LOWELL -- Democrat Edward Kennedy and Republican John MacDonald sparred for an hour Monday evening during a feisty state Senate debate highlighted by attacks and lengthy back-and-forth squabbles.
The candidates are in the final days of the campaign for the vacant 1st Middlesex Senate District seat. The seat encompassing six communities is open because Democrat Eileen Donoghue became Lowell city manager earlier this year.
Kennedy, a Lowell city councilor, painted himself during the UMass Lowell/Sun debate as the candidate who best represents the values and ideas of the district's residents.
"I can deliver best for the district," Kennedy said, pointing to his experience and the Democratic majority in the House and Senate on Beacon Hill.
On the other side, MacDonald said he would bring a new face and direction to the Statehouse, where there's too much corruption and out-of-control spending.
"I'm someone who will put you first," said MacDonald, a Lowell resident who has unsuccessfully run for City Council.
The Republican emphasized that residents are sick of "politics as usual" and career politicians looking to pad their pensions.
In response, Kennedy said he's not a career politician, or a "double dipper." He had a 17-year hiatus earlier in his political career, he said. His full-time job is as a commercial real estate appraiser in the private sector.
If elected in next week's election, Kennedy said he would serve as a state senator and city councilor at the same time for about five months, until May.
MacDonald called this "double dipping." The rest of the district's communities -- Tyngsboro, Westford, Groton, Pepperell and Dunstable -- would not be equally represented if he's also a city councilor, MacDonald said.
"I think it's wrong," he added.
Kennedy responded that he would be a full-time state senator. He pointed to other Lowell officials from the past who simultaneously served at the city and state level.
"It isn't that hard to do," Kennedy said. "To do it for five months is completely reasonable."
During a discussion on healthcare, MacDonald said he was not in favor of a single-payer universal model. He said that no one in Massachusetts is denied access to healthcare.
"When has government solved anything and made it more efficient?" MacDonald said.
On the other side, Kennedy said a single-payer, Medicare For All model is closer to the way the country should be heading. Everyone should have access to affordable and high-quality healthcare, he said.
"He (MacDonald) may think everything's OK, but it absolutely isn't," Kennedy said.
MacDonald responded that he never said the system is perfect the way it is. The already-high healthcare costs would skyrocket even more if Kennedy joins the progressive Democrats on Beacon Hill, MacDonald said. The Republican said the Democrat would keep increasing taxes on residents. MacDonald made that taxes swipe multiple times.
Kennedy replied that MacDonald was making "outrageous" comments about taxes, and stressed that he never said anything of the sort.
"It's straight from the Donald Trump school of politics," Kennedy said.
Other topics that came up during the debate at University Crossing Monday evening:
* Question 1: Kennedy previously said he would vote "yes," mandating nurse-staffing ratios in hospitals across the state, because of patient safety. Now after hearing varying cost estimates about the question, Kennedy said he's not sure what is true, and the issue deserves further study.
"We have to pay attention to the bottom line, and how much it will cost," Kennedy said.
MacDonald said he'll be voting "no" because the new mandate would dramatically increase wait times, and also result in higher insurance costs and taxes, he said. Community hospitals would be forced to close, he said.
"I'm a big fat no on 1," MacDonald said.
* Safe Injection Sites: Kennedy said he would not be in favor of establishing these sites, but if one community wanted to try it, he would be OK with that.
MacDonald said he's opposed to these facilities "100 percent." He called it "outrageous" that Kennedy wants a trial.
The election is Nov. 6 and early voting has already started.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.