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Three Make Case for 2nd District Seat
By: Tammy Daniels On: 04:13AM / Tuesday October 26, 2010

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.

Stefan Racz

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."

Paul Mark

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."

Michael Case

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.



Write a comment - 11 Comments       Tags: Mark, Racz, Case, debate      
Auditor Candidates Trade Jabs
By: Tammy Daniels On: 01:35AM / Tuesday October 26, 2010

Candidates for auditor Suzanne Bump, Mary Z. Connaughton and Nathanael Fortune debated at BCC on Monday night.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The two major party candidates for the state auditor's job spent Monday night trading jabs over negative campaigning and past scandals, leaving the Green-Rainbow candidate to position himself as outside the fray — and of business as usual.

The debate was sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television and hosted at Berkshire Community College. One of the candidates, Suzanne Bump, 54, is a resident of Great Barrington, (which she confirmed again on Monday).

Best quote of the night: Fortune on whether he's a spoiler in the race. 'If electing a Democrat to office would make a difference, we'd already be living in Nirvana.'

The Democrat and former labor official for Gov. Deval Patrick is seeking the position against Republican candidate Mary Z. Connaughton, 50, of Framingham, former director of the Massachusetts Turnpike and a certified public accountant, and Green-Rainbow candidate Nathanael Fortune, 49, a Smith College physics professor and Whately School Committee chairman.

Moderator Daniel Valenti, local writer and political commentator, prefers a free-form style of debate that allows give and take between the candidates. "We will encourage dialogue among the three candidates and we would prefer them to interact with each other rather than me," he said at the beginning of the hourlong debate.

He didn't have to worry about dialogue: Bump and Connaughton breezily clashed in a practiced performance — it was, after all, about the 10th time they'd debated — prompting Fortune to quip, "I did offer to sit between these two."

Bump started the day in Boston on a "Donut Fund Express" to the Berkshires, making stops at independent doughnut shops along the way to highlight recent stories about fiscal mismanagement at the State Lottery in 1990s — some of which occurred during Connaughton's tenure there as chief financial officer. Money was routed to a so-called "doughnut" fund to hide expenses for parties, entertainment and promotional events.

"Yes, these practices were going on for decades before I got there; they ended under my watch," said Connaughton, who claimed she had done much to put in place "culture-changing moves" within six months of joining the Lottery. "I fixed it; I was hired to clean up a mess and I did it."

The Romney appointee waved an endorsement from the liberal-leaning Berkshire Eagle on Bump's turf and noted she is the first CPA to ever run for the post. Bump waved a state auditor's report and attacked Connaughton's performance in dealing with abandoned properties she said cost the state $16 million. Connaughton said it was about eliminating a sweetheart deal with one contractor to ensure competition and getting the money into the taxpayers' pockets, not the state's general fund.

"Suzanne, you just don't get it, you just don't get it," said Connaughton, which elicited some applause from the audience left from the earlier debate for the 2nd Berkshire District.

Bump dismissed her opponent's "soaring rhetoric," "it's her failure to take responsibility that's the most disturbing thing."

Valenti questioned Bump on the recent flap over where her primary residence is. She and her husband had filed for property tax exemptions on both their Great Barrington home and South Boston condo. Bump said Boston had changed the rules without informing them.

All three candidates said they would be advocates for the public and take a more aggressive stand on looking at not just expenditures but outcomes to see if public money was being spent wisely. They all said they would bring in an independent auditor to review the office, which hasn't been done in 20 years. Bump and Fortune said the division's 300 employees and $17 million budget were enough. Connaughton said she'd have employees reapply for their jobs as way to review staffing and qualifications

Bump and Connaughton try to get their points across at the same time.

Fortune tried to keep his comments to the role of the auditor ("it's hard to be a candidate if your mother has trained you if you don't have anything nice to say ...") and said he would be an advocate for the public. He noted his role in reducing energy costs in his own school district through analysis and research and recognition by the state school committees association for his analysis of state and local education funding.

"The three of us have been to enough debates that to some extent we can say each other's points. The most common from Suzanne is you should be a bureaucrat to be this and, from Mary, you should be an accountant or an auditor," he said. "Both those skills are valuable in being a state auditor but neither of them are essential."

Politics and lobbying "distorts the priorities," he said; if public dollars paid only for public services, it would free up $1 billion. "You have to follow the money."

Bump said her experience in state government, during which she oversaw teams of auditors and researchers in investigating spending and outcomes for various work-force programs to "go beyond simply how much money did we spend, but what did we get for it and how can we do it better."

"You need somebody who can set priorities and be a leader and that's what I have done when I was a legislator and as a cabinet secretary," she said, agreeing "somewhat" with Fortune. "We do have billions of dollars in tax exemptions, and tax credits and tax incentives and few of those individual programs have mechanisms to determine if the taxpayers are really getting the benefits they're supposed to get."

Connaughton touted that fact that she is the only CPA who has ever run for auditor and her experience working in the state treasurer's office and the former MassPike. She pledged to run a professional department and bring "lots of sunshine" to Beacon Hill.

"I do not need on-the-job training at the taxpayer's expense. [The auditor] is the people's eyes on Beacon Hill, it's their voice on Beacon Hill to make sure our tax dollars are being spent properly," said Connaughton. "I will manage this office in an extremely professional way ... politics has nothing to do with the state auditor's race."

Toward the end of the debate, Connaughton tried to get a pledge from Bump not to engage in negative campaigning when her television ads hit the air on Wednesday. Bump said it depended on what Connaughton meant by negative campaigning. 

"They are going to contain positive things about my candidancy," said Bump and, in response to questions, confirmed "Mary's name will be in it."

Fortune said he'd be happy to take the pledge. "I'm not running any ads at all. I think I'm running a very frugal campaign ... I'm setting a good example for state auditor."

The debate will be rebroadcast on PCTV. We will try to have audio up later Tuesday.



Write a comment - 4 Comments       Tags: auditor, debate      
Patrick Plans Pittsfield Rally
By: Patrick-Murray Campaign On: 10:04PM / Wednesday October 20, 2010

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Gov. Deval Patrick will host a campaign rally on Friday at Itam Lodge, 93 Waubeek Road, on Friday, Oct. 22, beginning at 5:30.

Patrick, who has a home in Richmond, is running for a second term in office. The Pittsfield rally will allow residents from throughout the Berkshires to have a conversation with Patrick about the issues at stake in the election.

This event is free open to the public.

"Policy only matters at the point where it touches people, and politics is most meaningful at the grassroots," said Patrick in a statement. "That's why [Lt. Gov.] Tim Murray and I are out talking with people every day about the choices before us as a commonwealth, and building a grassroots network stronger than ever."

The campaign says it's gaining momentum continues to gain grassroots momentum as Election Day approaches. Patrick and Murray have criss-crossed the state in recent months, meeting with voters. At a rally with President Obama this past Saturday, more than 7,500 volunteers committed to helping the Patrick–Murray team "get-out-the-vote" on Election Day — and volunteers are working everyday in the campaign’s 25 coordinated field offices, making phone calls and knocking on doors to reach voters about the decision they have on Election Day.



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Mark Earns Endorsement From Three Environmental Groups
By: Mark Campaign On: 03:51PM / Wednesday October 20, 2010

SHELBURNE FALLS, Mass. – Paul Mark, the Democratic nominee for state representative in the 2nd Berkshire District, has received the endorsement of the state's three main environmental groups. Sierra Club Massachusetts, Mass Clean Water Action, and the Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters endorsed Mark this week.

"Paul is committed to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, promoting renewable energy resources and growing our local economy by doing so," said Phil Sego, political chairman of the Mass Sierra Club. "This district is already leading the way and, with Paul's help, will continue to do so."

"Paul has made the preservation of the natural beauty of the district one of his top priorities, and supports smart investments in the clean-energy jobs which are critical to our recovering economy," said Lora Wondolowski, Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters' executive director. "We look forward to working with Paul in the State House during the next legislative session."

"Clean Water Action was impressed both by Paul's broad support in the district and his commitment to protecting our environment and our health in Massachusetts," said Jeff Knudsen, political director for Massachusetts Clean Water Action. "We believe that Paul Mark is the clear environmental choice in this race."

Clean Water Action boasts 80,000 members in Massachusetts, and Sierra Club has a membership base numbering 26,000. MLEV is not a membership organization, but rather works largely through broad voter contact on important environmental issues.

"These powerful endorsements are a signal of my commitment to environmental stewardship," Mark said upon receiving the endorsements. "I couldn't be happier to have the support of all three groups."

The groups are co-hosting an Environmental Champion dinner for Mark after the election.

Paul Mark has earned 30 endorsements from political groups and elected officials. A full list of his endorsements is available at www.votepaulmark.com.

The 2nd Berkshire District includes part of Pittsfield and 21 towns in Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire Counties.



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Coakley Picks Up Two More Endorsements
By: Coakley Campaign On: 11:14AM / Wednesday October 20, 2010

BOSTON — Former Suffolk County District Attorney Newman Flanagan and former Worcester County District Attorney John Conte have endorsed Martha Coakely in her re-election campaign for attorney general.

Coakley's opponent, James McKenna, served under both Conte and Flanagan when the two were district attorneys.

“Martha Coakley is the only candidate in this race with the experience to protect our kids, seniors and the most vulnerable,” said Flanagan in a statment released Oct. 20. “Martha has 25 years of experience protecting the citizens of the commonwealth – the victims, the witnesses, everybody that has been preyed upon through crime in Massachusetts.”

“Martha Coakley is clearly the best candidate and I urge the voters of Massachusetts to keep Martha doing the fine job she has for the past four years,” said Conte. “Martha has been an ally and a friend to her fellow prosecutors and partners in law enforcement and I am proud to support her in ensuring justice and safety for the citizens of the commonwealth.”

“I thank District Attorneys Flanagan and Conte for their support,” said Coakley. “This race is about choosing an attorney general who will keep people safe, and who will best stand up for the consumers, taxpayers, and families of Massachusetts in these difficult times and I appreciate that these district attorneys believe that I am the best candidate.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, McKenna served in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office under District Attorney Flanagan and in the Worcester District Attorney’s Office under District Attorney Conte. Since 1998, McKenna has been in private practice as a civil defense lawyer, largely defending insurance companies.

Coakley says she is the only candidate in this race who has prioritized public safety challenges such as cyber crime, senior safety, neighborhood safety, and child protection. She says her opponent has remained virtually silent on these critical issues throughout the past two months.



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