By Jordan Kimmel
BU News Service
Republican incumbent Governor Charlie Baker and his Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez, squared off in an hour-long debate Thursday night, sparing no punches on issues such as infrastructure investment, gun safety and climate change.
Gonzalez, who was the state’s top budget official under former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, looks to be a longshot to win with some polls showing him trailing the incumbent governor by more than 40 points. The heated discussion, which was the final of three debates, was hosted and televised live by WCVB-TV and moderated by WCVB anchor Maria Stephanos and WBUR-FM’s Bob Oakes.
Gonzalez worked to make up ground by trying to connect Baker with Republican candidates who support Donald Trump such as Senate candidate Geoff Diehl and GOP candidate Jay McMahon.
When he was asked a question about the recent shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Congregation last week that left 11 people dead, Gonzalez criticized Baker — a Republican who has denounced Trump in the past — for not speaking out convincingly enough against the president.
“The tragedy in Pittsburgh was a despicable act of hate and violence and our president is inciting this type of conduct with his hatful and divisive language so we need public leaders who are going to stand up forcefully against it,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think [Baker has] done enough in speaking out against our president.”
Mike Anmuth, 35, of Newton, said he voted for Jay Gonzalez based on the Republican candidates Baker chose to endorse.
“I think Charlie Baker is a great governor, but in recent news, he was endorsing more Republicans,” Anmuth said. “I just think there needs to be a change from the top to the bottom in leadership just so we can get some stuff done and not have quite as much rhetoric as we do now.”
Baker, meanwhile, said he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and doesn’t plan to vote for him should he bid for reelection.
“I’ve stood up and spoken out against the president on numerous occasions because his language in many cases is destructive and appalling,” Baker said. “Most people know where I’m coming from with respect to the president.”
Baker also repeatedly disparaged Gonzalez — who has a plan to raise $3 billion in extra revenue by taxing the endowments of the state’s wealthiest colleges and universities — for wanting to do too much in the Commonwealth without the funds to pay for it.
“It’s so dishonest to say to the people that he can fund the North-South Rail Link, that he can fund east-west, the Blue Line, that he can fund the Red Line expansion,” Baker said. “These are tens of billions of dollars in projects for which he’s offering plans that, many of which don’t start until four years from now to generate any revenue.”
Gonzalez countered by saying Baker lacks even a passable blueprint going forward.
“It is $3 billion more than zero, which is his plan,” Gonzalez said. “This is a big difference between Governor Baker and myself — I had a specific proposal.”
Both candidates also outlined their pitches to increase housing opportunities despite sky-high prices, bring internet broadband to lacking neighborhoods in western Massachusetts and increase dependence on renewable energy.
Gonzalez, during his final remarks, said Baker isn’t doing as admirable of a job as his voters are led to believe.
“When I ask [Baker supporters] why they think so, the answer is never that he’s doing a great job fixing our transportation system or making progress on some other issue that affects people’s lives,” Gonzalez said. “It’s usually something like, ‘He seems nice, and I’m really glad he’s not one of those crazy right-wing extremists.’”
In his closing comments, Baker not only applauded the state of the Commonwealth under his watch, but he also thanked his voters.
“One of the things we pledged to do when we took office was that we would work together with our colleagues in local government and in state government to move this commonwealth forward,” Baker said. “Our economy is booming, our schools are terrific, but the final thing I want to say tonight is that our people are great and I hope you give us a chance to continue the work we’re doing on Nov. 6.”
Peter Decotis, assistant director of career development at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, said he’s followed the mayoral race closely and believes Baker’s glowing popularity will give him the victory on Tuesday.
“I like the idea of a progressive government and doing things that can help people,” Decotis said. “That being said, I think Jay Gonzalez has a lot of great ideas, but Charlie Baker is so popular with everyone and he’s such a moderate guy that I think enough people will vote for him.”