Students ask, they answer; Young Watertown journalists host House candidates

The Boston Globe
March 31, 2011 Thursday


BYLINE: By Megan McKee, Globe Correspondent

SECTION: NEWS; Metro; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 697 words

WATERTOWN – Though she was the youngest reporter in the room, pre-kindergartner Sarah Morrissey had the job of asking the group of legislative candidates the most pressing question of all.

“Do you have any pets and what are their names?” she asked, barely audible despite the microphone at Watertown Middle School.

The candidates, most dressed in suits, are in an upcoming special election for the 10th Middlesex District House seat. They answered with a tone of respect usually reserved for topics like casino gambling and tax breaks and health insurance.

“We had a goldfish, which unfortunately was all we could handle,” said John Lawn, a Watertown Town councilman and Democrat hoping to win the seat vacated by Peter Koutoujian when he took the Middlesex County sheriff’s job.

Although Fishy died, Lawn said his five children, who all attend Cunniff Elementary School, have a new focus. “Right now, my kids are very excited about asking me for a dog,” he said, pausing for emphasis. “Every day.”

In the run-up to the April 12 primary, the candidates have done their share of meets and greets and held serious-minded discussions with neighbors and politicians. But on Tuesday night, they faced students in the Watertown school system’s journalism program.

The program has 100 students from pre-kindergarten to high school. The students interview celebrities and local figures, attend performances and write reviews, and cover Watertown’s news for the online newspapers of Cunniff Elementary and Watertown Middle schools, as well as the high school’s Raider Times, which also comes out in print. The elementary and middle school program was started by John Vitti, a copy editor with the Globe’s sports department. He now helps with all the students.

Tuesday’s session was their first foray into campaign events.

Lawn was joined by fellow Democrats Gary Marchese, a Waltham city councilor, and Sean Durkee, an Iraq war veteran from Waltham.

The fourth Democrat, Newton Alderman Allan “Jay” Ciccone Jr., didn’t attend. Republican Jim Dixon, an American Airlines pilot, was flying to London so he sent his campaign manager, Jay Dwyer, to represent him.

The district includes parts of Newton, Waltham, and Watertown.

With the students running the show, the candidates offered glimpses of their lives rarely seen in run-of-the-mill campaign events.

Durkee, who has never held political office, said he wanted to be a garbage man when he was 7 years old like Dyanne Bonyuet, who asked what the candidates dreamed of becoming when they were little.

Marchese said his wife, Janis, usually walks their Australian shepherd because he’s too busy with his legal practice and position with the city on most days.

Lawn talked about being unemployed with two young children when he found out his wife was pregnant with triplets, and how the experience inspired him to open his real estate firm.

Candidates did their best to explain things in kid-friendly terms even though they sometimes threw out references that pre-dated their audience.

Camille Poindexter, a fourth-grader, asked Dwyer why Dixon was the best person for the job. Dwyer said Dixon, a Republican running for the Democrat-dominated House, remembers watching the Soviet Union collapse under one-party leadership. His candidate was running “so we don’t go the way of the Soviet Union.”

Another question came from third-grader Ryan Loughran. He wanted to know if Marchese had dreamed of becoming a state representative.

“You know, Ryan, when I was your age, I played baseball. When I was your age, I was thinking about becoming a doctor . . . I wanted to do good, I wanted to help people,” said Marchese. “I didn’t think of politics at your age. But wanting be a state representative evolved.”

“Are you thinking of becoming a state rep?” asked Marchese.

“Maybe,” Ryan replied.

Marilyn Salvas watched her 15-year-old daughter Jackie Salvas ask Marchese what he’d do to help teens. He pointed to the teen centers such as the one that recently opened in Waltham as one way to fight bullying.

Salvas loved the special moment.

“You get filled with pride,” said Salvas. “What can I say?”

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com

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