Secretary of state candidates debate after game of cat-and-mouse
By GLEN JOHNSON
AP Political Writer
BOSTON (AP) — The candidate, a debate just moments away, kept his head down and swept past the media as his aide declared, “No comment.”
Inside, the staff member locked a door to ensure no one intruded on the session, coming just four days before Election Day.
When it was over, the candidate stayed back and worked his cell phone as reporters clamored outside for comment.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin participated in a debate Friday, but the drama was all self created. The actual events were pretty mundane.
The secretive overseer of state elections, who had avoided any direct contact with his re-election challenger, Jill Stein of the Green-Rainbow Party, finally assented to a debate, but the invitation Galvin extended sounded like something out of game of “Clue.”
Bill Galvin, at the Hooker Statue, 1:30 p.m.
Stein showed up at the statue, a landmark outside the Statehouse, buoyant and decked in a powder blue outfit, a colorful scarf draped around her neck. Galvin was nowhere to be seen, having unilaterally switched the location to the Boston Atheneum just down Beacon Street. He had arrived 20 minutes earlier, dressed in his normal attire: a blue pinstriped business suit.
Inside, the two met in the ancient book society’s “Long Room,” standing on an Oriental rug atop a hardwood floor. They flanked WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller as he asked them questions about lobbying, voting reform and the use of electronic voting machines.
They also discussed Galvin’s reluctance to debate Stein, even though he is both the overseer of state elections and the chief public information officer for Massachusetts.
“It was a civil and respectful discussion,” said Stein, a doctor who was her party’s 2002 nominee for governor. “And the shame was it was little more than five minutes.”
Galvin originally assented to a five-minute discussion, to air Friday evening on Channel 4, but Keller filibustered and kept the two talking for 15 minutes.
Stein said she was particularly frustrated that Galvin had bypassed all other invitations to debate, including a half-hour session proposed for WGBH-TV’s “Greater Boston.”
“I think it’s hard for him to defend his record,” she said of Galvin, the three-term officeholder from Brighton who previously served as a state representative.
The secretary dismissed all the criticism.
“I haven’t been ducking her at all,” Galvin said when an aide finally pulled him outside the Atheneum a half-hour after the debate concluded.
He added, “You know, Ms. Stein’s interest is putting her party, the Green Party, the Ralph Nader party, back on the ballot in 2008. Right now they do not have legal party rights. If she gets a certain percentage of the vote, her party will go back on the ballot for the presidential election of 2008. That’s what Ms. Stein’s objective is.”
Galvin said he broke down and agreed to debate because of the public interest. He said, as he stood outside on a cloudless, brisk fall day, that he had to switch the meeting from the open-air location Keller preferred to the secure room at the Atheneum because “unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperative.”
He also said he could not participate in the “Greater Boston” debate because he received notice “very late in the afternoon.” Mark Mills, the program’s executive producer, said Galvin appeared on “Greater Boston” before the Sept. 19 primary and told host Emily Rooney he would debate Stein. Afterward, a booker called and suggested several debate dates, but Galvin never returned the call, Mills said.
The day Stein appeared to debate Galvin, Oct. 18, the station made one last call to Galvin, alerting the secretary to Stein’s appearance, according to Mills. Galvin refused to participate.
The secretary, during his one minute, 15 second conversation with reporters after the debate, also denied trying to duck their questions.
He said he remained inside the Atheneum – ducking his head out the door every few minutes to look at the waiting group – because he was taking care of business.
“I’ve been on the phone dealing with the Boston election, to make sure the election runs well,” Galvin said, before dashing down Beacon Street.
[Full disclosure: posted by a Stein staffer]