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Green-Rainbow Statewide Candidates Launch 'Listening' Tour
Staff Reports On: 10:37PM / Tuesday April 22, 2014
Local Green-Party activist L. Scott Laugenour, center, accompanied candidates Danny Factor, left, and Ian Jackson to submit their nomination sheets at Pittsfield City Hall.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A trio of Green-Rainbow Party state candidates toured the Berkshires on Tuesday, meeting with citizens and filing their papers at Pittsfield City Hall.

The group kicked off the day in front of the closed North Adams Regional Hospital to press a focal point of the party's platform: Universal health care.

"Health care is a human right," said Danny Factor of Acton, who is running for secretary of the commonwealth. If the government can bail out a corporation, it can find funds to secure a deal to reopen a critical medical facility, he said.

"There's a lot the government can do in that and it can look into other options, such as taking it by eminent domain."

Auditor candidate M.K. Merelice of Brookline, an "occasional Franklin County resident," said North Berkshire's position was similar to that of the "forgotten county" of Franklin with its pockets of poverty.

"It does seem to me that this has as much to do with classism as anything else," she said. "If this hospital was located in the Southern Berkshires rather than the Northern Berkshires this would not be allowed to happen."

She said if elected, she would determine what type of medical services the community needed.

The candidates, including Ian Jackson, running for treasurer, called for more transparency and information regarding the closure, and a possibly publicly operated system with greater accountability to the people.

"People did pay for medical care, [that money] didn't just evaporate," said Jackson, who called for a different payment structure to make it easier for lawmakers to understand what happened.

After North Adams, the three candidates traveled to Kelly's Package Store in Dalton to discuss the long-pending bottle bill. That bill would expand the 5-cent deposit on soda and beer bottles and cans to other packaging — such as water or sports drinks.

Kelly's Package Store owner John Kelly recently testified in favor of the bill, saying recyclables is becoming a "secondary economy." The store collects and recycles bottles as an additional source of income.

"We felt like the expansion of the bottle bill would raise the recycling rate in the average household from 33 percent to 88 percent," Kelly told the candidates.

He added that those deposits help community groups raising money through bottle drives while there are individuals who collect bottles from the side of the road for extra income.

The candidates say that bill is long overdue.

"Just having a small deposit make sure it is going to the right place instead of going into a landfill," said Jackson.

But, it is more than that too, said Merelice, adding that the bottle bill is just one small step in turning the state's economy into a more environmentally-friendly one.

"It is a tiny step of what a future economy looks like," she said. "This may seem like a little thing, but when you look at the environment as a whole ... ."

Factor said there is a "culture" that needs changing when it comes to being environmentally friendly and encouraging more recyclables through the bill would help make that change. The bill will help push environmental consciousness into people's minds, which can lead to even more environmentally friendly practices.

Merelice added, "part of auditing is recognizing that the commonwealth's resources are no confined to finances. Part of the resources are people and the environment."

Following Kelly's the group went to Berkshire Organics to discuss the labeling of genetically modified organisms. Berkshire Organics focused on organic, high-quality foods, which the Green Rainbow Party supports. The party wants to push the labeling bill and no cracking under the pressure of major corporate suppliers who oppose it.

The three candidates rode the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus from Lenox to Pittsfield's Intermodal Transportation Center, where they heard from BRTA Assistant Administrator Robert Malnati on the region's public transportation.

The candidates set up outside North Adams Regional Hospital to kick off their tour.

A strong demand for increased evening and weekday service remain among the ongoing challenges for which the agency has had insufficient funding, Malnati said.  

"Sixty-five percent of the population that we serve don't have a vehicle," Malnati told them, saying limitations in transportation availability was an obstacle to an economic development in an area increasingly dominated by jobs in the service industry.

Candidates expressed concerns about regional equality in transportation, as with health-care issues seen in their earlier NARH visit, and stressed that Berkshire residents must remain organized in order to effectively advocate for their needs.

"There's a saying that the quickest way that people give up their power is thinking they don't have any," said Merelice.

Green-Rainbow hopefuls said Berkshire County, which has seen high showings for their party in recent elections, is an important part of the upcoming election.

"We love this area," said Merelice. "It's important to identify your base."

Candidates said while the Green Rainbow party does have an overarching platform of core beliefs, they are touring the commonwealth to hear about each region's specific needs.

"Right now there's no candidate from the Berkshires running in our races, so it's important to come out and see what the Berkshires want and need," said Jackson.

The tour of the Berkshires led them to Pittsfield City Hall, where they submitted their nomination sheets to be on the ballot.

"We're calling this a listening launch," Merelise said of the daylong trip.

iBerkshires writers Tammy Daniels, Andy McKeever and Joe Durwin compiled this report.



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Downing Kicks Off Senate Re-election Campaign
By Andy McKeever On: 09:17PM / Monday March 17, 2014
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing kicked off his re-election campaign Monday night at Spice Dragon with St. Patrick's Day flavor.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — At age 24, Benjamin B. Downing stood on the steps of City Hall with a speech he rehearsed dozens of times to announce his candidacy for the open state Senate seat.

Eight years later, and seeing yet another term come to an end, he looked back on that speech and focused on a Bill Clinton quote he had altered: "It it our job not only to build a bridge to the 21st century but make sure that every one in every corner of the Berkshires and the commonwealth has the opportunity to cross that bridge."

He thought of the $90 million broadband expansion, the new center for science and innovation at MCLA, upgraded downtowns and reforms to government to say the bridge is being built.

But, he also looked at a rising poverty rate and homelessness.

"No. No we can't say that everyone has as good of an opportunity that they should to make use of their God-given talents," Downing said Monday night as he kicked of his campaign to keep the seat he's had for eight years.

Downing kicked off another campaign as he has begun gathering signatures to be on the ballot. Among a room full of municipal, state, business and cultural leaders, Downing said his job on Beacon Hill isn't done.

"I am running for re-election because this community, Pittsfield, the Berkshires, Western Massachusetts has given me everything, every opportunity anyone could ever ask for," he said. "But until every single kid in every corner of the commonwealth from Boston to the Berkshires, from Provincetown to Pittsfield, from North Adams to North Attleboro can say the same thing, then our work is not done."

He boasted of making "government smarter and more efficient" to ensure that the tax dollars are going to programs and "not bureaucracy."

But child poverty has increased from 12 percent to 15 percent — with the Berkshires 20 percent higher — and 135,000 people are dependent on food banks and more than 20,000 people statewide homeless, Downing said.

While still seeing those numbers after eight years in office could make someone "cynical," Downing says he is "more hopeful" than ever. His job takes him to meet volunteers passing out Thanksgiving meals to the needy, teachers inspiring classrooms, community activists fighting for the environment and "decent hard-working people" in all 52 of his Senate district's communities, he said.

"Today, more so than any day since I took to those steps at City Hall, I am more hopeful today than ever before," said the Democratic senator. "I am hopeful because of all of you. Because of the good decent hard-working people that make up the 52 communities."

Downing said government still needs "new energy and new ideas to make decisions with future generations in mind and not future elections in mind." And he believes he can provide that.

"I am running for re-election because if the last two years have taught me anything is that we can take absolutely nothing in this life for granted. We don't know if the sun is going to come up tomorrow. We don't know if we will get to see it. But we do know that if we do everything in our time, everything in our power that whenever that last sunset comes, whenever we see it. .... whether we are 27 or 72, whether we are 107 or 12, we will be able to say we made the most of every opportunity that was given to us," Downing said.

Attorney Don Dubendorf and state Rep. Steve Kulik were among those in attendance.

"If you continue to give me the opportunity in the Senate, I may not be able to say that I am always be right. I won't. I may not be able to say that we will always agree. We won't. But you will be able to say that your state senator worked harder than anyone else, drove farther than anyone else, listened more than anyone else and was more committed to making sure that we ...  we will be able to say we have done everything we could to make sure that everyone can cross that bridge."

Downing is still collecting signatures for the ballot and doesn't know if he'll have a competitor. The senator has run unopposed since 2008. He said he plans on running the campaign as if he does have an opponent.

"Whether there is another candidate or not, it is a great opportunity to get out and talk to people and make sure you are in touch with the municipal leaders and the voters," Downing said after his kickoff speech.
 
Besides poverty, which Downing has placed high on his priority list, he also expects substance abuse and treatment to become hot topic issues.

Besides being an incumbent, Downing also received support on Monday night from many county leaders and elected officials. Those in attendance included Sheriff Thomas Bowler, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, state Rep. Paul Mark, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, state Rep. Steve Kulik, District Attorney David Capeless, Adams Town Administrator Jonathan Butler, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's representative Dan Johnson, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, City Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, and Register of Probate Court Francis Marinaro among an array of business and cultural leaders.

"He's done a fantastic job. We need to clone him. We need to get this guy tenured. Ben Downing's been a great friend to all of us and he's been a mentor to me," Pignatelli said.



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North Adams City Council Candidate Profiles
On: 08:05AM / Saturday November 02, 2013

There are a dozen candidates running for nine seats on the City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The nine highest vote-getters will be elected. 
 
We asked the candidates to offer some personal information and their thoughts on a number of issues that have been before the City Council or raised in the mayoral election over the past few months. Their responses varied, so not every candidate answered every question, but we believe they have provided enough information for voters to get a good grasp on their backgrounds, ideas and stands on a number of critical issues.
 
The nine candidates who have returned their questions are listed below; their profiles also include the NBCTV panels they participated in, which were moderated by state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, which are also available on this page. They were also interviewed by on WNAW radio by Editor Tammy Daniels and the radio's Megan Duley and those programs will be repeated on WNAW through the weekend.
 
Click on the banner to go to the candidate's profile page.
 
     
Forum 1: Michael Hernandez, Benjamin Lamb, Kate Merrigan and Wayne Wilkinson
Forum 2: Lisa Blackmer, Keith Bona, Nancy Bullett and Robert Cardimino
Forum 3: Jennifer Breen, Eric Buddington and Joshua Moran

 

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Alcombright Rings Up Endorsements in Mayoral Race
On: 10:31AM / Tuesday October 29, 2013

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Incumbent Richard Alcombright has received endorsements in his campaign for a third term as mayor of North Adams from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas N. Bowler.

"Over the course of his tenure as mayor, Dick Alcombright has continued to put the residents of North Adams first. Whether it is through his efforts to work with the northern Berkshire communities to regionalize veterans services or his diligence in finding new businesses to grow the Route 8 corridor and create more jobs, Mayor Alcombright understands what it takes to keep North Adams thriving.  Knowing his history and dedication to the City, I wholeheartedly endorse Mayor Dick Alcombright for re-election."

Congressman Richard Neal


"As your attorney general, it goes without saying that I am a strong advocate of public safety.  As a prior resident of North Adams, I commend Mayor Alcombright for taking decisive steps to work with District Attorney Capeless, the state police and the sheriff's department to increase police presence over the past three months. Dick has clearly recognized the problems within the community and has taken action to protect the citizens of North Adams. Dick's ability to work collaboratively with law enforcement has resulted in multiple arrests and created a safer city for residents and visitors alike. I have known Dick for over 50 years and can attest that his only motivation day in and out is to move North Adams forward.  I am proud to support Dick for re-election."

Attorney General Martha Coakley


"Dick Alcombright cares deeply about every issue a mayor deals with, and more. He is a passionate advocate for North Adams and for those causes which will improve quality of life in his community. He has been an able partner in every effort we have undertaken regionally to expand opportunity in the Berkshires. I am proud to call him a friend and hope that residents of North Adams agree with me that he has earned a 3rd term."

Sen. Benjamin Downing


"As sheriff of Berkshire County, I have had the delightful pleasure for the past  2 1/2 years of working very closely with Mayor Dick Alcombright. What I have discovered is that he is a man of integrity, and simply a person who cares for the citizens of North Adams. Since in office, he has reduced the city’s deficit, created new jobs and brought many new businesses to the city of North Adams.  It is very evident his goal is to enhance your quality of life ... which all of you deserve."

Sheriff Thomas N. Bowler
 



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Coakley, Back in Berkshires, Says Economy Priority
By Andy McKeever On: 10:00PM / Wednesday October 16, 2013
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.



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