The Democratic candidates for the 2nd Berkshire District met Monday night at Berkshire Community College.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Democratic candidates for representative for the 2nd Berkshire District tried to distinguish themselves for voters before the Sept. 14 primary.
In two debates held Monday night, candidates for the nomination in both parties talked jobs, health are and broadband at Berkshire Community College. Jenn Smith of The Berkshire Eagle was the moderator for both representative debates, sponsored by the Pittsfield Gazette and hosted by BCC. The candidates are seeking to replace outgoing Rep. Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton.
Thomas S. Szczepaniak
In the first debate, Democrats Paul W. Mark, Noreen P. Suriner and Thomas S. Sczczepaniak agreed in substance that the state needed to do more to aid small business and took aim at Verizon for failing to deliver broadband.
"The best thing the state can do is to start funding new opportunities for new jobs like high-speed rail, like green-energy jobs and by bringing high-speed Internet to Western Massachusetts," said Mark, of Hancock. He'd like to see more effort put into bringing broadband into the region to aid small business and promotion of green jobs.
The region's hope could be the return of high-speed rail, said Mark, which would boost the toursim industry and reduce emissions along with creating jobs. "I think it's something realistic that needs to happen."
Sczczepaniak, a three-term selectman in Dalton, was more down to earth, believing wood by-products had the best chance of success in the heavily rural district. The development of a biomass industry would not only provide alternative heat and electricity, "it gets all the junk wood out of the woods ... It's like a garden; we need to get all the weeds out so the forest can breathe."
"It's a win-win situation all around," he contined. The owner of a local trucking company, Sczczcepaniak said small business would also benefit from relief from red tape and mandates from Boston.
Suriner, a Middlefield selectman, Episcopal priest and a teacher, agreed with both but added agriculture as an important element in the development of small business in the district. "We've been blessed because we've gotten some of the stimulus money that has prevented job loss ..." she said. "We're in relatively decent shape but the state has much to do in job creation and to deal with the unemployment issue."
Noreen P. Suriner
Farmers should have direct access to the market as well as have easier access to the school lunch programs, she said, adding that Guyer's recent announcment of a "production kitchen" for agricultural concerns in a planned mixed-use development "might be an incubator for the creation of new jobs."
All three strongly supported broadband expansion in Western Mass. "It's a job creator ... not only to the installation but for the telecommunicating for people who want to raise their children here," said Suriner, who represents her town on the WiredWest broadband collaborative. She took a swipe at Verizon, saying its mandate was "to create a profit."
Mark, an attorney and former Verizon technician, was also harsh on the telecommunications giant, referring to his own town's woes. "I'm the only one who knows the difference between the 'last mile,' the 'middle mile' and any other mile."
Sczczepaniak said he would "support any and all" broadband initiatives.
All three also agreed that more consolidation wouldn't serve the district's school systems and that education funding would be a priority. The forum was generally lively but low-key, until the closing statements, when Mark took issue with Suriner's claim that she would focus all her attention on the district and not be distracted running a business like her opponents. "I don't know where that's coming from," said Mark, who added he would quit his job.
Paul W. Mark
The candidates tiptoed around recent revelations about Szczepaniak's past troubles with the law, including jail time for drunken driving, some 20 years ago. Mark's campaign has denied allegations of spreading the old news.
"The things we've been reading about the last week is a distraction," said Mark. "It's the reason why people don't like politics."
Suriner said many families are affected by substance abuse. "I think we want to focus on the issues and not on personal lives."
For his part, Szczepaniak said he's not the man he was back then. "You look at the person and what's he's done and what is he doing for the community," he said, to loud applause.
The winner of the Democratic nomination will face off against the Republican primary winner and independent Stefan G. Racz, a Buckland selectman.
The debates were televised by Pittsfield Community Television; check the schedule for repeat showings.