BOSTON (AP/WPRI) — Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, jabbed at each other in a heated televised debate Tuesday.
The contest was one of the sharpest of the campaign as both candidates wrestled for the upper hand.
One point of focus was the case of Danroy “DJ” Henry, a young Black man from Massachusetts killed by police ten years ago.
Henry’s father has criticized Markey, saying he failed to help the family seek justice. In the first four minutes of the debate, Kennedy brought it up, among other topics.
“When a mom and dad came to you to ask for justice for their murdered Black son, you literally did nothing to help them,” Kennedy said.
At first, Markey neglected to respond to Kennedy’s comments on the Henry family, so he kept pushing.
“So, this is important. A mom and dad came to you to ask for justice for their murdered son. They came to you as your United States senator, as somebody in a position of power who they thought could help them rectify what had happened to their slain young boy,” Kennedy said. “And when they came to you to ask for help, you did nothing.”
Kennedy went on to say the only thing Markey did was co-sign a letter, months later, along with him and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Kennedy claims his office put together the letter, without help from Markey.
“I have stood by that family through thick and thin, year after year, since pushing on the Department of Justice, pushing on authorities in New York, doing everything we possibly can, and continue to this day,” Kennedy told Markey.
Markey responded by saying he agrees the Henry family deserves justice.
“I can’t fathom the pain the Henry family must feel for the loss of a child,” Markey said. “The pain is unimaginable. But what Congressman Kennedy is saying is just not true.”
Markey said he joined other members of the congressional delegation to ask the Justice Department to investigate the killing. He brought the letters he signed in 2014 with Kennedy to the WBZ debate, holding them up for viewers.
“When Congressman Kennedy says that I did nothing, he knows it’s not true,” Markey said. “He knows it is a falsehood, and he keeps repeating it because back then, I stood with him to fight to make sure that this case was opened.”
Kennedy said he wanted to make clear he himself was not saying Markey did nothing.
“It’s Mr. Henry’s words that said that you did nothing,” Kennedy said
“You signed a letter, Senator, that my office put together, after months of trying to get you on that letter,” Kennedy added. “Now, it’s great that you signed it, but for those out there that are wondering what the difference is between myself and Senator Markey, this is literally it.”
Kennedy says as a congressman, he pushed more than Markey did as a U.S. senator to call for action in the Henry case.
Markey continued to add Kennedy’s comments were “just not true,” again pointing out two letters the two of them signed in 2014.
“So when he says I did nothing, he knows it’s a falsehood. He keeps making up false accusations that I did nothing,” Markey exclaimed. “He keeps repeating it, knowing that that is completely and totally not true.”
“We acted together as partners, and that was right that we should do so. But to say I did not partner with him is just absolutely untrue. It’s a misrepresentation, it’s a falsehood, and he should just stop saying it,” Markey added.
Before the moderator urged Kennedy and Markey to move on to the next topic, Kennedy spoke to viewers.
“To every parent out there of a child: If you believe, if your son was murdered, your young boy was murdered by a police officer, and you came to a United States senator and you asked for their help, and the response that you got was months later to sign a letter… I ask you if you think that is sufficient,” Kennedy said. “I don’t. Apparently Senator Markey does,” Kennedy finished.
Markey told Kennedy and viewers again that it wasn’t just one letter, but two letters he signed asking to investigate the killing.
“Our staffs worked together in drafting the language in those letters, so again, what he’s saying is not true. What he’s saying is a misrepresentation,” Markey said. “And, I just absolutely think he should stop it, because otherwise, these signatures of myself, and him, and Elizabeth Warren on these letters is absolutely something that he is disrespecting in terms of the partnership we created to help to get justice for the Henry family.”
With the last word, Kennedy said it wasn’t his criticism that Markey should be concerned about.
“Those words saying you did nothing aren’t mine, they’re DJ’s father. They’re coming from the family, that’s the issue. Not with me,” Kennedy told Markey.
Markey rebutted, telling the moderator Kennedy’s charges were not true, adding “he knows better.”