The Fourth Ward Council race now centers on the life experiences of the two candidates.
During his closing statement at Monday evening's debate, Democratic Councilman Tom Bigosinski, 41, said that his status as a home owner and family man are a distinction voters should consider between himself and Republican challenger Keith Loughlin.
"There are profound differences between the two of us," Bigosinski said. "Unlike Keith, I'm a husband, I'm a father, I'm a home owner and I'm a taxpayer and I have been for many years."
Loughlin, 31, is single, has no children and lives in a rental apartment. During the remainder of his closing statement, Bigosinski elaborated on the aspects of his background which he brought up, saying they allowed him to better relate to the residents of the ward.
Bigosinski, in an interview Wednesday, said that his comments were not meant in a derogatory way against Loughlin. He said he was trying to discuss how his background is a good fit for the position.
"When I point out that unlike Keith, I am a husband, father and home owner, I certainly don't mean to put him down," Bigosinski said. "However, these experiences create an important distinction between Keith and I. As a home owner, I feel the pinch of rising taxes; as a parent, I am constantly concerned about speeding cars, safe transit to schools and parks, the condition of our roads and the well being of our schools. I understand the struggles of most Westfield residents, because I face them too. I think this what makes me the better candidate for Town Council than Keith."
Loughlin said he has not been focused on what Bigosinski has been saying but noted that he disagrees with the premise his opponent put forward. He said that his rent contributes to property taxes and that he is looking to purchase a home in the ward in the near future. He said that he grew up in town and his parents continue to reside in town, owning a house in the Fourth Ward.
"I am focused on my campaign and the Fourth Ward," Loughlin said. "He can criticize me if he wants, I am focused on the issues. I will put my town credentials against anyone."
In terms of school related issues, Loughlin said he has an interest in making sure education and student pedestrian safety issues remain on the town agenda. He noted that he attended the Westfield public schools and that his mother is a teacher at Washington Elementary School. Loughlin also said he intends to raise his children in Westfield and educate them in the public schools.
"I intend to stay in town," he said.
Bigosinski said that while his perspective in Westfield differs from Loughlin in that he did not grow up in town, he wanted to raise his children in the community.
“I may not have been raised in Westfield, but as an adult I chose Westfield as the town in which to raise my family," Bigosinski said.
According to political experts, Bigosinski's comments are not unusual for a candidate running against a younger opponent who may not be married or has no children, and who is renting. A staffer on the unsuccessful 2008 Democratic primary campaign of Jon Powers for a congressional seat in Upstate New York, said the campaign had anticipated the now 31-year old Powers would be criticized for living with his now-fiancee and being childless. Powers, whose opponents were older than Bigosinski, was not criticized on that issue in that contentious primary battle.
Democratic and Republican political professionals, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they were surprised that Bigosinski used the wording that he did. They said they would have advised Bigosinski to contrast his experience with that of Loughlin and not to have brought up the personal issues.
Bigosinski continued to reiterate that he did not have any personal animosity towards Loughlin, noting that he had been in his shoes once, but said that he is a better fit for the ward.
"When I was his age, I was single and I did not have children and that's a good place to be at that age," he said. "People come to Westfield to raise their families and I can better relate to those residents."