There's an interesting twist this afternoon in the Sixth Congressional District Race. Democratic incumbent John Tierney is urging the organizers of an upcoming debate to make "family" the first question.

Tierney's wife, Patrice, spent a month in prison after she was convicted of helping her brother — a federal fugitive and illegal-gambling impresario — file false tax returns. His Republican opponent, Richard Tisei, and his surrogates have suggested that John Tierney must have known what his brother-in-law was doing.

"I am happy to address this issue, as I have in the past, and had always expected Mr. Tisei to make it his central theme of the debate," Tierney said in a press release sent earlier this afternoon. "Today, I call on organizers of Thursday's debate to make the very first question for candidates about family."

Tierney's request follows reports in the Boston Herald and Boston Globe indicating that Tierney has tried to limit discussion of his wife in his debates with Tisei. On Friday, Matt Robison, Tierney's campaign manager, told the Globe that discussion of Patrice Tierney constituted a distraction.

Tisei and his surrogates are "trying to make John's extended family the only issue of this campaign," Robison said at the time. "While Tisei continues using that strategy to duck questions on where he stands on issues, Congressman Tierney will be talking with voters about what he can do to make their lives and our community better."

Tierney's campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Thursday's debate is sponsored by MassINC, the nonpartisan think tank that publishes CommonWealth magazine. It's supposed to focus on "The American Dream: Jobs, the economy, and the middle class."

Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth's editor, tells WGBH that Tierney's new request won't change the debate's emphasis.

"We set out to host an issues debate, and we're going to continue to do that," Mohl says. "We're not going to honor Mr. Tierney's request."

This isn't the first time Tierney has tried to shape the course MassINC debate. According to the Globe, he previously threatened not to participate unless a segment allowing the candidates to question each other was dropped.

UPDATE, 3:47 pm: Tierney campaign spokesman Grant Herring says Tierney's statement today "is entirely consistent with what we have been saying all along."