Congressman Christopher Shays and his Democratic challenger, former Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell. But the acidic tone of the campaign was also on display in front of the 100-plus voters on hand to witness Tuesday's debate between Shays and Farrell at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. The event was sponsored by the Bridgeport Regional Business Council.

One such exchange occurred when Farrell was discussing the importance of urban centers such as Bridgeport. She pointed to her "19 years of being here and working for the people of Bridgeport."

Shays shot back, "You've been in Westport for 19 years - you haven't been in Bridgeport."

Shays angrily and repeatedly defended his record throughout the 90-minute debate, causing Farrell to rebuke him more than once for his "tone." For her part, Farrell continued to question Shays' support of President George W. Bush, particularly concerning the war in Iraq.

And although Iraq was indeed a key aspect of Tuesday's debate, much of the focus of the dialogue between the two candidates concerned domestic issues such as health care, transportation, education and urban renewal.

Interestingly, both candidates acknowledged their surroundings in their opening statements, focusing on Bridgeport and the many issues confronting the Park City.

Farrell said, "I think it's appropriate that we are having this debate here because Housatonic is one of my favorite places in the district. Bridgeport is a gateway city, but it is a city that is facing major challenges. Bridgeport seems to have been forgotten by President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress."

"I live and I work in Bridgeport," said Shays. "I'm not here to visit. I believe in its potential. Under the One Coast, One Future initiative the city is well-positioned. This is an exciting time to live and work in Bridgeport."

One Coast, One Future is a consortium of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, The Business Council of Fairfield County and the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce that seeks to spark growth through cooperative, regional efforts. Farrell is also a supporter of regionalization, noting that a few years ago she sponsored a summit at Housatonic to spur development in Bridgeport as a key to fostering growth in Fairfield County.

Throughout the debate, Farrell continued to ask the audience three questions that they needed to answer: "When Chris Shays has agreed with the President have the results been good? When he's disagreed with the Republican leadership has it made any difference? And can we stand two more years of the status quo."

Shays bristled at Farrell's interpretation of his record in office and challenged those in attendance "to find any statement she has made during the course of the campaign that does not smack of partisan politics."

On the issue of health care, Shays said it "is a huge issue," and said he favors health savings accounts, more community health centers nation wide, medical malpractice reform, pooling of health care between small business and importation of drugs from Canada.

Farrell attacked the prescription drug bill, which Shays supports, and noted that the health care issue in this country "is a systemic problem," and said she would work to put more of the onus on health care provided. She also said Congress needs to deepen its investment in health information technology.

With regard to Iraq, Shays explained his recent conversion to believing that a timeline is needed to gauge when the U.S. military should leave the war-torn country.

"We need to push the Iraqis," said Shays. "From June 2004 until recently, the Iraqi people and its government had made significant strides toward democracy. They formed a new government and wrote a constitution that was ratified by 79 percent of the Iraqi people. That momentum has been lost. We are on the brink of civil war. There's no question about it. We cannot afford to lose in Iraq. That would allow Iran to become the dominant power in the region. In the end it will not be a military solution in Iraq. It will be a diplomatic solution."

Farrell countered, "This is amazing. I have been talking about a diplomatic solution for months. I have called for Secretary Rumsfeld's ouster for months. Congressman Shays has finally joined that conversation. We are spending $250 million a day in Iraq. Chris bears responsibility for our failure in Iraq. Congress has been woefully inadequate in the oversight of this war."

Shays said, "I voted to invade Iraq because I believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And I base that belief on my conservation with Iraq's neighbors, If I had known how badly this administration would fight this war, I wouldn't have voted for it. But unlike some in Congress, I'm not hiding from my vote."

Shays also pointed to his record on the environment, noting that he has been called a "champion" on this issue. He said, "I am a lead sponsor on the Energy For Our Future Act, a champion of the Arctic national Wildlife Refuge," and explained he has consistently backed brownfield remediation, farm conversation and land preservation.

Farrell argued his environmental positions mean little as the Republican leadership in Congress has a poor record on the environment.

"If Chris goes back to Washington, his first vote will be for Speaker of the House," said Farrell. "Dennis Hastert has a terrible record on the environment. The Republican leadership has a six percent rating on the environment, while the average Democrat has a 94 percent rating."

The two candidates also sparred on education reform. Shays supported school vouchers saying, "I want to introduce the concept of competition into our schools," and noted that vouchers only provide for a portion of private school tuition.

Farrell said, "We have an achievement gap; we see it in Bridgeport every day. It's about critical thinking and giving our children the tools they need to develop that skill. That means having highly qualified teachers and smaller class sizes."

Eventually, the debate turned full circle and returned to Bridgeport and urban issues.

"Urban centers are the key to the district," said Farrell, who listed transportation and housing as two of the main challenges faced by Fairfield County cities. "I see Bridgeport as a regional asset. I want to see Bridgeport front and center and you can't do that with this Congress."

"The way I can help Bridgeport the most is to bring business to Bridgeport and create jobs," said Shays. "Sometimes I think my opponent is running for President; sometimes I think she is running for Speaker. I am running to represent the Fourth District. This election is not about the President - it's about service to Connecticut."

Farrell retorted, "Chris, this is a national election and everyone in this room knows it."

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Story Source: Westport Minuteman

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