The Bedford League of Women Voters (BLWV) has announced Tuesday night's forum between the candidates for the 21st Middlesex District State Representative seat and the 3rd Middlesex State Senate seat has been cancelled, according to Joan Bowen of the BLWV.
"The Bedford League of Women Voters regrets that it must cancel its candidate forum on October 23 due to Friday’s cancellation of an earlier acceptance by Walter Zenkin, candidate for State Representative, 21st Middlesex," according to a press release sent out by the BLWV.
Zenkin, R-Burlington, was set to meet Ken Gordon, D-Bedford, for their third debate in the last week, before Zenkin's withdrawl on Oct. 19. It was the only debate between the two candidates scheduled to take place in Bedford, with the public in attendance.
According to a press release from Gordon's campaign, Zenkin withdrew from the debate "citing what he perceived as a conflict of interest involving one of the event’s organizers."
Gordon said he is disappointed in losing the only scheduled debate in front of the Bedford community.
"I'm frustrated from the point of view of the voter," Gordon said. "We haven't had the type of debate where members of the public could attend and ask questions directly."
In announcing his withdrawal, Zenkin said his concern was one member of the BLWV, charged with organizing the debate, was married to Gordon's campaign treasurer, according to a press release from Adam Senei, Zenkin's campaign manager.
"While we believe the League of Women Voters to be a noble institution with a rich history rooted in the woman’s suffrage movement, this is a brazen conflict of interest," Sensei said in the press release.
Sensei said the Zenkin campaign believes the BLWV should have disclosed the connection between the event organizer and members of the Gordon campaign.
"This type of behavior exemplifies all that our campaign is against in Massachusetts state politics; a culture of one-party rule and insider deals that have characterized Beacon Hill for the last several years," Sensei said.
When confronted with the perceived conflict of interest, the event organizer "continued to act evasively," according to the press release.
"Based on our experience in dealing with the event’s organizer, we determined that this event would do little to present interested voters with the genuine discourse they deserve," Sensei said in the press release.
Following Zenkin's withdrawal, the Bedford Chamber of Commerce (COC) offered to take over sponsorship of the debate, following which Zenkin stood by his withdrawal from the forum.
"Zenkin’s campaign was unwilling to reconsider its refusal to attend the debate even after the [COC] offered to take over sponsorship, which would have removed the involvement of the person alleged by Zenkin’s campaign to be the problem," Gordon said in the press release.
"I'm aware there were two events proposed which would have seen a debate happen in front of the Bedford community," Gordon said. "Both were rejected."
Executive Director of the Bedford COC, Maureen Sullivan, said when the COC Board of Directors heard about Zenkin's withdrawal, they immediately wanted to step in to try to make the debate happen.
"We thought it was important to have a debate in front of the public before the election," Sullivan said.
The COC does not have any plans to try to reschedule the debate before the election, according to Sullivan.
Gordon said he is not aware of any communication between the two campaigns attempting to reschedule a debate in front of the Bedford community.
Bowen said the BLWV does not have any other candidate forums or other events lined up for the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
"Our interest was in providing a forum for State Senate and State Representative candidates that would represent this area," Bowen said.