Editor’s Note: Originally published on Sept. 7 at 8:45 a.m. Updated with videos.
FRAMINGHAM – Wednesday night the first-ever Framingham mayoral debate was held at Heritage at Framingham.
All seven candidates on the ballot participated in the 90-minute debate, moderated by Ted Reinstein from WCVB’s Chronicle.
The candidates in alphabetical order are Joshua Horrigan, Ben Neves-Grigg, Dhruba Sen, Priscila Sousa, Yvonne Spicer, John Stefanini, and Mark Tilden.
Questions ranged from economic development, to first-day priorities, to immigration, to the opioid crisis, to education, to where the candidates get their local and national news.
For the first 60 minutes, the questions came from the moderator, but the last 30 minutes the questions were submitted by residents, some in the audience and some not.
Unfortunately, the moderator did not allow all the candidates to answer all the questions. At times, he let six of the seven candidates answer the question in their allotted 30 or 45 seconds, and then would not allow the last candidate to respond, which some in the audience said it may it hard to compare the candidates.
For many residents, this was their first time to hear from some of the candidates. Many in the community watched the Facebook live video stream of the 90-minute debate, as seating was limited. (The feed had more than 5,000 views, as of today.) There was a wait list of almost 200 people to attend the debate, as seats filled up quickly at the venue, but sadly several individuals never showed up so there were several rows of empty seats in the back.
On Sept. 26, registered voters will pick one of the seven candidates for mayor. The two individuals with the most votes will appear on the November 7 ballot. One of those two individuals will be elected the City of Framingham’s first mayor.
“Almost a certainty the first mayor will be one of the individuals sitting at the table here tonight,” said the moderator.
Each candidate was given one minute for an opening statement.
Tilden said he was running for mayor “because he cares deeply about Framingham.” He said there are “wonderful things about this city but the city could use lots of improvements.”
“I see a downtown that needs economic vitality,” said Tilden. He said overtime he became disenchanted with the Town Meeting form of government and the last straw for him was when Town Meeting refused not to purchase Millwood golf course. “I thought buying it would be a move for our future.”
Framingham is a great community with “family-friendly neighborhood,” great school, and a community that “celebrates diversity,” said Stefanini. “But we also have the people, the resources to be so much more. … I have never been afraid to ask the tough questions, to tackle the hard issues, or to change the status quo. I know that working together, and listening to each other, we can develop a master plan that reaches our dreams, and meets our needs, and then roll up our sleeves together to do the hard work to make it a reality.”
Stefanini said his experience as a selectmen and the state legislature would make him a good first mayor for Framingham.
Spicer said she was the “one candidate with the executive leadership experience in education, in business, in nonprofit and I am bring all of that back to this community.” She said she has lived in both the north and south sides of Framingham.
“I have a pulse on what is required to do,” said Spicer who said the key thing for Framingham is “economic development.”
Sousa said she “understands what is going on in the community” as she has had the opportunity to walk in many of the shores of the community as a local business owner, a student in the Framingham Public Schools, an immigrant, and a surrogate parent.
She said she can “look at the community through many different lens,” and will make sure that “all voices are heard.”
Sousa said she will bring “qualified people” into municipal government and “encourage innovation.”
“Let’s build a city together,” said Sousa.
Sen said he wants to make “Framingham the hub of Silicon Valley east.”
He said he has managed multi-million dollar budgets and he has the background and the vision to be the first mayor.
Horrigan said as a local pastor this is a historic transition for Framingham – first city and first mayor, and he is the only candidate with more than “150 years of family history in town with out any political baggage.”
He said his energy, youth, and history with the community would make him the perfect person to be the first mayor.
Neves-Grigg said if he is mayor there will be an “open-door policy.”
The first thing on his agenda is to “give the citizens of Framingham a voice in government.”
Neves-Grigg said as mayor he would look at taxes and how the government spends its money.
The moderator asked each of the seven mayoral candidates to use just two words to describe their administration. They responses were:
- Neves-Grigg: “Residents” and “open door policy”
- Horrigan: “New Beginning”
- Sen: “Smart City”
- Sousa: “Voices Matter”
- Spicer: “Integrity” and “Honesty”
- Stefanini: “Transparent” and “Accountable”
- Tilden: “Downtown Revival.”
The moderator asked the candidates to discuss education in Framingham, as a priority for the mayor. While Framingham has a graduation rate of 87 percent, and the high school was recently ranked #32 in the state, the Commonwealth has labeled the district as a level 3, on underperforming district, and four schools are at level 3 status.
Sousa said when she came to Framingham ate age 7 she did not know a word of English. Today she is a proud graduate of the Framingham Public Schools running to be the community’s first mayor.
Sousa said it is “always important to invest in children” and in education. She said she wants to deal with the overcrowding in the school and invest in technology literacy.
Stefanini said as mayor he would not micromanage the school department nor its superintendent.
However, he said he wanted to invest in high-quality universal pre-K for students and increase after-school programming.
Sen, who as a Town Meeting member served on the standing committee for education, said he would “support the school system in any form.”
Spicer said the “greatest asset in the community is our children.” She said she wants to support the school system through STEM education.
Tilden said he would “not take one dime out of the Framingham school budget.”
He said Framingham has so many more issues and challenges than its neighboring communities, including poverty and homelessness.
As the school enrollment keep growing, Tilden said the district “needs every dime it can get.”
Horrigan said he supports the school and that high-quality schools mean more families come to Framingham.
Another product of the Framingham Public Schools, Horrigan took the opportunity to sing the Stapleton Elementary theme song he sung years ago as a student.
Neves-Grigg said “education” is a top priority for him. However, he said he wanted to reduce the student-teacher ratio and that soon the community would have to face paying for a new Fuller Middle school.
Each of the candidates for mayor were asked about economic development in Framingham. Watch these short video clips to hear what they had to say.
Photos by Petroni Media Company