students got a true taste of politics Tuesday by taking part in the first debate forum for the 11th Plymouth District seat, which includes sections of Easton and Brockton.
Principal David Wheeler moderated the debate, and his students asked the questions, given in advance to all four candidates.
The candidates included Easton resident and Brockton attorney Claire Cronin, Mark Linde of Brockton, general manager of Brockton Community Access television and chairman of the Southeastern Regional School Committee, and two Brockton City Councilors-at-Large: Jass Stewart, a realtor and business owner, and Robert Sullivan, an attorney who serves as Town Counsel for Randolph.
All of them are Democrats and are vying for the seat of Rep. Geraldine Creedon (D-Brockton), w
The candidates addressed how they could attract more businesses to the area, how they could revitalize downtown Brockton, and how they could create more jobs for teenagers. They also discussed possible solutions to local crime, increasing gas prices, crumbling infrastructure, and the high costs of college tuition.
Most of the Southeastern students who attended the forum were from Brockton. Some will be able to vote in the primary and general election this year, and they said that they now feel better informed.
“I think it was fun. I learned a lot about immigration and renewable energy,” said Denise Semedo of Brockton.
“I think this was a good life lesson,” added Alex Resende, a Brockton resident who is president of the junior class. “I realize now that I’d like to serve in a public office,” he said.
The candidates spoke a lot about their life experiences, and how they were inspired to serve the public. They also gave the students advice about their personal lives and careers.
Robert Sullivan said he was always interested in the government and public service and that he served as an intern at the state house and the U. S. Congress. He said he ran for the state representative seat in 2008 and lost by just 13 votes.
He stressed the importance of voting to the students and also recommended that they take advantage of everything offered to them in the high school.
“Listen to your teachers because they are the educators. Even though you’re 17 or 18 now, you’re going to turn 20, 30 and 40 in a blink of an eye. And what you learn now is going to bring you great things in the future,” he said.
Mark Linde, who grew up in Brockton, said his father was a legal immigrant from Cuba, who stressed speaking English. He said his parents were involved in public service, in teaching and in law enforcement, and that public service runs in his blood. He recommended that all the students take part in community service and work together in seeking their goals.
“Learn your trade, finish school, go for your dream, and most importantly work as a team,” he said.
Jass Stewart talked about growing up in the housing projects in Dallas, Texas, but then moved after his father got a union job. He said the move was difficult because he was in a more advanced school system and he felt like a “fish out of water.” He was eventually able to succeed through the help of his friends, and he advised the students to seek out help.
“I learned that whatever challenges you have – we never do anything by ourselves. All our successes are because there are others out there who care about us,” he said.
Claire Cronin, who grew up in Brockton, said she has been involved in community service for most of her life and that she is very proud of her role as a volunteer for a community youth program with the Old Colony Y. She told the students that they should enjoy themselves and take advantage of all the opportunities they are given at school.
“Life goes by fast … If you’re interested in something go for it, and keep your mind open and your heart open,” she said.
Principal Wheeler, who arranged for the debate, said he was impressed with all the candidates. He was also pleased with the learning opportunities that the forum provided.
“I think it was a fantastic event and that we need to do more of this – to bring more local politics into the schools,” he said.
A sample of candidates’ responses (with edited information):
Cronin: I think everyone needs to come in legally.
Stewart: I support the DREAM Act (which would provide conditional permanent residents to certain illegal aliens of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years).
Sullivan: We need to protect legal immigrants.
Linde: I feel torn about the issue. I think the state and federal governments need to work together on this issue.
Cronin: We need a business-friendly environment. I think Brockton needs to become safer and more attractive to attract businesses. I would like to partner with local colleges in that effort.
Stewart: I have worked extensively in creating jobs as a small business owner. I am now working on exporting renewable energy to Cape Verde, which will create jobs.
Linde: I think externships are important for youth.
Sullivan: We need to seek business investment in area. We also need to work with trades and unions.
Cronin: Neighborhood watches are very important. Police and fire departments also need more funding.
Stewart: In Brockton, 65 people commit 30 percent of the crime. We need to target that population.
Linde: We need better lighting and foot patrols. We also need better community involvement.
Sullivan: I support better funding for the police departments. I also support after-dark programs.
Information provided courtesy of Southeastern Regional School District.