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Fight Is Heating Up In State Rep. Race

By Shannon A. Carty

The personal is the political in Cambridge's state representative race, as the two candidates--who present the same slate of issues--go head to head.

Independent candidate and political newcomer Dennis A. Benzan will challenge incumbent Alvin E. Thompson (D-Cambridge) for a seat in the 28th Middlesex District in the upcoming November 5 election.

Despite Benzan's youth and relative inexperience, he is posing a substantial threat to Thompson's campaign--a surprising development considering the similarity of the candidates' platforms.

Both support affordable housing, universal health care and assistance for the elderly. "There are very few, if any, roll calls where [Thompson and Benzan] would differ," said Glenn S. Koocher '71, host of Cambridge's weekly political talk show "Inside-Out."

"They are both liberals, both progressives. Both buy into the Democratic agenda," he said.

So more personal issues, most notably Benzan's youth and Thompson's attendance record, have come to the forefront.

Adopting a Fighting Stance

To unseat the incumbent, Benzan is taking an aggressive stance, accusing Thompson of negligence in office.

According to the 24-year-old Benzan, the three jobs Thompson held during the past term distracted him from his representative duties.

Benzan points to Thompson's attendance record as proof.

"He's missed over 445 roll calls in the past eight years," Benzan said, adding that votes missed included several important votes on elderly housing and assault weapons.

Thompson vehemently refutes Benzan's claims.

"I have been present in the building every day on the days of votes except for [nine days in which he was hospitalized] since the beginning of my service," he said.

"My voting record for the first three terms of my office was 93 to 95 percent," Thompson said. "Other roll calls I missed were because I had permission from the speaker to vote from my desk.

Last term, the term during which he was hospitalized, Thompson voted 76 percent of the time.

While Benzan takes the offensive, Thompson attempts to capitalize upon his experience to win the election. He has served on the state legislature for four consecutive terms since first being elected in 1988.

Citing the large number of bills he has helped sponsor as evidence of his commitment to his constituency, Thompson argued that his seniority gives him an edge in the House.

"I have the largest number of bills signed, sealed and delivered by the governor," Thompson said. "Most representatives only have two or three. I have 11 bills passed, on issues such as pensions, assault weapons and elderly housing."

While Thompson emphasized his experience, Benzan stressed his energy and personal connections to the community.

"What differentiates our campaign from that of Rep. Thompson's is that we are very energetic and very committed," Benzan said.

Benzan said his personal contribution to the race is to get more citizens involved.

"The main concerns in this election are the amount of apathy and the lack of concern for the political process," he said. "There is a lot of cynicism. We registered over 450 people to vote and organized people over issues."

Party Politics

As the race heats up, Thompson has received increasing criticism that he is too removed from his constituents, and Benzan has taken advantage of this edge.

"Alvin's base in the community has always been shallow," said Koocher. "Alvin could be taken out and he knows it. The race is very tense."

But David L.K. Trumbull, chair of the city Republican committee, said Thompson will have an edge since this is a presidential-election year and the Democratic party has the majority in Cambridge.

"For local elections, [people] will most likely vote down party lines, which presumably helps Mr. Thompson in this race," Trumbull said.

Benzan said his Independent affiliation hasn't hurt, but has helped.

"[If I had run as a Democrat], there would have been six candidates, which would have split the vote," he said. "Thompson would have walked to the election."

Although Thompson had no opponents in the 1994 Democratic primaries, he had four this year. He passed with 30 percent of the vote.

Benzan said he plans to re-enroll as a Democrat after winning the election.

Despite the closeness of the race, each candidate has already drafted a post-election agenda.

"I plan to sit down with the new members of the district delegation and draw up plans," Thompson said. "I will hold meetings in my district to talk about legislation for the district for the next year."

And Benzan said he will focus his office on fighting for affordable housing, child care, education and universal health care

Citing the large number of bills he has helped sponsor as evidence of his commitment to his constituency, Thompson argued that his seniority gives him an edge in the House.

"I have the largest number of bills signed, sealed and delivered by the governor," Thompson said. "Most representatives only have two or three. I have 11 bills passed, on issues such as pensions, assault weapons and elderly housing."

While Thompson emphasized his experience, Benzan stressed his energy and personal connections to the community.

"What differentiates our campaign from that of Rep. Thompson's is that we are very energetic and very committed," Benzan said.

Benzan said his personal contribution to the race is to get more citizens involved.

"The main concerns in this election are the amount of apathy and the lack of concern for the political process," he said. "There is a lot of cynicism. We registered over 450 people to vote and organized people over issues."

Party Politics

As the race heats up, Thompson has received increasing criticism that he is too removed from his constituents, and Benzan has taken advantage of this edge.

"Alvin's base in the community has always been shallow," said Koocher. "Alvin could be taken out and he knows it. The race is very tense."

But David L.K. Trumbull, chair of the city Republican committee, said Thompson will have an edge since this is a presidential-election year and the Democratic party has the majority in Cambridge.

"For local elections, [people] will most likely vote down party lines, which presumably helps Mr. Thompson in this race," Trumbull said.

Benzan said his Independent affiliation hasn't hurt, but has helped.

"[If I had run as a Democrat], there would have been six candidates, which would have split the vote," he said. "Thompson would have walked to the election."

Although Thompson had no opponents in the 1994 Democratic primaries, he had four this year. He passed with 30 percent of the vote.

Benzan said he plans to re-enroll as a Democrat after winning the election.

Despite the closeness of the race, each candidate has already drafted a post-election agenda.

"I plan to sit down with the new members of the district delegation and draw up plans," Thompson said. "I will hold meetings in my district to talk about legislation for the district for the next year."

And Benzan said he will focus his office on fighting for affordable housing, child care, education and universal health care

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