NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) — Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor Martha Coakley said Friday that Republican candidate Charlie Baker should answer “legitimate questions” about a story that nearly brought him to tears as he told it about a rueful fisherman.
During Tuesday’s debate, Baker recalled a meeting with a New Bedford fisherman who regretted pressuring his sons — both of whom were high school football players and had been offered college scholarships — to follow him into the life of a fisherman rather than go to college. Baker told the story in response to a question about the last time he cried.
Baker later acknowledged he met the man during his failed 2010 campaign for governor, and his campaign has since said the fisherman — who has not been located or identified — may not have been from New Bedford.
He insisted Friday that the story was true, though he acknowledged that he may have gotten some of the details wrong.
Coakley said Baker needs to clarify the story.
“Now we are hearing, as he walks the story back, well maybe it wasn’t New Bedford, maybe they weren’t football players, so we are really left wondering, what this story was about?” Coakley said during a visit to New Bedford, one of the nation’s leading fishing ports.
“Charlie’s really the only one who can answer that. I think he should answer those questions.” she said.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, a Democrat, said he knows a lot of people who have played and coached football in the area, as well as people who work in the fishing industry, and he knows no one resembling Baker’s description.
“From our perspective here in New Bedford, the comments perpetuate a stereotype that folks in greater New Bedford don’t value higher education,” Mitchell said. “That’s where I have a problem with it.”
Baker, who became emotional and choked up at times while telling the story, recalled how the man pointed to his two sons and said they were both spectacular football players at New Bedford High School who were offered college scholarships.
“I told them no. I said you’re going to be fishermen. I was a fisherman. My brothers were fishermen. My father was a fisherman. You’re going to be fishermen. And I ruined their lives,” Baker said, quoting the man.
Baker said the story stuck with him through the years because as a father himself, he worried if he is making the right decisions for his children. He also said the controversy around the fishermen story could benefit the industry as it grapples with declining fishing stocks and federal catch limits.
“That industry has not had the attention and support that it deserves,” Baker said. “And that’s a shame.”
He also quipped: “I don’t plan to cry ever again.”
Jim Kendall, a former scalloper and head of New Bedford Seafood Consulting, said he knows of no one meeting Baker’s description, but the challenges facing the industry with are daunting.
“That fisherman exists a thousand times over in New England and around the country,” he said.
The election is Tuesday.
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