SANDUSKY -- Poverty and unemployment in northern Ohio and throughout the nation became the central issues Saturday in the first debate of candidates in the race to represent the newly drawn 9th Congressional District.
Congressional veterans Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) spoke about their years of service, with Miss Kaptur reminding the audience of her fight for the working people in her district and Mr. Kucinich pointing to his ideas for job creation and his efforts against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Meanwhile, the third Democratic candidate, Cleveland businessman Graham Veysey, came out swinging.
Mr. Veysey repeatedly criticized his two primary opponents for their "70 years combined as politicians" and promised fresh ideas with a fresh, youthful face in Washington.
"Congress is broken, and it is going to be my generation that is going to have to own it, so we should have a seat at the table," Mr. Veysey said. "We talk about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Well, the war on poverty here at home is being lost and we need a new soldier in that fight and I want to be that soldier in that fight."
All three are seeking the Democratic nomination on March 6, and the winner will then face the winner of the Republican primary.
The debate, which was part of a NAACP Meet the Candidates event at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Sandusky and lasted a little under an hour, also included Republican Steven Kraus, a Huron auctioneer, who is competing against Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher for the GOP nomination. Mr. Wurzelbacher of Springfield Township did not attend.
When contacted later by phone, Mr. Wurzelbacher said he spent his time Saturday "walking in neighborhoods and meeting voters" east of Holland-Sylvania Road.
Miss Kaptur opened the debate by pointing out that she "knows the district better."
More of the new 9th Congressional District is her current territory than what is now Mr. Kucinich's area.
"My career has been devoted to jobs and developing economic opportunity," Miss Kaptur said in her opening statement. "Growing out of the civil-rights movement, long before I ran for office, I dedicated my life as a city planner to rebuilding America's communities, and I found that I am still doing that. … This is certainly not my first time in this church."
Before the debate began, Mr. Kucinich sat making notes with his wife, Elizabeth, seated beside him. As the candidates were called forward, she quickly fixed his hair and gave him a kiss. The congressman from Cleveland then started his introduction by quoting scripture, specifically the Gospel of Matthew -- drawing "amen" from several in the crowd of about 60 people.
"Every single dollar that is spent for the wars takes money out of people's pockets in this country, takes money away from housing, takes money away from health care, takes money away from feeding the hungry, takes money away from education, and so it is urgent that we have an approach in our government that stresses addressing our problems," Mr. Kucinich said. "Now, they did not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but we have weapons of mass destruction here at home. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction, homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction, poor health care is a weapon of mass destruction … people being thrown out in the street, that's a weapon of mass destruction."
Mr. Kucinich said his focus is putting people back to work and again plugged his National Emergency Employment Defense Act of 2011, which would allow the federal government to directly fund infrastructure repairs and fund education systems nationwide "by spending money into circulation without increasing the national debt or causing inflation," according to his campaign.
Miss Kaptur and Mr. Kucinich, both 65, have each said they are friends and both have shied away from criticizing each other. That prohibition on attacking each other appeared to end with a few subtle moments Saturday. Miss Kaptur took her first swing at Mr. Kucinich by challenging his statement that he had led the effort against the wars.
"I wanted to say a word about Mr. Kucinich's statements about the war. I would beg to differ," she said. "The person who led the fight in the House was Barbara Lee of Oakland, Calif., and we all joined in those efforts to stop the invasion of Iraq, so I think the record will show that very clearly."
Miss Kaptur also said she has a record of fighting against the outsourcing of jobs.
Mr. Kucinich responded: "My good friend, I just want you to check the record. There are 125 Democrats who voted against the war in Iraq and I led the effort."
Mr. Veysey, 29, who is considered an underdog and is relatively unknown among Toledo area voters, didn't hesitate to take jabs at his two fellow Democrats.
"My number one priority when I am sent to Congress is to create jobs here in northern Ohio and bring a fresh approach because the same old, same old isn't working," he said.
Midway through the debate, the four candidates addressed a question on the cause of poverty in Toledo and Cleveland and what they would do about the problem.
Miss Kaptur said trade agreements that have outsourced jobs have compounded the problem, and trade agreements that "do not work for us" should be renegotiated. She also said financial institutions should be held accountable.
Mr. Kucinich said he agreed with "his friend from Toledo" in that trade agreements "have accelerated the hollowing out of [the] manufacturing" industry, which is important to both cities. He also blamed the cost of the wars and predatory lending practices that led to foreclosures. Mr. Kucinich said things like his plan to create jobs and spend more on education would help reverse the damage.
Mr. Veysey said he would help "lift communities out of poverty" by investing in early childhood education, concentrating on children under the age of 5, to address the "root cause of poverty."
Mr. Kraus said spending in Washington needs to be slashed and voters should assist with that by not sending career politicians back to Washington.
He also said America should extract natural gas under Lake Erie, something already done by Canada -- which was the only statement to draw boos from the audience.
After the debate, the candidates went back on the campaign trail. Both Miss Kaptur and Mr. Kucinich stopped to visit with striking workers at the nearby U.S. Tsubaki plant, which has hired new, permanent workers to fill the void left by nearly 100 striking workers of the International Association of Machinists union. The strike began Jan. 31, 2011.
Miss Kaptur appeared at the site first, quietly mingling through the crowd of workers and their families, shaking hands, and offering support.
Mr. Kucinich -- who arrived nearly two hours after his main opponent had departed -- made his way through the crowd before seeking out a loudspeaker to deliver a fiery pro-union, pro-workers' rights speech.
"It takes great courage to stand up and do what you have done," he said to about 50 people outside in the damp cold. "We cannot let the Tsu- baki corporation crush this local, put scabs in," he said as his words were drowned out by cheers and applause.
His next stop Saturday was a rally for Cooper Tire workers in Findlay, which is not in the 9th District. Dozens of workers clapped and greeted Mr. Kucinich and his wife as they arrived at their union hall on Summit Street.
"It's great to have someone like [Mr. Kucinich] on our side," said Rod Nelson, president of the United Steel Workers Local 207L in Findlay. Though Miss Kaptur was not in Findlay, Mr. Nelson added, "she's on our side too."
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s 1,050 hourly employees in Findlay have been locked out since late November; a meeting between union and company officials is set for Monday. It will be the first for the two sides in nearly eight weeks.
Standing in front of the union hall, decorated with American flags, newspaper clippings about the lockout, and a large poster from the film Norma Rae of Sally Field holding a "Union" sign, the congressman told the workers he was here to thank them "for taking a stand." In a brief speech that was interrupted several times by bursts of applause, he told the crowd, "When you take this stand -- as you have -- you are standing with all workers."
Mr. Kucinich said companies that lock out their workers should not receive any government contracts.
The plant is in Ohio's 4th District, represented by Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana). Regardless, Mr. Kucinich said he was there because he is a strong supporter of labor causes. "It's important for me, when I have the opportunity, to let workers know I support them."
Mr. Kucinich later went outside to speak to some of the workers picketing at a plant entrance.
Several said that regardless of the area the congressman represents, they were glad he was there.
"I think it's good," said John King, who has been a plant employee since 1989. "We're locked out, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat."
Said Millwright Douglas Overton, a plant employee almost 17 years, "We'll take all the support we can get."
Blade Staff Writer Kate Giammarise contributed to this report.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171.