Anne Skinner, left, moderated the League of Women Voters debate between the candidates for 1st Berkshire District.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The three candidates for the 1st Berkshire District fielded questions on jobs, school funding and environmental concerns for an hour on Tuesday night in the muggy confines of the Church Street Center.
David Bissaillon of Adams, Gailanne Cariddi of North Adams and Edward MacDonald of Adams, all Democrats, are seeking to replace outgoing Rep. Daniel E. Bosley in the State House. Each stressed his or her background in government and business and how that would translate into the best representative for the 12-town district in the far northwest corner of the state.
The forum was sponsored by the Williamstown League of Women Voters and moderated by league President Anne Skinner, who posed questions from the league. This was the second time the three candidates have met in a public forum and comes just a month before the Sept. 14 primary that will essentially determine the winner.
The main focus was on jobs, not surprising considering the current economy. Bissaillon, a former president of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, said the main thing he'd been hearing over the months has been concerns about employment.
"Business owners want a state government that supports small business, both new and existing, and a government that allows all businesses an opportunity to provide jobs for others," he said, suggesting the Berkshires had to do it the "old-fashioned way" by helping many small businesses grow a little rather than expecting another GE or Sprague to boost the economy. "If we can help 25 companies grow two jobs, that's like creating a mid-sized company."
Bissaillon was president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Bissaillon said he would champion ways to increase energy efficiencies, develop green jobs and other new industries, and collaborations between Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to prepare a better-educated work force for the needs of the area's more technology-driven companies.
Cariddi, a North Adams city councilor who runs a family business, said she's already been working on such matchups between educational institutions and business as a member of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board. She would work on legislation to support innovation and entrepreneurs and would lobby for seats on committees important to the area.
"I've been saying for months that we need to need to have a seat on the Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee," said Cariddi, so that the Berkshires will have a voice in one of its more important economic drivers. She would also try for the seat on the Natural Resources and Agricultural Committee currently held by outgoing Rep. Denis E. Guyer of Dalton, to ensure Berkshire farmers were represented. "We need to bring our collective wisdom back to Boston."
MacDonald, the town administrator for Chester and a former Adams selectman, said, "Our priorities right now is small industry, [small-business] jobs because that generates 40 percent of the gross revenue in Massachusetts."
Cariddi is a longtime city councilor recognized for her environmental advocacy.
He said he would support a state bank that would back higher-risk loans to help business move forward, incubator programs, and allow small business to spread their losses over three years according to the federal model. MacDonald said representatives have to be more aware of how legislation affects all sectors of the economy, for example the recently passed measure that allows small businesses to team up for better health insurance rates. While good for them, it's being paid for by mid-sized and larger companies.
He pointed to his experience working on legislative issues in both Boston and Albany, N.Y. "I know who's there; I know how to get things done."
In how the area's natural resources play into development, Cariddi, long a supporter of green and environmental initiatives, said "commonsense standards are needed."
MacDonald said town boards working together under the state's permitting laws can aid in development while protecting resources.
"I think there always remains a healthy tension between the economic concerns and development concerns," said Bissaillon. "It wouldn't be the Berkshires if we didn't have those ongoing discussions."
With gaming on the horizon, all three said they would fight for the interests of the county should a casino be built in Palmer. Cariddi said she would prefer it not be a self-contained facility such as in Connecticut but a gaming center that wouldn't compete with local venues.
"I don't think it will be a big moneymaker for the state but I think the community should be allowed to vote because it is going to tremendously impact them," she said, adding surrounding communities should also have a voice.
MacDonald said the expected $300 million to $400 million in revenue would help reduce next year's $1.2 billion deficit in the state budget. "It enhances the state to be competitive; what casino gambling does is give us money for education, to take care of seniors." A third of that money should go to back to the cities and towns, and another third to education, he said.
Bissaillon said he'd heard for years that $500 million to $1 billion in revenue was leaving the state for Connecticut casinos. "Casino gambling is coming to Massachusetts," he said. "What I will do is make sure we protect our interests as much as possible as it relates to the 1st District."
All three also agreed that the state needed to step up its commitment to regional school transportation and, in response to questions from Skinner, said they supported abortion rights and the Transgender Civil Rights bill in the Legislatures. Bissaillon and Cariddi said they were against the death penalty; MacDonald said that while he did not believe it prevented crime, he would support in cases of murder of a public servant or particularly heinous crime.
MacDonald has worked in state and local government.
The candidates expressed their hopes for votes on Sept. 14 and each stated their preparation for the job.
"They need to hear people with real-life experience because small business is the economic driver of our economy," said Cariddi. She noted her 20 years as councilor, and participation on numerous boards and commission. "I have been a responsible and trusted voice for over 20 years and I will be that voice in Boston."
"When necessary, I will get up my Irish dander, that I inherited from my mother and fight like hell for what we need. Fight to make sure those in Boston do not ignore us here in the 1st Berkshire District," said Bissaillon, a vice president of Coakley, Pierpan, Dolan & Collins Insurance Agency with a long history of community volunteerism. "I am the right choice at the right time."
MacDonald, whose loss against Bosley in 1988 for the post spurred him on to college and graduate school, said he had the experience for the Legislature.
"I know how government works because I do it every day. I will be your voice," he said. "And I will work hard every day. No one will work harder than me."
The debate was shown on Northern Berkshire Community Television; it will be repeated later this week and on WilliNet. We'll update with times when we get them.