Coakley, Back in Berkshires, Says Economy Priority
By Andy McKeever iBerkshires Staff
Gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley met with the Berkshire Brigades on Wednesday afternoon in her second trip to the Berkshires since announcing her candidacy.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Martha Coakley returned to the Berkshires on Wednesday and spoke to potential supporters about why she believes she is the best candidate for the governor's office.
The attorney general announced last month that she would be seeking election in 2014. This is her second visit to the Berkshires since announcing; she was to receive the Northern Berkshire Business and Professional Women's Woman of Achievement Award in the evening.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Berkshire native met with members of the Berkshire Brigades to ask for support and answer questions about her candidacy.
"I'm asking people to look at my record, what my vision is and what we've be able to do in terms of promoting a healthy economy in the attorney general's office, tackling problems, getting results and working for people in Massachusetts," Coakley said.
The campaign is still relatively green: Her staff is still recruiting volunteers and setting up office space. But, she has been meeting with active Democratic groups and "just walking into diners and meeting people."
"It's been a busy four weeks and I've gotten a great reaction from people who feel optimistic that the economy is getting a little better but they understand that we still need more work around it," Coakley said. "I think a lot of people feel it is time for a good woman in the office and I think people have been impressed with what we've been able to do in the attorney general's office."
Coakley says what she's heard from voters is that the economy is of most concern. She said people are working "twice as hard to be where they used to be" and the opportunities are not there.
"People want to move here and stay here so when we keep our health care costs down, our energy costs down, we will be successful in making this economy turn around and make sure it is for everybody," she said.
She says the economy can turn around and she has already worked with high levels of government on promoting economic activity. Coakley said the state level of government needs to work together for the people of Massachusetts.
Coakley says she's been meeting with people around the state to hear their concerns.
"Policies are great, implementation is great but there is a reason we have government — because we want it to be there for everybody," she said. "We work to solve problems and the next governor of this state needs to make sure we continue that economic turnaround for everybody."
Part of turning the economy around is having a good education system, she said.
Coakley says she supports longer school days and years and bringing together nonprofits and businesses to create job training programs for those who need new or different skills to return to the workforce.
"I know that we have wonderful system where we let the kids out just in time for the spring planting and we bring them back after the fall harvest. But, it is 2013 and our kids need to compete in the global marketplace," Coakley said. "I believe we need longer school days. We need better education for everyone and we need to look at how the school year is structured."
Coakley also lent her support to the Raise Up campaign of which the Berkshire Brigades are part. That campaign is gathering signatures to place questions on the ballot of raising the minimum wage and requiring all workers be given earned sick time.
"I support both of these. To me, those are no brainers," she said, adding that everybody can agree that a worker cannot live on the current minimum wage.
Coakley is the third Democratic candidate to meet with local voters in the past week: Dr. Donald Berwick and Steven Grossman, state treasurer, were here last week. Also, third-party candidate Evan Falchuk was at the Fall Foliage Parade.
North Adams Candidate Forums, Debates Scheduled
Staff Reports iBerkshires
Please check back as schedules will be added and/or updated through the next few weeks.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — iBerkshires is hosting a City Council candidate forum on Thursday, Oct. 17, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Mingo's Sports Bar & Grill at Greylock Bowl & Golf.
At least nine candidates have confirmed their attendance at the forum, which will include opening and closing comments and a conversation on city topics. Editor Tammy Daniels will moderate and those in attendance will be able to submit questions in writing as time allows.
The forum is open to the public and will be recorded for later broadcast on NBCTV.
The first debate is being sponsored by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Oct. 23, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at McCann Technical School. Local media, including iBerkshires, will ask questions through the moderator of the candidates, who will have two minutes each to respond with opportunity for rebuttal. The public may bring in questions on note cards and, if time permits, some of those questions may be asked. It will also be taped by NBCTV and televised several times before the election.
The debate will be business-focused and moderated by Paul Hutchinson, retired Adams town clerk. Questions have been developed by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the media, including the North Adams Transcript, iBerkshires, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' student newspaper the Beacon and WNAW.
"The Berkshire Chamber is pleased coordinate and host the only public mayoral debate in North Adams this election season," said Michael Supranowicz, president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. "It is extremely important that the community has a chance to become well informed. We encourage businesses to send representatives from their organizations to this event, as there will be business-specific questions asked."
The second mayoral debate will be held at the WNAW radio station for live broadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 9 to 10. iBerkshires will also participate in this debate with media partner Berkshire News Network as well as in the half-hour morning forums with council candidates to be aired live beginning Thursday, Oct. 24, at 8:30. The radio sessions are usually rebroadcast the weekend prior to the election.
The schedule for the radio council forums, as of Oct. 16, are as follows:
• Thursday, Oct 24, 8:30 a.m.: Blackmer and Bona
• Friday, Oct 25, 8 a.m.: Breen and Bullet
• Monday, Oct 28, 8:30 a.m.: Buddington and Cardimino
• Tuesday, Oct 29, 8:30 a.m.: Hernandez and Lamb
• Thursday, Oct 31, 8:30 a.m.: Merrigan and Moran
• Friday, Nov. 1, 8:30 a.m.: Wilkinson
A set of candidate forums for councilors may also be in works at Northern Berkshire Community Television; a schedule will be posted as soon as that is confirmed.
Informal meet-and-greets with council candidates have also been held at Luma's Muffin and Mug and other venues around the city.
A final "meet the candidates breakfast" is being sponsored by the North Adams Elks at the hall at 100 Eagle St., on Sunday, Nov. 3, from 8 to 11 a.m.
We have linked to the Facebook fan pages we found and profile pages being used for the campaign; candidates who have FB pages or websites we missed should send us the links at email@example.com.
Pittsfield Ward 3 Seekers Debate For Egremont Pupils
By Andy McKeever iBerkshires Staff
The Ward 3 candidates fielded hardball questions from the group of 23 students who volunteered to help organize and put on the debate.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A candidate for public office faces tough questions during the election season.
On Tuesday, Ward 3 candidates were peppered with tough questions from those who could end up being the most affected by their election — the fifth grade students at Egremont Elementary.
A group of 23 pupils went beyond studying civics in the classroom and volunteered to put on a debate between Nicholas Caccamo and Richard Latura. The two are seeking a seat on the City Council representing the ward.
"It is firsthand study of government. Most of them didn't know what a councilman did [prior to the debate]," said teacher Judy Callahan."Hopefully it is a memorable experience for them."
The idea originated about a month ago from the School Council, which was discussing the fifth grade civics lessons. The students started the lesson when Mayor Daniel Bianchi visited the class to explain how government works. From there, the School Council and the school worked together on the debate idea and Pittsfield Community Television agreed to film and televise it.
"We're always discussing what academic programs are happening in the school," said Dennis Guyer, a former state representative and member of the council. "It sort of organically came, 'why not have a debate?'"
He added, "there are 500 kids here, that's 500 families. This [election] is important for the whole school community."
The debate supplemented the lessons created by teacher Karen McHugh and Callahan, Christopher Blau and Christine Barry worked together to take the lessons into each of the fifth grade classrooms.
A core group of 23 students led the efforts to organize the debate and did everything from asking questions to running the PCTV cameras. Each of the fifth grade classes developed questions and the top 12 were chosen for the debate.
"The questions were all developed by the students," Guyer said.
The students had three rehearsals (one being a dress rehearsal in from of the entire fifth grade class) and on Tuesday, the live debate hit the airwaves.
Caccamo led off with an opening statements saying he is the best choice to get the voices of Ward 3 heard.
"We make decisions that affect the whole city. But the mark of a good Ward 3 councilor is one who responds to constituents' concerns," Caccamo said.
Meanwhile, Latura said he wants to lead a change in City Hall with a focus on public safety.
"We get the same cookie-cutter politicians years after year," he said. "You can't have change when you get the same thing."
The students' questions included ways to reduce class sizes and traffic dangers on street they live on, parking at Deming Park, healthy school lunches, streetlights and cleanliness of the waterways and of the city.
Latura said the traffic questions are a main focus of his campaign. He said he wants to make sure the side streets are safe and the way to do that is to reduce traffic on residential areas and get them onto the main roads.
"The biggest problem in our ward, that I see, is traffic on the side streets. We need to get the cars off of the side roads and onto the main roads," he said, adding that he would push to hire more police officers to patrol. "We need a high police presence."
The debate took short breaks for students to present facts about Berkshire County they discovered during their civics research.
Caccamo said he would be an advocate for additional speed bumps and signage that will slow traffic in troubled areas.
Meanwhile, Caccamo said the biggest issue facing the ward is vacant buildings and properties — particularly the former Hibbard School and the former Grossman's lot. He said he would push for reuse for those sites.
Also regarding roads the children live on, Caccamo said he supports retrofitting the street lights with modern technology that allows the city to control them remotely, thus reducing energy costs. Latura said he would like to see all of the streetlights switched to LED to both increase brightness and reduce energy usage.
In a question about the plowing of the roads, Latura said the city contracts that out and it hasn't worked. He advocates for having the city's Department of Public Works take over the plowing because it would make it a priority and would not have private contracts to attend to first.
Meanwhile, Caccamo says he "isn't opposed" to contracting for the service because the city would have to add staff in order to make sure the job is complete. He believes he can work with the city and the contractors to set priorities of roads that need to be plowed. And the same goes for repairs to road surfaces, he said.
"The key is how loud your voice can be promoting Ward 3," Caccamo said.
The pupils were also concerned with contamination of the waterways; both candidates agreed that the cleanup progress is being made — slowly. Latura said all of the waterways are contaminated in some way but the city is on the right track with it. Caccamo said the city is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rebuild the ecosystems and that in 20 to 30 years, there will be a very much improved system.
However, Caccamo also said the Housatonic River needs to be dredged.
"We need to work on a long-term solution that will get the contaminated sediment away from city," he said.
In response to a question about graffiti and litter, Latura said there are programs that are not being utilized to help clean up. He advocated for working with the Berkshire County House of Correction to have inmates clean neighborhoods and advocated for organizing community cleanups.
Caccamo said with proper oversight and times, he would also support using inmates for cleanups. He also said he would push for additional police patrols to go to schools at night as a deterrent to graffiti and vandalism.
For education, Latura said he would try to seek out additional funds from the state. He said the gaming legislation "promised" additional money for schools but that has yet to be seen. He says he will work on finding out how to get more funds from the state.
"Public education, we really have to stand behind it," Latura said. "We need to get as much money into it as we can."
Caccamo works for the school system so he won't be able to vote on the budget itself. He says he will push for additional funds for the school — particularly by adding math and literacy coaches. As for lunches, Caccamo says he believes the school should look into programs such as a "farm-to-school" program to bring in healthy options. He also said he would support building in additional professional development days for the cafeteria workers to learn about healthy alternatives.
Latura also said he would like to hire additional teachers as needed to keep class sizes small. Caccamo said he would work with the teachers' union to negotiate maximum class sizes.
Dennis Guyer served as moderator.
When the student questions ran out, Guyer, who was serving as moderator, asked some of his own. In response to the proposed retail construction at the William Stanley Business Park, both candidates strongly opposed the retail option.
"These are minimum-wage jobs. They will only shift jobs in the long run and other retail businesses will close," Caccamo said. "Retail is probably the worst thing the city could put there."
Latura called for "real jobs" with benefits and good pay — particularly companies organically grown from within the city rather than from out of town developers.
As for crime, Latura reiterated his push for additional police officers while Caccamo said the budget doesn't allow for that much of an increase in the force. Caccamo said he would look for "more progressive" methods such as the city's recent hiring of a crime analyst to fight crime more efficiently.
Latura and Caccamo both called for the Elm Street merchants to band together in efforts to promote business outside of the downtown areas.
"I want the businesses to get the attention they deserve," Latura said.
But, neither would answer the toughest question of them all — Teo's or Hot Dog Ranch?
While the students aren't quite old enough to vote yet, Principal Judy Rush told them that "the people who are in office now are making decisions that affect your life now and in the future."
Sayers Wins Lanesborough Selectman Seat
By Andy McKeever iBerkshires Staff
Henry 'Hank' Sayers won the special election for the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Henry "Hank" Sayers came out the winner in Tuesday's special election to fill a vacant seat on the Board of Selectmen.
Sayers polled 270 votes; his opponent, Barbara Hassan polled 217.
The election was held to replace Robert Barton, who stepped down to run for School Committee but too late to put the seat on the ballot for the annual town election.
The turnout was 487 registered voters, out of 2231, or 22 percent, high for one race in a special election. The split was 55 percent for Sayers, 45 for Hassan.
The high turnout was the talk of those gathered for the results. Both Town Clerk Ruth Knysh and Selectmen Chairman John Goerlach said they were impressed with the number of voters who made it to the polls.
In contrast, in the June regular election, only 564 votes were cast for the two candidates seeking one selectman seat in that election. That election not only included voters for the special statewide U.S. Senate race but also various town seats.
Both candidates in this election are well known and have long-standing connections and roots within the community. Sayers owns Sayers Auto Wrecking and Hassan operates Barbara Hassan Realty and both have worked closely with town leaders.
"She was a good candidate," said Sayers. "We did our best. Thanks to the supporters, voters... I'm going to try to do my best."
Barbara Hassan outside of Town Hall on election day campaigning for votes.
Sayers said he was ready to "hit the ground running" when he takes over the seat. Sayers campaigned on trying to lower the tax rate by finding ways to do more with less.
He has strong connections with many town departments and pledged to be fair in resolving issues fairly and quickly.
On Tuesday, Sayers spent the day with his family campaigning outside of Town Hall.
Hassan boasted her knowledge of town issues and business aptitude from years of working as a real estate agent in town. She has been involved in various town subcommittees and regularly attends Selectmen and other government meetings.
"Although I would have loved to have won this race I feel great on how my campaign was run," Hassan said in a statement following the election. "I had great support from my husband in getting my signs out and his moral support was outstanding. Many of our family, friends and acquaintances that I've known in town were wonderful in their support and I thank them all."
During the day on Tuesday, Hassan said no matter what happened, she would continue to play an active role in town government. During the campaign she "got a laundry list of 'to do' items" from citizens and she will now pass those along to the sitting selectmen, she said.
"No regrets and as always I'll be back at town hall working on the Town Services Study Committee with the task of combining the Highway and Water Departments into a new DPW along with any other projects that I am asked to help out with," she said.
Two Seeking Lanesborough Selectman Seat
By Andy McKeever iBerkshires Staff
Selectman candidate Barbara Hassan and Tim O'Brien, who moderated the forum at Town Hall on Wednesday. Candidate Henry Sayers was unable to attend the forum.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Two local business owners are vying for the open seat on the Board of Selectmen.
Henry Sayers, owner of Sayers Auto Wrecking, and Barbara Hassan, owner of Barb Hassan Real Estate, are both running in next week's special election.
The seat is open after Robert Barton resigned to run for School Committee. His resignation was too late to fill the seat at the annual election this past spring.
A candidate forum was scheduled on Wednesday but Sayers was unable to attend. However, Hassan fielded questions for a half hour segment while a letter from Sayers was read.
When asked why residents should vote for her, Hassan said one word kept coming to mind — qualified.
Her job as a real estate agent over the past 25 years requires her to be up to date with the issues, Hassan said, and have a wide range of contacts in business and politics.
"I can seamlessly take on the responsibility left by the previous selectman because I've stayed current on the issues facing the town of Lanesborough," Hassan said, adding that she has increased the number of government meetings she has attended so if she is elected, she can hit the ground running.
She has been an active in politics but hasn't run for an elected office before. When the town hired a full-time administrator, she said it created a much more businesslike environment and she is seeking election to continue the transition.
"There has been a huge transition since the new town administrator came on and more transparency and accountability," Hassan said. "I really like that it is a businesslike environment."
She said she has a "business mindset" and the connections that come with it. When asked about improving commercial buildings, she said she has resources across the country she can ask for advice on, for example, a brownfields project.
Hassan said she has a strong relationship with the Berkshire delegation and the mayors of the the two cities — all of whom said they would be available to help in a situation.
"I am humble enough to ask for help all day long on any subject I don't know about," she said.
She said she has met with Mount Greylock Regional Superintendent Rose Ellis about the impending school project and is comfortable that the town and herself will receive plenty of information about that project as it moves along.
Hassan would like to merge various town departments into one, a move she says will create efficiencies. She has already put a year's worth of effort as a member of a committee researching that possibility and she hopes to complete it.
Sayers, in his letter, boasts similar experience in business. His letter focused on trying to control spending while expanding the tax base.
"Young families do not want to move into Lanesborough because of the high tax rate. Some of the committees are looking at current spending habits and ways we could save money. We have to continue to find ways to stretch dollars," the letter reads.
Meanwhile, attention needs to be paid to the town's infrastructure, Sayers' wrote, and that he would place priority on finding grants or bonds to improve the road systems.
"I believe I can work well with other board members and other departments by bringing common sense to issues as well as thinking outside of the box when needed," the letter reads.
The letter continues to say he would like to make town hall "more user friendly" and would work to resolve problems before they grow to become "major issues." He said he would be "fair" and "listen to everyone that has something to say."
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The cities of Pittsfield and North Adams will hold municipal elections for mayor, city council and school committee in 2015
You may vote absentee: if you will be absent from your town or city on election day, have a physical disability that prevents you from voting at the polls or cannot vote at the polls because to religious beliefs.