THE TWO CANDIDATES for state auditor squared off in a televised debate Monday night that ranged all over the map, but two exchanges between Christopher Dempsey and Sen. Diana DiZoglio showcased their different styles and priorities.
DiZoglio’s primary issue in her past legislative campaigns and in her run for auditor has been nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs. The senator felt burned by an NDA she signed to settle a sexual harassment claim when she was a legislative aide and since then has relentlessly pursued a ban on all NDAs at the state and local level.
On Monday, she issued a press release accusing Dempsey of voting as a Brookline Town Meeting member in November 2020 “to force taxpayer-funded NDAs on victims of harassment and discrimination – a decidedly nontransparent and abusive practice.”
She followed up during the debate with an emphatic statement of her position. “I don’t believe we should be using taxpayer dollars to cover up any sort of abuse,” she said.
Her accusation against Dempsey went a bit beyond the facts. According to the records she provided, Dempsey voted against an article that would have prohibited the town from requiring NDAs as a condition of settlement of allegations of racial or sexual harassment or police misconduct. Still, the article wasn’t as absolute as DiZoglio favors. It allowed the town to accept offers to refrain from publicizing details of the case if that’s what the victim wants.
Dempsey’s defense of his vote was muddled. Like Ellen Zucker, a lawyer at Burns & Levinson who squared off with DiZoglio in recent point-counterpoint commentaries in the Boston Bar Journal, Dempsey said he doesn’t favor an absolutist blanket ban on NDAs.
“On this issue I stand by my vote and I stand with experts in the field,” he said, without noting that his no vote in 2020 appeared to contradict the position he is now espousing.
But then Dempsey shifted course and said DiZoglio had her facts wrong, particularly about forcing NDAs on people. He referred to an $11 million settlement Brookline agreed to with a firefighter who alleged racial discrimination. Dempsey said he voted at Town Meeting for the settlement and no NDA.
During another section of the GBH debate, host Jim Braude asked the candidates how they would steer more state contracts to minority contractors.
DiZoglio gave a long and winding answer that included brief remarks in Spanish and ended with her support for the Massachusetts Port Authority’s “25-point equity and inclusion model.”
Dempsey responded by pointing out that Tom Glynn, who headed Massport when the model was adopted, is supporting him in the race for auditor.
“I’d be interested in hearing the senator talk in more depth about how the model would actually work. I do think it’s a good model. I’m not sure the senator completely understands how it works,” he said, adding a few comments of his own in Spanish.
What has come to be known as the Massport model was a decision to make diversity, however the bidding contractor defines it, account for 25 percent of the final score assigned to each bid. The approach was used in hiring a contractor to build the Omni Boston Hotel in the Seaport.
Dempsey’s comment about DiZoglio’s understanding of the Massport model seemed to irk the senator, who gave a long response that never explained how it works.
“I understand very well, though. I am used to men like my opponent up on Beacon Hill trying to discredit the work of women up on Beacon Hill,” she said.
Braude asked if Dempsey wished to respond. “I didn’t hear an explanation of how the Massport model works,” he said.