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Rep. O’Day Faces First Challenger Since Special Election

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

 

Bill McCarthy

Former Worcester County sheriff candidate William McCarthy is gearing up to challenge incumbent state Rep. James O’Day, D-West Boylston.

He has his work cut out for him, because O’Day, the 14th Worcester District representative who said he once worked as a union roofer, enjoys rock-solid support from many area unions. He also still pays union dues, although he said he does not derive any benefits.

“Representatives aren’t technically union members,” O'Day said, adding he sees nothing wrong with the practice. ““The only special interests I care about are the people I represent.”

Union clout

In 2010, O’Day, who has not been challenged since winning a special election in 2006, received more than $43,000 in campaign donations, many of them coming from unions. The Massachusetts Nurses Association, Boston Carmens Union Local 589, Massachusetts State Labor Council, Elevator Constructors Local 4 and Service Employees Local 509 each donated $1,000 to his campaign that year.

“That’s an easy question to answer,” said O’Day when asked about his strong union ties. “I worked 25 years for the state. Prior to that, I was a union roofer. I was fortunate enough to be able to be a union worker and see the incredible work they do in trying to help working families.”

Being a state lawmaker does not specifically preclude someone from being a union member, according to David Giannotti, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Ethics Commission. As long as there is no overlapping of responsibilities, he said, a lawmaker could ostensibly fulfill both duties.

McCarthy challenges

James O'Day

McCarthy, a Republican, said he is not targeting O’Day individually. Rather, he wants to help voters send a message to state lawmakers.

“It’s not so much about O’Day as it is about the status quo,” said McCarthy, a two-time Worcester City Council candidate who also ran for sheriff in 2004. “These are tough economic times. We can reduce the cost of business by lowering taxes.”

O’Day, who has gone unchallenged since he won a special election in 2006, said he is ready for a campaign fight.

“That’s news to me,” he said when told McCarthy was challenging him. “I welcome anybody who wants to come in to the race.”

Still, the news appeared to sting a little, because O’Day said he had just done a favor for McCarthy, a professor in criminal justice at Quinsigamond Community College, by going to the school recently to talk about the state budget.

“Maybe it was something I said,” O’Day joked.

Raising taxes

McCarthy wasn’t cracking jokes when he labeled O’Day as a lawmaker who turns to higher taxes first as the solution to the state’s money woes. Last year, O’Day proposed hiking the state income tax from 5.3 to 5.95 percent.

“I don’t know why that always has to be the first solution,” McCarthy, who has a wife and three children, said. “We don’t always have to raise taxes.”

There was, O’Day said, another goal behind the bill that he filed called Act to Invest in Our Communities.

“It was really about where we are with our tax code,” he said. “It’s about what’s right and what’s not right. I think we have to have a mature discussion about our entire tax code.”

When pressed on proposing an income tax increase, O’Day said any future steps he takes won’t “necessarily” include a proposed hike.

‘Good steward’

Voters don’t want more or higher taxes, McCarthy said. They want someone who truly represents them. And they want someone who will take a message of cost control to Boston.

“Does anyone really think government spending is under control? No, they don’t,” he said. “People need someone who can go in as a good steward for them.”

Getting the opportunity to do that won’t be easy. As a Democratic incumbent in one of the nation’s bluest of states, O’Day enjoys the advantages of being a known commodity, although McCarthy, who also teaches part-time at both Assumption and Becker colleges, is not exactly a stranger. Still, he faces an uphill battle against a representative who enjoys solid support among the all-important union crowd.

McCarthy isn’t worried about his opponent’s union support, saying his campaign is forming a finance team to raise money. As a state employee, he is prohibited from asking for funds.

“I’m out there talking to people,” McCarthy said. “They need someone to come in and be an advocate for them, not for big business, big labor or big government.”

Even if he wins, McCarthy will face another hurdle: There are only 32 Republicans in the House of Representatives, compared to 128 Democrats, about 20 percent of the 160 total state representatives on Beacon Hill.

 

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