Three Make Case for 2nd District Seat
Michael Case, left, Paul Mark and Stefan Racz meet Monday night for a televised debate at BCC with David Cachet of Pittsfield Community Television.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Candidates hoping to represent the sprawling 2nd District on Beacon Hill met for the second time Monday for a televised debate at Berkshire Community College that covered topics from charter schools to raw milk.
Democrat Paul Mark of Hancock, Republican Michael F. Case of Washington and independent Stefan G. Racz had debated earlier in the day on the local Vox Radio station; Monday night it was in front of the cameras for The Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television, with David Cachat of PCTV's CityLink moderating.
Perhaps the most interesting thing coming out of the night was that the three candidates weren't all that far apart. They said communities should have control and input on major developments within their borders, such as casinos and wind power, and funding for education and infrastructure — as long as the state paid its fair share.
Their differences were more matters of degree with a few exceptions, such as legalizing marijuana: Case, a retired police officer and military veteran, was against; Racz for, and Mark, an attorney and telecom worker, only for medical marijuana.
They stressed the importance of farming and open space for the largely rural, crescent-shaped region that slices through Berkshire County and into Hampshire and Franklin counties.
"We are providing some of the most gorgeous views in the state," said Racz, a Buckland selectman. "We need to preserve that for future generations."
While supporting alternative energy, he was concerned that wind-turbine siting here would mean ridgelines and the destruction of the environmental beauty. The loss of farms and failure to preserve open space could put lands at risk for developers.
Case said he supports wind turbines but only if the community has significant input and agricultural programs for farming. "I've spoken to many farmers who own a lot of land," who may be land wealthy but cash poor, he said. "They're just barely getting by. We need to give them tax breaks."
Mark said he did not support the state's wind siting law, which limits local input, but would back the expansion of raw milk sales to home delivery. He also spoke in favor of agricultural cooperatives such as Denis Guyer, the man they're trying to replace, is setting up in Dalton.
Racz said he didn't support milk price regulation; Mark and Case said they did, with Case adding only if it was not to the detriment of the farmer.
Both Case and Racz said they'd support a single destination casino in the state because, said Case, "it would draw other than just gambling because it would have shows, and other conventions ... it would be good for the economy of Massachusetts." Racz said he believed "one casino would be a testing ground for income to the state," as long as it did not infringe upon current cultural venues.
Mark said he supported the Senate bill that had planned for three casinos. "I don't think gambling is a magic cure-all but I don't see anybody else really proposing anything to make new jobs," he said. "I am against slot parlors and racinos because they don't have the job creation element so you would only get the bad parts of gambling."
All three said the state's health insurance reform had worked well to expand access but didn't think it had done well enough in controlling costs.
"I don't think it was the best solution, I think a single-payer would have been a much better solution," said Mark. "We could serve as a model for the nation."
Racz said the reform was an innovative idea but the state hadn't felt the total negative impact because elements of the federal health insurance reform will begin kicking in in Janury. "There's not enough money right now," he said, in part because insurance companies were raising rates. "We have to focus extremely heavily on insurance companies and the drug companies. ... make sure they're towing the line."
Health insurance has improved greatly, said Case, but "what we don't know yet is what the cost is going to be. I've heard as high as 42 percent of the state budget is going to health care now. ... Single-payer may be a dream down the road but not right now with the economy the way it is."
They said they would advocate for the state to pay its fair share of the regional school transportation. Racz said the state should take on the contracts for busing and let the schools use the money for education. They agreed it was important to the students to ensure so-called circuit breaker special education funding from the state and were leery of charter schools.
"It's a good idea but you don't want them taking money away from the public school system," said Mark. Case said parents should have the option, but "it's a drain on the public schol and they don't take the children who have problems."
Racz said regular public schools should be held to the same standards of review since charter schools can be disbanded if they don't live up to their mission.
Case said more incentives should be offered to attract and retain businesses. "We need to make the business climate in Massachusetts competitive with other states." Mark said the new creative economy should be supported and bringing health care costs under control and broadband to the region will help spur growth. "Local jobs mean local revenue."
Racz said one of his initiatives is the 2nd Berkshire Business Alliance, a conduit for small businesses in the district to ally and bring the issues affecting them to the attention of the representative. "You have to remember, small business carried us through this recession; they didn't get bailouts."
All three said they would have voted against last year's increase in the sales tax.
Each pledged to do their best to listen to constituents. Case said he would keep an office, likely in Dalton, for constituent services and a staffer to meet with selectmen throughout the district to help keep him apprised. Racz said he would "not favor the town of Buckland over the town of Dalton, Windsor or Peru" and he would get feedback from the towns.
Mark, at 31 the youngest of the candidates, annoyed his opponents with claims that he would keep going to all 22 towns in the district because he was "the only with the energy to keep doing it." The older men said their energy was fine, thank you very much, although Case had a little fun later with Mark by pretending to nod off during his opponent's closing remarks.
The debate will be rebroadcast on PCTV; we should have audio up later Tuesday.
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2nd District Still Waiting Results
Update: According to reports from MassLive.com, Paul Mark has won the 2nd Berkshire District Democratic primary with 2,762 votes (44 percent) and 21 of 23 precincts reporting. Coming in second was Thomas Szczepaniak with 2,310 votes (37 percent) and Noreen Suriner with 1,229 votes (37 percent).
The race to chose a new representative from the 2nd Berkshire District appears to be going down to the wire, with Democrats Tom Szczepaniak of Dalton and Paul Mark of Hancock running neck and neck.
An update from PCTV at 11 p.m. had Mark in the lead by 6 percent of the vote.
The campaigns were still awaiting official results from the sprawling district, which includes parts of 22 towns spread across three counties.
On the Republican side, Michael Case of Washington appears to be the choice to represent his party in the Nov. 2 general election, which will also include independent Stefan Racz of Buckland, who unsuccessfully ran against Guyer in 2006.
On the Democratic side, Szczepaniak, a Dalton selectman since 2001 and owner of Variety Trucking and Demolition in Pittsfield, said he was confident he would pull through against two other Democrats. In his hometown, he won 788 votes to 413 for Paul Mark of Hancock, and 228 for Noreen Suriner of Middlefield.
At about 10:30 p.m., he said he was confident of a strong performance in Berkshire County, but unsure about other towns that still hadn't reported.
"It's been a long, vigorous campaign," he said from Shamrock Restaurant and Pub in Dalton, where he was awaiting the results with supporters. "Meeting the people has been a blessing. It's a new world for me and I'm excited about it."
For the Republicans, Michael Case, a veteran and longtime Pittsfield police officer, said he had put up a clear lead against Rosanne Frieri of Pittsfield.
"I'm glued to the TV," he said from Jacob's Restaurant in Dalton, where he was gathering with supporters. "I've got a feeling I'm going to win."
The district is geographically the largest in the state and includes the Berkshire towns of Cheshire, Dalton, Hancock, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, New Ashford, Peru, Richmond, Becket, Washington, Windsor, and a part of Pittsfield. It also includes the Franklin County towns of Colrain, Bernardston, Ashfield, Buckland, Leyden, Northfield, and Shelburne, and the Hampshire County towns of Cummington, Middlefield, and Plainfield.
The winner of the race will replace Denis Guyer of Dalton, who was first elected to the seat in 2004, winning that election with 70 percent of the vote. He replaced Republican Shaun Kelly of Dalton, who had represented the district since 1990.
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GOP Candidates Detail Goals for 2nd District
The Republican candidates for the 2nd District debated Monday night at Berkshire Community College.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Republican candidates for the 2nd Berkshire District debated before a lighter audience but differed more sharply on several issues than their Democratic counterparts.
Michael F. Case of Washington called for a Western Massachusetts caucus while Rosanne Frieri of Richmond suggested hiking the sales tax at the second of three debates held Monday night at Berkshire Community College.
The debates, which also included one for Berkshire County sheriff, were sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and hosted by BCC. Jenn Smith of The Berkshire Eagle was the moderator.
Case and Frieri are both veterans. Case did two tours in Vietnam with the Air Force, joined the National Guard and served with peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and a year in Iraq. Frieri is a 20-year veteran of the 104th Air National Guard and veteran's service officer for Pittsfield.
Michael F. Case
Both pointed to their military careers as proof of their leadership capabilities. Case is also retired Pittsfield Police officer and holds a master's degree from American International College. Frieri said she overseees a $600,000 budget in the veterans office and ran a photography business for more than two decades while working in GE corporate.
Frieri said property tax reform is an imperative, along with developing answers to high utility rates. "We have lost business and jobs because of high energy costs." She also advocated for more transparency in government, limiting lobbying and ensuring the state's laws apply to lawmakers as well as citizens.
Case said he push for a Western Mass caucus if elected. "Boston has an inordinate amount of influence over policy; we need a bigger voice." He also said he would lobby for the Federal Communications Commission to change the region's placement in the Albany, N.Y., market to get more channels and more news about what's happening in Boston.
Case said the state needed raise revenue but on the backs of businesses. It should start cutting from the top to field more police, fire and inspectors, he said. "The head of the BRTA makes $450,000 a year — that's more than the president of the United States."
"The business climate is terrible out there," Case continued. "Everybody wants to tax business, tax business, tax business; business is not going to expand and hire people by increasing their taxes."
Frieri said residents and commercial operations would both benefit from property tax reform. While not going into to detail, she's taken up the cause of Williamsburg attorney Patricia Quintilian who has spearheaded a group of homeowners fighting what they says is illegal overassessments.
"We have to look at our property taxes and really hold small-town assessors accountable," said Frieri. "If we could take the property tax and level or reform it and boost our sales tax, I think we'd have more opportunity for small business and getting them to come here."
But while Frieri suggested the sales tax was more equitable, citing the example of North Carolina, Case was adamantly opposed.
"I think we need to reduce the sales tax. We're making it much easier for our citizens to go out of state and buy products in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and even Connecticut," said Case. "We need to reduce the sales tax so our business can be competitive against our neighbors."
Rosanne M. Frieri
Both agreed that it was important for the state to encourage small business, particularly niche businesses, in the region. They also supported casino gambling in Western Massachusetts but didn't think it would be a "good fit" for the Berkshires region, and broadband expansion as an economic driver.
In response to if they would support a comprehensive, single-payer health care plan (a group in 2nd District is gathering signatures in support of that issue), Case said he wasn't a fan of single-payer but said the state had to do a better job in controlling costs.
"We're subsidizing people whom we really shouldn't be subsidizing," he said. "I think everybody deserves the right to emergency care but that's where it should stop."
Frieri said costs even for affordable plans were out of control. "I think we really have to take a real hard look at our health care," she said. "I think we need to cross state lines and be more competitive and I would support that legislation."
The primary is set for Sept. 14. The Republican winner will take on the Democratic primary winner and independent Stefan G. Racz, a Buckland selectman, in the November election.
The debates were televised by Pittsfield Community Television; check the schedule for repeat showings.
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Debates Slated for Sheriff, 2nd Berkshire Candidates
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Community College, in collaboration with the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television, will host the following debates Monday evening, Aug. 30, in K-111 on BCC's main campus. Seating is first-come, first-served and voters are invited to attend one or all three debates
The first event will begin at 6 p.m. with a debate between Democratic candidates Paul W. Mark, Noreen P. Suriner and Thomas S. Szczepaniak, who are vying for the nomination for representative for the 2nd Berkshire District.
Michael F. Case and Rosanne M. Frieri, the Republican candidates for the 2nd Berkshire District, will begin their debate at 7.
Jenn Smith, reporter for The Berkshire Eagle, will moderate both debates.
Daniel E. Bosley and Thomas N. Bowler, who are running to replace retiring Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, will debate at 8 p.m. Clarence Fanto, freelance newspaper and radio journalist, will moderate this debate.
The debates will be telecast live on CityLink, the government channel of PCTV, and through streaming at www.pittsfieldtv.org. The event will also be rebroadcast on PCTV several times prior to the Sept. 14 primary elections.
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