WILMINGTON — Last Thursday, Wilmington Community Television hosted a debate between the three candidates for the 19th Middlesex District’s state representative seat. The position, which represents Tewksbury precincts 1, 1A, 2, 2A, 4, 4A and Wilmington precincts 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, was most recently held by the late James Miceli for more than 40 years.
Tom Zuppa, managing editor for the Lowell Sun, moderated the debate, and Rob Hayes of the Wilmington Apple, Bill Gilman of Your Tewksbury Today, and Cassia Burns of the Town Crier asked questions.
Democratic candidate Dave Robertson worked for 10 years in Miceli’s office, most recently as chief of staff, and grew up in Tewksbury. Republican candidate Pina Prinzivalli is a bank branch manager and moved to Tewksbury in 2015. Unenrolled candidate Patricia Meuse is an attorney who serves on the Shawsheen Tech School Committee, and is a Wilmington native who lives in Tewksbury.
Each candidate was allowed a one minute opening statement, one minute to answer a question, and one minute to respond to another candidate.
The first topic of the debate was opioid use and abuse in the community. Prinzivalli suggested that early education and prevention programs could stem overdoses. Robertson voiced his support for the criminalization of fentanyl and other deadly substances. Meuse stated that Governor Charlie Baker’s current opioid plan isn’t extensive enough, and wants to hold insurance companies responsible for supporting recovery.
The conversation then shifted to sober homes and detox centers. All three candidates expressed support for community involvement in zoning.
“Where can we put these places... where none of the residents feel they are being hurt by it?” said Meuse.
Gilman posed a question about Route 38 and the relationship between small businesses and the towns.
Meuse stated that “38 is not wide enough to deal with all the traffic... the planning is poor.”
Prinzivalli raised concerns over rent and regulations for small businesses, and noted that she does not support the boycott on state representative Jim Lyons’ ice cream shop Dandi-Lyons.
Robertson expressed an interest in removing some traffic restrictions on Route 38, and, in a rebuttal to Prinzivalli, rebuked claims by the Republican Town Committee of Tewksbury that said he was anti-small business.
Zuppa asked the candidates their opinions on the Safe Communities Act. Prinzivalli and Meuse are against sanctuary cities and states for illegal immigrants. Robertson is against sanctuary states, and rejects state IDs and local voting rights for illegal immigrants.
“These folks have skirted the system... I’ve helped green card holders go through the system, and seen how illegal immigrants undercut them.”
Addressing the well-being of senior citizens, Robertson advocated better healthcare for aging residents.
“That is my generation!” said Meuse, who went on to voice support for increased senior tax credits.
Prinzivalli claimed that seniors are concerned that they are not being heard on Beacon Hill, and pledged special office hours to meet with them.
The candidates discussed judicial accountability and Governor Baker’s performance. Zuppa also asked the candidates to share their political idols, invoking the legacy of Miceli.
“Well, I think you grabbed my go-to one there, considering I spent a decade serving with [Miceli]!” joked Robertson, before choosing John F. Kennedy for his New England values.
Prinzivalli chose Senate candidate Geoff Diehl, and Meuse choose President Donald Trump and former President Ronald Reagan.
The candidates were asked about the development of a new consolidated elementary school in Tewksbury. Meuse and Prinzivalli did not fully support the current plan as written, though Meuse stated new school buildings are needed.
Robertson stated that he has been involved in the project through Miceli’s office: “I know this process because I’ve been part of it since day one.”
Candidates were asked about the Shawsheen Valley Technical High School, and each supported adequate funding for the school.
“This has been my vocation for the last 23 years... you can’t pit the public schools against the technical schools... funding has to be separated,” said Meuse, who is the chair of the curriculum subcommittee for the School Committee.
All candidates supported collaboration between Tewksbury and Wilmington, and pledged to foster cooperation between the boards of the towns if elected.
Zuppa asked a series of “lighting round” questions. Candidates were asked for their opinion on term limits, whether they would treat the position as a full-time job, and what kind of candy they were handing out on .
“If you had the ultimate power to take one show off of television,” asked Zuppa, “what would it be?”
Prinzivalli picked “Games of Throne [sic]”, Robertson chose the Yankees network (“This Dave Robertson guy they’ve got pitching for them, people keep throwing fruit at me,” he joked), and Meuse said the Investigation Discovery channel.
Each candidate gave their opinion on the three ballot questions. All three said no on question one, and no on question three. Robertson and Meuse said yes on question two, while Prinzivalli said no.
“I’m told confession is good for the soul,” said Gilman. “We all make mistakes and we hope to grow and learn from them…. what is a mistake that you’ve made in your life that you have grown significantly from.”
Robertson shared an anecdote about a paperwork mistake he made in Miceli’s office that resulted in an opioid-dependent young woman being lost on the streets for months. He said that he learned not to beat himself up and to go on with life.
“That was a very teachable moment, but I learned from it.”
Meuse shared a story about opening a teen center in Tewksbury where she didn’t do enough research and the project failed.
“I’m much older,” she said,” and I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve learned form most of them.”
Prinzivalli joked that she was “going to say I’m perfect, but I guess I can’t say that!” and discussed her work as a bank branch manager.
“I’ve definitely made mistakes in the banking world,” citing not having proper documents in mortgage closings. “Follow up, double-check your work; it’s definitely a lesson learned.”
Each candidate gave a closing statement, and Zuppa thanked viewers for tuning in.
“The choice is now up to you,” he said. “Cast your votes for one of these candidates. Polls are open on Nov. 6.”