Coakley Talks Education, Economy in Campaign Swing
Attorney General Martha Coakley meets with voters in Pittsfield and North Adams during a campaign swing in the Berkshires to announce her run for governor.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The self-described "Berkshires Girl" was back in the county on Tuesday seeking support for another run at office.
This time Attorney General Martha Coakley has her eye on the governor's office next year, and she's hoping the Berkshires will once again back her as it has overwhelmingly in the past.
The North Adams native swung through the Berkshires as part of her three-day "barnstorming" across the state to announce her candidacy, focusing on the twin themes economic recovery and education. She knows that when the economy sinks, it sinks even further in Berkshire County.
"I grew up here, my father owned a business in Berkshire County," said Coakley. "I know some of the issues but I know some have changed but I want to stay involved."
Tuesday brought her to an impromptu stop in Lee before Pittsfield and eventually to her home city of North Adams. At Dottie's, there wasn't a big stump speech — it was just coffee shop chatter, chatter she hopes to hear throughout the campaign and beyond.
"Certainly as governor one of things I want to do is to make sure we are able to have this economy turn around not just for some but for everybody," Coakley said after meeting more than a dozen voters during the afternoon stop in Pittsfield that that included District Attorney David Capeless, Berkshire Brigades leader Sheila Murray, Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds Patsy Harris and Edith "Kit" Dobelle, former U.S. Chief of Protocol. "And that means for regions like Berkshire County, north and south, taking into account what our strengths and weaknesses are, working with our local businesses and our local folks here and our not-for-profits."
Those experiences include going after bank mortgage practices, lowering the cost of health care and lowering the energy costs. But there is more she feels she can do. To kick start the economy, Coakley says the education system needs to be improved for both children and adults.
"I hear a lot of the same theme, about people feel a little more optimistic about the economy but they're still struggling," she said in North Adams. "One of the reasons I'm running for governor is to make sure we continue progress in Massachusetts on the economic front but that we do it for everybody, not just for a wealthy few, and that we make sure that we modernize our education."
She wants to focus on economic development, infrastructure and education but the details will be parsed out during the campaign. But her skills and experience is what drove her into the race, calling it a "critical time" for Massachusetts.
"I'm really excited about my chance to work with and for the people of Massachusetts."
Coakley will have set herself apart from what's becoming a crowded field of Democratic candidates, which so far includes early favorite Treasurer Steven Grossman, two former Obama administration executives and at least one entrepreneur, with a couple of high-profile candidate still on the fence.
What she won't have to do is fight for recognition in a region that's heavily backed her in the past, including her unsuccessful Senate race three years ago. In North County in particular, everyone knows her name.
"In that room right now are several classmates from high school, my trigonometry high school teacher, Mr. Cove, who I haven't seen for a long time but who I just remember fondly," said the Williams College graduate. She's spent most of her life outside the Berkshires, building a legal career as Middlesex district attorney before running for state office. But she came back in 2007 to be sworn in as attorney general at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts.
I appreciate that I made some mistakes in that race and my biggest regret is that people think I didn't work hard. I certainly regret that but I went right back to work in the attorney general's office, going back to work for the people in Massachusetts.
on the 2010 U.S. Senate campaign
Coakley moved around the Freight Yard Pub introducing herself and her husband, Thomas F. O'Connor Jr., but the connections were already there in many cases — they'd gone to school with one of her sisters, they'd known her father, they'd sat beside her in class — they connected somewhere in the myriad relationships found in a small town.
The gathering wasn't large but a number of community leaders were on hand, including Mayor Richard Alcombright, City Councilors Marie Harpin, President Michael Bloom, Jennifer Breen and Lisa Blackmer; a contingent from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts including President Mary Grant; Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy and attorney John DeRosa, and Adams Selectman Joseph Nowak.
Kristen Gilman and Joy DeMayo, teachers at Sullivan Elementary School, were having supper before orientation in the evening. They hadn't realized that Coakley was going to be there but they chatted with her for several minutes about the school and teaching.
If they'd had a chance to consider, what would they have said Coakley or another gubernatorial candidate?
DeMayo's was straightforward: "Our youth is the future." Gilman's more on process: "I just want her to come to Sullivan to see what's going on up there, dealing with what we have to deal with all day. The reality of it."
Coakley's looking for that input.
"I would love to have the help and support of Berkshire County voters during the campaign. I want your ideas, I want your suggestions about how we in Boston — I know that is how we think about state government — can be more engaged and involved in what you care about, what we care about," she said. "I'll be out here not just for the campaign but more importantly as governor."
Before she headed back toward Boston for another day of campaign stops, a woman came out of the pub to shake her hand.
"I love you as attorney general and you got my vote," she said.