Neal Leads Congressional Race in Endorsements, Fundraising
|Clockwise from left: Richard Neal, Bill Shein and Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. face off on Thursday in a Democratic primary that will determine the winner of the newly drawn 1st Mass District. Neal, representative for the 2nd Mass District, has gained more endorsements and campaign money than the two Berkshires candidates.|
Neal has served the 2nd District in the House of Representatives since 1989, and is a senior member of the influential House Ways and Means Committee. Last year's redistricting announcement moved his native Springfield into the new 1st District, where Neal began introducing himself to new voters in Berkshire and Franklin counties at the beginning of 2012, following the anouncement in late 2011 that incumbent Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, would retire at the end of this term.
Neal officially entered the race in mid-May, filing triple the number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot at 7,340. Seventeen percent of signatures came from residents of Berkshire County, which trails a distant second behind Hampden County in district registered voters, at 18 percent compared to 63 percent in Hampden.
"The consolidation of Western Massachusetts is not a bad thing, it's a good thing," Neal told iBerkshires on one of his earliest visits. "I can assure people that I will vigorously represent the interests of the Berkshires with the same enthusiasm that I represent my district."
Nuciforo first declared his intention to run in this election in 2009 as a challenger to Olver, prior to the plan for the redistricting. Currently the Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds, Nuciforo served as state senator from Pittsfield from 1997 to 2006, and chaired the Joint Committee on Banks and Banking, which became the Joint Committee on Financial Services. Nuciforo launched his full-scale 2012 campaign with a bus tour in early February, having already begun building support among some local Democrats with events in Pittsfield and elsewhere over the previous months. Nuciforo became the first to turn in papers to appear on the ballot on May 3, with 2,249 signatures.
"This is going to be a watershed moment in American politics," Nuciforo said at one Pittsfield appearance, "because people in this country have felt more and more detached from the people who are supposed to be representing them. That's what this election's going to be all about."
Alford writer, humorist and political activist Bill Shein announced his intention to run in mid-January. Other than a 2004 parody campaign for president, Shein has never run for public office but did work on Paul Simon's presidential campaign in 1988 and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee after graduating from Tufts University in 1990. His op-ed column, "Reason Gone Mad," has won three National Press Club Award for Humor and appears in The Berkshire Eagle. Shein turned in 2,349 signatures to qualify on the ballot on June 4.
"In the Congress, I look forward to working with my new colleagues and reform activists from across the political spectrum to make vital changes in service of a democracy that works for all of us," said Shein in a recent statement.
Public endorsements for his opponents, in contrast, have been scarce. While Nuciforo's campaign has seen contributions from some local elected officials, including Pittsfield and North Adams city councilors, there have been no publicized endorsements. Shein was endorsed in June by L. Scott Laugenour of Lenox, Green-Rainbow Party candidate for 4th Berkshire District state representative.
The most significant disparity between the campaign of the Springfield congressman and his Berkshire-based opponents, however, is in fundraising and spending. Neal has spent just over $1.4 million in the race, according to his most recent FEC filings, with more than $2 million left remaining in his campaign fund. Nuciforo has raised a total of $242,209 in this election cycle, and spent $242,459, with a total of $100,620 left. Shein, whose campaign only accepts contributions of $99 or less, has raised only $20,035 and spent $14,710.
Funding has been a largely looming issue in the race, with Nuciforo and Shein repeatedly targeting Neal's large fundraising contributions from corporations and political action committees. Neal has maintained that donors do not influence his voting record in Congress.
On election day, Neal will vote at the Boys & Girls Club in Springfield, then host an election night results party at the Community Music School of Springfield at 8 p.m., to be followed by an expected "Thank You" breakfast in Pittsfield the following morning at Dottie's Coffeeshop.
Nuciforo will cast his vote at Capeless Elementary School, and will be gathering with supporters to watch results at Mazzeo's Ristorante, 1015 South St., Pittsfield starting at 7:30 p.m. Shein will vote at Alford Town Hall, with his election night meet-up at Gypsy Joint in Great Barrington beginning around 7 p.m.
Congressional Debate Schedule Brings Disappointment
Candidates Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. and Bill Shein both criticized current 2nd District Rep. Richard Neal this week based on reports he has accepted only two of at least six debate invitations put forth to the candidates over the past several months.
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, that Congressman Neal has chosen to avoid four of the six proposed debates," said Nuciforo in a statement. "He sees the same data we see, and these data show that we have widespread support and solid positions on issues that resonate with voters. Neal knows that this race is neck and neck, and he thinks he will lose fewer votes by declining to attend. By evading debates, the congressman is doing a disservice to voters, and is further eroding faith in our democratic system."
Shein similarly called the decision "disappointing, but not surprising."
"Regardless, we'll continue our substantive campaign about the big changes we need in our politics and economy that I've been advocating for years," said Shein. "At the two debates we are having, I look forward to contrasting my views and very different priorities with the other candidates and wish Rep. Neal well with his very busy schedule."
Neal's campaign maintains that he is not unwilling to debate, and that the candidate readily accepted debate invitations in both Pittsfield and Springfield.
"Congressman Richie Neal always debates his political opponents during election season and this year will be no different," said spokesman Matthew Fenlon in a statement. "In fact, Congressman Neal was the first candidate in this race to accept debates in Springfield and Pittsfield, both of which involve multiple media outlets and are already scheduled."
These debates include a pre-taped studio debate for WGBY public television that is scheduled to air on Aug. 20, and an AM radio debate that may include loose participation by local media outlets. The latter debate, at WBEC in Pittsfield, will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. on Aug. 30, one week before the election, and will also air on WNAW 1230-AM in North Adams and 860-AM/94.1-FM in Great Barrington, all part of the Berkshire Vox Radio Group.
Nuciforo and Shein, both from the Berkshires, have challenged Neal during the campaign to commit to a debate schedule since early July, and questioned why he has not accepted several offered invitations.
In mid-January, iBerkshires extended an invitation to the three candidates to participate in a debate to be held in Pittsfield, which would be open to the public and media as well as streamed online, and therefore potentially accessible to more residents throughout the entire district than any other media broadcast area.
By Jan. 23, both Shein and Nuciforo had responded affirmatively to these invitations.
Following several follow up emails and phone calls to Neal's office over the four months, iBerkshires received word from Neal's campaign on June 2 that it was "currently receiving many debate requests and will be back in touch as we finalize the Congressman's scheduled for the summer." Continued queries in late June and through July received similar responses.
Invitations for a planned debate Aug. 27 organized by the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television at Berkshire Community College initially sent out in May never received a response, according to Gazette editor Jonathan Levine.
"I think Neal would prefer to debate at 7:45 at night, on Sept. 6," Shein told iBerkshires last month with regards to the candidate's lack of clear response to debate requests.
"If Congressman Neal believes so strongly in the importance of debating, then why has he declined the majority of debates?" asked Nuciforo, who sent a letter challenging Neal to commit to a debate schedule in early July.
Neal's campaign disputed this Wednesday, pointing to a misunderstanding over the logistics of the scheduled WBEC debate on Aug. 30. Fenlon told iBerkshires that sometime after its debate request, it received one from WBEC, which it accepted on the understanding that the other local media outlets who had proposed debates would be included.
"They gave us the impression that they had already worked it out with everyone," said Fenlon.
It was only after controversy had already erupted in local press Wednesday, however, that announcement of this debate was sent to those media outlets, in a mid-day release from WBEC's Larry Kratka. According to the Kratka, the debate will feature some measure of involvement by some local media organizations, in that it will be recorded and aired sometime later on PCTV, and feature some questions by iBerkshires Editor Tammy Daniels.
"We've had no communication whatsoever from Congressman Neal's office," said Levine. The Gazette will not be covering the radio event, he said, as the Thursday, Aug. 30, timing of the event makes it impractical to cover for a paper that comes out on Thursday.
"Thursday night before an election is basically pointless for the purposes of any weekly newspaper," said Levine.
Fenlon declined to comment on any of the other debate requests around the district, beyond the official statement above. These include invitations from WWLP22-News, Westfield News Group, and New England Public Radio. He also declined to speculate on why Rep. Neal had agreed only to two closed-studio interviews, but did say the congressman will be making additional public appearances with opportunities for questions over the next month.
"I'm a little disappointed that there's no debate open to the public," Levine, who has been responsible for most of the major local political debates for Pittsfield and Berkshire area-wide elections in recent decades. "I always think candidates should do something where people can come in person and see them."
Editor's Note: The Berkshire News Network has frequently included us in its local election debates and we have shared access to those we have hosted with the radio network.
Berkshire News Network Hosting Primary Debates
Larry Kratka, news director of the radio group, announced on Wednesday that the network will hold two hourlong debates for candidates for Middle Berkshire register of deeds and for the 1st Massachusetts congressional district. Both debates are in advance of the Sept. 6 Democratic primary that will essentially determine the winner of the general election in November.
The first debate will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 29, on "News/Talk" AM-1420 WBEC from 11 to noon between the three candidates for the Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds: Patsy Harris, Jody Phillips and Scott Pignatelli.
Kratka will moderate and questions will be posed to the candidates by Berkshire News Network newsman Tom Conklin and Tammy Daniels from iBerkshires.com. The debate will be rebroadcast on Friday, Aug. 31, at 9 a.m. on 860-AM/94.1-FM WSBS in Great Barrington. This debate will also be recorded by PCTV for playback before the primary.
On Thursday, Aug. 30, Vox radio stations AM-1420 WBEC in Pittsfield, AM-1230 WNAW in North Adams and 860-AM/94.1-FM in Great Barrington will host the last debate between the three congressional candidates for the newly redrawn 1st Congressional District.
Richard E. Neal of Springfield, currently U.S. representative for the 2nd Mass District; Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. of Pittsfield, Middle Berkshire register of deeds; and Bill Shein of Alford, a political activist and writer, will face each other in a 60-minute primetime debate from 6 to 7 p.m. The simulcast debate will cover all of Berkshire County and originate from the flagship station, AM-1420 WBEC in Pittsfield and be broadcast on 860-AM/94.1-FM WSBS in Great Barrington and 1230-AM WNAW in North Adams.
Kratka will moderate and questions will be posed to the candidates by Tom Conklin and Tammy Daniels from iBerkshires.com. The congressional debate also will be recorded by PCTV for playback before the Sept. 6 election.
Shein Plans $2 Potluck Fundraiser
On Friday, first lady Michelle Obama will visit Western Massachusetts to attend a series of fundraisers for the president's re-election campaign. First is a $2,500-per-person event in Springfield. Then a James Taylor concert in Pittsfield, where the least expensive ticket goes for $125 (the most expensive is $10,000).
Finally, on Friday evening, Gov. Deval Patrick will host Mrs. Obama at a $20,000-per-person fundraiser at his Richmond estate. Twenty people will attend, and the event will raise $400,000. That's right: $400,000 from just 20 people.
That our Democratic Party and its candidates have come to rely so heavily on money from those who can afford such amounts, as well as large checks from the corporate PACs and lobbyists who represent interests we should be fighting against, is simply unacceptable. For too long, that money has narrowed the agenda in Washington, shifted policymaking to the right, and left us with a democracy, economy, and environment in crisis.
Over the last quarter-century, rank-and-file Democrats have been told by party leaders and longtime Democratic incumbents that our party needs to raise corporate money, and accept large checks from lobbyists and wealthy individuals, if we're to win elections.
But don't worry, we've been told, because all that money won't impact the Democratic Party's ability to stand up for working people, create a fair economy, do what's necessary on the environment, or advance the political reform that will make our democracy work for everyone.
Well, it hasn't turned out that way.
American democracy is rotting from the inside, drowning in corporate money, lobbyist money, and large checks from a tiny fraction of our society. Compared to other major democracies, voter participation here is shockingly low. Our economy is unfair, unjust, unworkable, and unsustainable. And on the environment, catastrophic climate change becomes more likely with each passing day, yet the massive action required to address it is not being discussed in this election year.
This way of doing things simply can't continue.
I'm running for Congress because we need Democrats who will speak out against this unacceptable status quo, and not offer the shrugs, excuses, and rationalizations so common among those incumbent Democrats who refuse to do anything to change it.
That's why on Friday evening I will host a few friends and supporters at my house for a "$2 Per Person Pot Luck Dinner for Democracy." Each attendee will bring a dish that serves four-to-six people, so we should be amply fed while discussing how to advance public financing of elections, universal voter registration, jobs programs to put unemployed Americans to work right now, a freeze on all foreclosures, increasing taxes on the wealthy and global corporations, and massive action on climate change that begins by passing the "Save Our Climate Act" to put a price on carbon pollution.
Of course, to raise $400,000 at just $2 per person would mean inviting 200,000 people to the modest house I rent in Alford. The last time we had that many people over (for the "Seinfeld" finale, maybe?) we were cleaning up for weeks. I vowed never to do that again. So this time we're keeping it small ...
While everyone understands the need to raise money for campaigns, it's long past time to elect Democrats who know we have to radically change our campaign-finance system. And fast. We simply can't continue down this road of a "democracy" funded substantially by a narrow, wealthy, and corporate elite – a problem that existed long before the Citizens United decision.
Indeed, we've already gone too far down that road. The results are painfully obvious to millions of struggling American families who lost jobs, homes, and retirement savings in the latest economic meltdown and who know the response from Washington has been wholly inadequate. They don't have $125 or $2,500 or $20,000 to donate to a political candidate.
In my view, ideas and candidates should sink or swim on the merits, not how much money is behind them. That's the promise of public financing of elections, and that's why I will champion that necessary reform, and many others, in the United States Congress.
Shein Accepts Invitations to Six Media-Sponsored Debates
Since March, he has agreed to the following events, all of which will take place during Congress' summer recess that begins on Saturday, Aug. 4:
1. New England Public Radio (NEPR): Live one-hour forum, week of Aug. 6
2. WGBY Public Television: Airing Monday, Aug. 20, 8 p.m.
3. Pittsfield Gazette (broadcast on local cable): Public forum at Berkshire Community College, Monday, Aug. 27, 7 p.m.
4. Westfield News: Public forum at Westfield State University, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 7 p.m.
5. WWLP/NBC22 TV: Live 30-minute debate, week of Aug. 27
6. WBEC/WSBS/WNAW radio (covers all of Berkshire County): Live 60-minute debate in mid/late August TBD
Shein issued the following statement:
"Restoring a robust, healthy democracy that ensures the people's priorities set the agenda in Washington requires substantive, independent, in-depth press coverage. These media-sponsored debates and forums, some of which will include a live audience, will help provide that to voters across the new First District.
"I strongly believe that ideas, and candidates, should sink or swim on the merits, not on how much money is behind them. For decades, public policy in the United States has been undermined and distorted by billions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying by status-quo corporate and wealthy interests. Today, that money drowns out the voices and ideas we need more than ever, and puts an extra burden on the media to properly inform the public about candidates and issues.
"This is a fine example of local journalism playing its vital and necessary role in our democracy. I fully expect the other candidates to join me at all six of these media-sponsored events – conveniently scheduled during Congress' monthlong summer recess – for a discussion of the full range of domestic and foreign-policy issues."