By P. Amy MacKinnon
People from Quincy to New Bedford crammed into a Marshfield building to press Sen. John Kerry on issues from the federal budget impasse to funding for local seawalls.
Billed as a South Shore town hall meeting, Kerry addressed a standing-room-only crowd Saturday at the Seth Ventress Building, accompanied by Congressman William Keating, state Rep. James Cantwell, D-Marshfield, and Weymouth Mayor Sue Kay.
Marshfield Fire Chief Kevin Robinson had a dual purpose in attending: he was required to maintain strict fire code regulations -- which allowed for no more than 160 people in the auditorium -- and wanted to advocate for Massachusetts firefighters.
"We need to have our staff increased," Robinson said. "We're still at a deficit for FY '11 and we're not getting those positions back."
Kerry opened his remarks with talk of the continuing stalled budget negotiations. Congress is widely expected to approve a second stopgap measure this week to prevent a government shutdown.
"H.R. 1 is not just a bill, it's people," said Kerry referring to the budget proposal introduced by the Republican-controlled House. "What the House budget does in plain and simple terms is eats American seed corn It strips funding from things that affect our quality of life or strips our quality of life down the road."
When the floor was opened up to questions, several members of Brockton's Youth Build spoke.
Erik Andrade, 33, a program coordinator for the group that provides GED and job training to youth 16-24, said he was concerned about proposed cuts to the federally-funded Community Development Block Grant.
"We were told by our parent organization if they cut the funding, they would close HeadStart, the food bank and our program," said Andrade before the meeting.
Kerry said that in order to tackle wider budgetary issues, Congress must first address the big four: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and military spending.
Some residents were looking to Kerry to help provide federal dollars to repair a seawall in the Fieldston section destroyed by multiple storms and coastal erosion. Kerry, who toured the seawall earlier with Keating and Cantwell, said his proposal for an infrastructure bank would free up funds from other projects to possibly serve as a secondary funding measure for the seawall.
Questions dealt with topics from Social Security (Kerry said it's an easy fix) to collective bargaining (he believes in it but said some have been too greedy) to catch allocations for Massachusetts fishermen (he hopes to have news for fishermen within the next couple of months and will continue working with them to ensure they're heard).
Marshfield attorney Don Gibson expressed concern over Kerry's support of a no-fly zone over Libya.
Kerry compared the humanitarian need to the situation in Iraq in 1991 on the heels of the Gulf War. Tens of thousands died during a Shia uprising against Saddam Hussein but the U.S. military was ordered not to intervene.
"When we say to Gadhafi, you've got to go, is that all? You've just got to go?" said Kerry referring to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, accused of killing his own people with targeted airstrikes and ground battles during a three-week uprising. Kerry said it was important to the United States' standing in the Arab world.
"That's not putting troops on the ground. You can crater their runways from 30,000 feet."
Asked if he believes an air strike against a sovereign nation is an act of war, Kerry, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said, "Not if it's done with the legitimate sanction of one of the international organizations to save human lives If he starts to terrorize citizens with jets, those are circumstances under which the U.S. must concern itself."
At the close of the meeting, Kerry announced he would stay as long as needed to speak with anyone who didn't get a chance to ask a question.
Later, he met privately with a World War II veteran whose service medals had been lost and presented the veteran with replacements.