CAMBRIDGE – Seeking votes among the Eastern Shore’s growing number of retired senior citizens, the two candidates for lieutenant governor squared off in an AARP candidate forum Wednesday morning in Cambridge, tackling questions on healthcare, affordable housing and transportation.
But judging from the comments of many in the crowd, neither Democrat Anthony G. Brown nor Republican Kristen Cox made much of an impression beyond what one voter called a “political badminton match.”
“It was a waste of time. It was,” said Julia Jerscheid, 62, of Easton. “All it’s done is make me even more angry that this is going on, and that they thought so little of us to do this… It wasn’t a discussion for us. It was a political arena. It’s just really very sad.”
In a roughly hour-long forum – which, unlike most campaign events, started early – Cox and Brown took turns giving two-minute responses to questions from the crowd of about 130 seniors, who asked about affordable housing initiatives, statewide mass transit systems and health insurance availability for Marylanders. Though the event was not billed as a debate, both candidates then had an opportunity to give a one-minute reply to their opponent.
Over the course of the forum, Cox and Brown agreed in principle on many of the critical issues, such as increased funding for schools and wider access to Medicaid for low-income families.
“I was impressed by both of them,” said Nancy Cannon, 74, of Cambridge. “They seemed to know exactly how to answer the questions.”
But while Brown asserted that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich hasn’t gone far enough with initiatives to help the public, Cox pointed to the “track record” of Mayor Martin O’Malley and a revolving door of school superintendents and police commissioners in his seven years as Baltimore’s mayor.
“I don’t understand how you can talk about leadership and changing a state when you can’t even have continuity in leadership in your own city,” Cox said. “It’s not going to happen.”
The candidates squabbled over who gets the credit for enhanced transit systems in Baltimore and who takes the blame for a rising number of uninsured citizens throughout the state. But some who came to the American Legion Dorchester Post 91 on the banks of the Choptank River said they had trouble hearing responses because the candidates spoke too fast.
Jerscheid, seated at a table with five other AARP members who said they agreed with her, said the performance amounted to little more than “rhetoric” and “pat answers” that nearly put her to sleep.
“They were very good at skirting the issue, especially about housing,” she said. “They were just working us.”
“They were arguing among themselves. They weren’t answering questions,” said tablemate Labella Kane, 73, of Cambridge.
Harvey Altergott, 71, said the candidates focused on “very narrow issues that were viewed as directly affecting seniors,” but neglected to talk about broader areas of equal concern, such as global warming, uncontrolled growth and immigration.
“We have an obligation to society in general, not just ourselves,” he said.
“We’re concerned about what happens to our kids and our grandkids, and other people’s kids too,” said his wife, Elise, 70.
Even those who found the forum informative nonetheless said it did little to influence their decision when they hit the polls on Nov. 7.
“It didn’t change my mind,” said Philip D’Adamo, 85, of Cambridge, but “I was glad to see them.”
Darrin Brown, associate state director for advocacy for AARP, said that one out of every four votes in Maryland is cast by an AARP member and events like the forum are “good for all people involved.”
But based on the reactions of many seniors in attendance, it was unclear whether the O’Malley or Ehrlich ticket would secure the greater portion of that influential voting population. “We don’t have a good candidate – that’s the problem,” Jerscheid said. “We do not have a good candidate.”