If anyone believed Tewksbury Selectman Doug Sears and state Rep. Jim Miceli might be exchanging Christmas cards this holiday season, those thoughts were dispelled after Wednesday night's debate at Tewksbury High School.
The two candidates for the 19th Middlesex District (Tewksbury and Wilmington) seat, traded barbs and accusations throughout the debate, which was sponsored by the Lowell Sun, along with media partners, the Town Crier, Wilmington Patch and Tewksbury Patch.
Miceli, D-Wilmington, displayed the familiar campaign ferocity that has helped him win 18 terms in the State Legislature. But Sears, the GOP challenger making his first run for state office, gave as good as he got and the exchanges prompted several warnings from moderator Tom Zuppa for the men to keep the precedings civil.
Sears, a former member of the Tewksbury Hospital Board of Trustees, blasted Miceli for his role in a land deal in 2001 which allowed Tewksbury developer John Sullivan take possession of 19 acres of hospital land to build an apartment complex.
Miceli shot back that he was acting at the behest of the five-member hospital board.
"It had nothing to do with me other than acting on the request of the Board of Trustees," saidd Miceli. "See, the vote was 4-1. He (Sears) opposed it. But I was doing what the board asked me to do. He (Sears) has a hard time with the truth. He's treading on very thin ice questioning my integrity."
For his part, Miceli made an effort to place blame for Tewksbury's high water and sewer rates at the feet of Sears. He pointed out that Sears was on the Tewksbury Board of Selectmen at the time the $100 million project to bring sewer to the entire town was passed. He called the actions of the selectmen in not bringing the project to a ballot vote "sheer skullduggery."
"That (project) was approved by a town meeting vote," replied Sears. "Apparently, he (Miceli) doesn't understand how Town Meeting works."
Ironically, Jerry Selissen, who was chairman of the Tewksbury Board of Selectmen at the time of the sewer project approval, recently endorsed Miceli in a Letter to the Editor.
Sears also accused Miceli of spending more time in Tewksbury than Wilmington because Tewksbury has more voters, a charge Miceli vehemently denied.
One issue the two men did agree on was the protests and appeals by residents that have stalled the new Wilmington High School project. Miceli called the appeals "frivolous" and were costing the town money. Sears said he respected the right of citizens to protest but that it was important for the project to move forward.
When not attacking each other, the two men repeated familiar campaign themes. Miceli touted his record for constituent service and availability to members of the community. He noted his involvement with Tewksbury projects such as the library and the new high school.
Sears said he was running because the economy and the Legislature are broken and need to be fixed.
"My major goals are jobs, the economy and increasing local aid," he said.
The media panel asking questions of the candidates included Lowell Sun Editor Jim Campanini, Town Crier Editor Jayne Miller and Wilmington Patch Editor Matt Schooley.