Independent Falchuk Hits Threshold To Start New Party
By Andy McKeever iBerkshires Staff
Evan Falchuk started his United Independent Party in 2013.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Charlie Baker will be the next governor. But, there was another winner Tuesday night — independent Evan Falchuk.
Falchuk received 3.3 percent of the vote, hitting the threshold to have his United Independent Party legally recognized as a political party.
"It's an amazing thing. There were so many people who said it couldn't be done," Falchuk said on Wednesday afternoon. "It says a lot about the voters and the need for this party."
The Newton businessman launched his campaign for both governor and for the start of the United Independent Party in 2013.
He said he grew tired of the bickering among the two major parties. He sought to run a more positive campaign focused on remodeling the political process, saying the majority of the residents aren't being listened to in the current system.
He says he hit a lot of "roadblocks" in the campaign to get legally recognized as a party. He says those systems are in place to keep him and others outside the main parties from competing for the vote.
Still, the United Independent Party earned the 3 percent to break some of those barriers down. Next, the party can field primaries, have registered voters and have a spot on the ballot.
"We've had at least 20 people reach out to us to run in 2016 under the United Independent banner," Falchuk said.
If the party fails to hit the 3 percent again, the party loses its recognition. The Green-Rainbow Party has gained and lost their recognition multiple times over the years — including gaining it again on Tuesday.
Falchuk says the party will now transition to building momentum for 2016, right after they file the needed legal paperwork and new voter registration forms are released.
"Now we are going to be very focused on signing people up," Falchuk said. "The things you need to do to win an election are the same things you need to build a party."
Already pundits have claimed Falchuk took votes that would have gone to other candidates. But, he refutes that claim.
"You do not take votes from anybody. It is the people's vote and your job is to earn it," he said.
He says his supporters are "inspired" and that he found a lot of support in younger voters and in Western Massachusetts.
"We did very well in the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley," he said. "We spent a lot of time in that part of the state."
In fact, Falchuk says consultants told him to stop traveling west of Worcester too much because there wasn't enough of the vote. But, that's the type of voter he is looking for. He says he was seeking out voters who felt "disenfranchised" and "unrepresented" within the system and that includes geographically.
"Those are the people who are supporting us. Those are the people who are starting this coalition," he said. "Everybody knows this is needed."
He says he found support in people who wouldn't have supported either Democrat or Republican candidate.
With additional credibility with the legal designation, Falchuk is optimistic that the party will be growing. He hopes to show those who grew up with a two-party system that there is another option.
In the next two year, he says he is going to continue to talk about issues — such as housing and the cost of living — that were neglected toward the end of the campaign by Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Baker.
"We need to have a sustained grassroots effort to make sure these issues are being talked about," he said.
In the next few weeks, Falchuk will be revamping the organization to make the transition from one gubernatorial campaign to building the party. And then in 2016, the United Independent Party will focus on multiple campaigns across the state.
Baker Wins Governor's Race
Charlie Baker, right, meeting with supporters in Pittsfield earlier this year. The Republican is the projected winner in his second race for the governor's office, defeating Berkshire County native Martha Coakley.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The race for governor was down to the wire between Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker on Tuesday and flowed into Wednesday morning.
Trailing significantly and with most major news organizations calling the race for the Baker, Coakley conceded the race shortly after 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
The Democrat Coakley wasn't ready to concede after polls closed and the results were being tallied in the late hours of Tuesday. Supporters left her campaign headquarters.
Shortly after 1 a.m., Baker gave a speech to his supporters that sounded like he was claiming victory.
""In this election, every vote counted," he said, followed by pledges to bring fiscal discipline and a "new director" to the state.
Then, however, he wasn't quite ready to make declarative statements regarding to vote, giving Coakley until the morning. Local Republicans weren't so reserved about their candidate's victory.
"We are certainly thrilled Charlie Baker will be our next governor. He's the right guy at the right time," said Berkshire County Republican Association President Jim Bronson.
Bronson was one of a handful supporters left at GOP campaign headquarters on Merrill Road early Wednesday morning — the rest had headed out as the gubernatorial race dragged on into the night. Local Baker supporters gathered there Tuesday to watch the results of both the Massachusetts race but also the federal elections across the country.
"It was a little closer than we would have liked to see," he said, citing polls that showed Baker with a larger lead heading into election day.
Baker was up by 25,000 votes by 12:21 a.m. with 94 percent of precincts reporting. Major news organizations were calling the race in his favor.
Both parties had campaigned hard over the last few weeks to get their supporters to the polls. The results were close, as the lead changed between the candidates several times over the course of the evening.
By contrast, the other statewide races were a sweep for the Democrats; a loss by Coakley may be more about the candidates than the parties. Bronson said he thought Baker ran a better campaign than his 2010 run, saying Baker showed "the real Charlie."
Berkshire County, however, went heavily for Coakley. She outpolled Baker 3 to 1 in her hometown of North Adams and nearly 4 to 1 in Williamstown. She also outpaced Baker by more than 4,000 votes in Pittsfield.
Attorney general winner Maura Healy, who stopped in both Pittsfield and North Adams over the weekend, was also a local favorite as well. Initial reports also showed Auditor Suzanne Bump of Great Barrington far outpacing her opponents in the county.
Despite losing all of the other state seats, local Republicans were also happy with the party picking up seven seats in the U.S. Senate, giving the GOP a majority.
"Republicans now have a couple of years to prove we can do what we said we'd do," Bronson said. "It is tremendous. It is the way the country needs to go."
Several North County town went against the grain on expanding the bottle bill, with Williamstown backing it 1,776 to 703, even as it went down to defeat by more than 70 percent statewide. Both Berkshire cities and several North County towns also bucked the trend on Question 1, voting against repealing the inflation-indexing of the gas tax. The question polled 53 percent "yes" to go back to a standard tax statewide. There was plenty of support for the ballot questions on earned sick time and keeping casinos, both of which also passed statewide. Explanations on the questions can be found here.
North Adams election worker Ron O'Brien said people had been steadily filtering into the polls all day to vote.
"It started out slow but it has been steady," O'Brien said at about 2 p.m. "A lot more steady than it has been in the past."
Out of the 8,864 registered voters 1,314 had voted in the four wards at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center by 2 p.m., and about 363 at Ward 4 at Greylock Elementary School shortly after noon.
Williamstown had a solid turnout of 54 percent of the town's electorate in the midterm election. Votes were cast by 2,521 residents from a checklist of 4,686.
Not all of them cast ballots in all the races, however. In the only contested local race on the ballot, the Mount Greylock School Committee, the second-leading vote-getter was "Blanks."
Voters were asked to choose two of three names for the two four-year seats on the committee that were at stake. Incumbent Carolyn Greene received 1,752 votes. "Blanks" received 1,257. The other winner along with Greene, Wendy Penner, received votes from 1,127 Williamstown voters.
Pittsfield had a turnout of 39.9 percent, with 11,372 voters for the city's 28,501 casting ballots.
Adams was also busy, said Town Clerk Haley Mezcywor: "It has been pretty steady today. It was really busy right around noon."
In Clarksburg, the numbers were trending up over voting in this year's town election with more than 160 voting by noon; a total of 246 had voted in the May election.
North Adams City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau had predicted about a 33 percent turnout this year, judging by the number of absentee ballots already submitted by last week.
She thought the tight gubernatorial race, which features Berkshires native Martha Coakley squaring off against opponent Charlie Baker, and the four question on the ballot may bring more people out.
"I would love to see 45 percent but I don't think that's realistic," she said last week.
It ended up being more that at 38 percent, with 3,357 of the city's 8,864 voters casting ballots. Despite predictions of low turnout, voting had been steady at least North County. Clarksburg was tracking at about 50 percent turnout by 6 p.m. and ended with a total of 52 percent, or 570 voters out of 1,078 casting ballots.
Town Clerk Carol Jammalo, too, thought the ballot questions could be driving turnout.
Or it might have been state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi.
The North Adams Democrat hasn't let the lack of a challenger this election dim her efforts at reaching voters. Cariddi sent out more than 8,000 postcards not only asking for votes for herself but for the full Democratic lineup as well.
"I think I knocked on 1,000 doors," she said outside the polling station at St. Elizabeth's.
Voter David Brown was impressed enough to get her autograph on the postcard he received.
"I drove 115 miles to make sure I got back here to vote," said Brown, who drives about 300 miles a day for his delivery job. "I went over to Millbury and Auburn and I'm telling you I made it back here on purpose to vote."
Brown said he wanted to make sure he cast votes for Cariddi and Martha Coakley, and against the expansion of the bottle bill.
"I don't think consumers want to pay for a 28-pack [of water] another $1.40 and then have the inconvenience of bringing those bottles back," he said, unconvinced that more bottle deposits would spur recycling.
In addition to the gubernatorial race that also includes three independent candidates, voters decided races for auditor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, as well U.S. senator. All other elected offices had no challengers.
*Ward 4 Missing
Saint Aubin (R)
AG Candidate Healey Hears Concerns on Hospital
By Tammy Daniels iBerkshires Staff
Democratic candidate for attorney general Maura Healey speaks with hospital advocates at the VFW on Saturday, later promising she would share information with the community on the progress of an investigation of its closure if elected.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Attorney general candidate Maura Healey has promised to follow through if elected on issues raised by the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital.
"I'm absolutely committed to be an advocate on this issue to fight for just that," she said. "I talked about it as a civil rights issue."
The Democrat took a detour from heavy campaigning during this last few days before the election to meet with more than two dozen activists and residents about the region's health care issues.
"I am with you on so many fronts on this," she said Saturday at the Veterans for Foreign Wars post. "I have concerns about the way that this all unfolded."
The hospital closed in late March with the bankruptcy of Northern Berkshire Healthcare. Current Attorney General Martha Coakley's attempt to prevent the emergency room from closing was pre-empted by the bankruptcy. Since then, her office was involved in the court proceedings that led to NBH's assets being acquired by Berkshire Health Systems and its reopening emergency services, and is conducting an investigation into the hospital's abrupt closure.
Healey, whose mother and other close family members were nurses, said she believed access to health care as well as to education, jobs and safe housing were basic civil rights.
"It's what I deeply believe in and what I'll fight for as your attorney general," Healey told the group, adding, "It bothers me deeply that people in this community would not have access to what I believe is a basic civil right."
The attorney general's office works across a broad range of issues, from non-profits to fair labor laws, with partner agencies, all of which Healey said she would work with on behalf of citizens, particularly in the areas of prescription drug abuse, disability rights and health care access and regional disparities.
In response to questions, she said she would review the NBH investigation, asking the group to understand she was not privy to its progress having resigned last year from her post in the AG's office so she could campaign for it.
"It's really really important there is transparency and one of the failings here is there wasn't transparency," Healey said.
The former pro basketball player grew up in rural New Hampshire, graduated from Harvard and received her law degree from Northeastern University.
After working as a Middlesex County prosecutor and in private law, she joined the attorney general's office as chief of the civil rights division, later overseeing public protection and business and labor.
Healey faces off against Republican John B. Miller on Tuesday. She encouraged those attending to vote for Martha Coakley for governor as well as for her.
"I think it's important who our next governor is. It's important for not only this area but for the state," saying she'd come into the AG's office on the heels of a Republican-led agencies in 2007.
"If you want to talk about cuts, if you want to talk about loss of services and you want to talk about decisions that were made by a governor and state agencices, they gutted the heart of health care and well-being of communities and families," she said. "That's what we'll go to and I firmly believe that."
Healey also promised to be back in the Berkshires should she become the next attorney general.
"If elected, when elected, I will be back out here often because this is what it means to be the people's lawyer, this is what it means to be the state's attorney general."
Candidate Kerrigan Stops in Pittsfield For Get Out The Vote Push
By Andy McKeever iBerkshires Staff
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, lieutenant governor candidate Steve Kerrigan and Mayor Daniel Bianchi on Friday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Steve Kerrigan says the party's "ground game" is what is going to make the difference in a very tight gubernatorial race.
Kerrigan was in Pittsfield on Friday as part of his final push efforts. Counting hours instead of days until the polls close, party officials are frantically canvassing neighborhoods, calling voters and talking to others are events — such as Kerrigan's trip to a senior citizens fair at the Boys and Girls Club.
"This is a tied race. It is all within the margin and we're going to win because we've got the troops on the ground," Kerrigan said after circling the gymnasium.
"Everybody goes after independents. We go after people — Democrats, independents and Republicans — who believe that we need a governor and a lieutenant governor who believes in investing in people. From early education to job training programs and invest in all of the regions in the commonwealth."
Through multiple debates, Martha Coakley, atop the Democratic ticket with Kerrigan as her running mate, and Republican Charlie Baker and his lieutenant governor candidate, Karyn Polito, have laid out their differences. And still nearly all the polls have showed a tight race.
"It is about reminding people the election is on Tuesday the 4th, making sure they have a voting plan to get out and vote. There are still folks who are undecided about the race and we're going to use every moment between now and election day when the polls close to talk to people about what's at stake," Kerrigan said.
The candidate on Friday took some shots at Baker's record in the health industry and Polito's voting record while emphasizing the Democratic Coakley's support for early childhood education and social programs. But overall, the focus is getting as many people to the polls as possible, he said.
"This is all about getting voters out there to vote on Tuesday. We have a ground game. Last weekend we knocked on 72,000 doors, just Democratic coordinated campaign activists. We make 63,000 phone calls with 3,000 volunteers. We're going to do a lot more that that this weekend," Kerrigan said.
Despite the efforts of both parties as well as a candidate pool with three independents — Evan Falchuk, Jeff McCormick and Scott Lively — the race for the open gubernatorial seat has gone seemingly under the radar. Kerrigan said he isn't surprised by the lack of focus on the race but is disappointed.
Kerrigan said the lack of public interest stems from a distrust in government, and that is something he'd like to change.
"I know that government can make a powerful impact on people's lives so it matters," Kerrigan said.
Kerrigan was greeted in Pittsfield by state Sen. Benjamin Downing, who also chairs the Democratic coordinated campaign, state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Paul Mark, and Mayor Daniel Bianchi.
Suzanne Bump Seeking Re-election as Auditor
By Andy McKeever iBerkshires Staff
Auditor Suzanne Bump of Great Barrington is running for re-election.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In her efforts to modernize the auditor's office, Suzanne Bump has found some $400 million in misspent taxpayer money.
Bump is now running for re-election so she can continue her efforts both through auditing various state departments and improving the auditor's office.
"We made a deliberate focus on the quality of our work and not the quantity. With the audits we've done, we identified an unprecedented amount of broken systems, misspending and potential fraud and abuse. In fact $400 million worth," Bump said on Friday.
Most notable of Bump's audit was that of the Department of Transitional Assistance in which Bump identified thousands of welfare recipients who were cheating the system.
"We identified over 1,000 people who were getting benefits by using the Social Security number of someone who was dead. Another 1,000 dependents parents were getting benefits for with false social security numbers," Bump said.
The report wasn't received very well by some, even in her own Democratic Party, who criticized her for the findings. Gov. Deval Patrick questioned her numbers and others felt the dollar figures were too little and that she should be looking for bigger cases.
Nothing the less she "rolled with the punches" and the system ultimately was improved.
"The point was that this is a program that is very much on the minds of the public and program integrity is key across government. I regard this as a vitally important program and we have to have people believe in it if they are to continue to fund it," she said.
Another audit of the MBTA showed that the board of directors had pushed through collection technology on buses and trains before it had been tested.
"It couldn't accurately count the amount of money that was collected on buses and light rail vehicles. They spent $94 million on the system," Bump said. "Since its inception there was $100 million that they couldn't account for. They would collect the money, add it up and then bring it to the bank. The bank would count it. And there was $100 million discrepancy between what the T said and what the bank said," she said.
"The bottom line is that if you can't accurately count the money that is being taken in, you can't tell if the money is being stolen. We weren't alleging that it had been stolen. We were alleging that it was imprudent of them to not fix the system."
The directors have since fixed the machines.
Bump also audited the Department of Children and Families and found a lack of departmental funding had left its foster program without enough social workers, training, case management technology and oversight.
"The agency was unable to do its job because it was starved for resources," she said.
Bump says her role is to give an objective look at the operations. Her focus is not simply how to improve the on-the-service operation issues such as how to provide services quicker, but to dig deep into an issue.
"I'm not content to do an audit and just address a symptom," she said, such as the DCF audit which then told legislators what they can do to improve the system.
"If decision makers have better information, they will make better decisions."
But it is not just dishing out criticism to department heads. Bump says she can take it, too. In 2011, a group of auditors from other states looked at the Massachusetts office. What they found was that the auditor's office didn't have the skills, training, technology and audit procedures it needed to do the job properly.
"If you fail in those measures, people don't have any reason to believe your audits," Bump said. "We are focusing on quality in the office."
Since then Bump implemented a turnover of employees, getting rid of those who couldn't properly do the job and adding educational requirements to new hires. She created an in-house training program to train both new workers and keep current employees up to date with changes in the field. And she placed an emphasis on data analysis and the technology needed for it.
Now, that same audit group says Massachusetts is one of the best.
"The data analytics is a big deal. Instead of just doing reports based on the information that one agency has, we are integrating data from other sources that can help give us a deeper look," Bump said.
Data analytics is intended to dig even deeper into a system. Bump used Berkshire Works as an example. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development knows how many people took a certain training course. But, they don't know if those people got jobs afterward.
The analytics couples the Department of Revenue data with the Labor and Workforce Development data for an array of information about the outcome those programs are having - such as the types of jobs workers are getting from taking the course.
Bump says if she wins election, she hopes to grow the use of analysis and continue digging into various state programs.
But the office is also tasked with assessing the health care system to determine if the laws are reducing employer costs, changing out-of-pocket costs for residents, having an impact on public health, and health outcomes.
"That's a big task that is ongoing," she said.
Meanwhile, she is lobbying the Legislature to give her the authority to look at corporate tax returns. Bump wants to do an analysis of the tax policies and the incentives offered to business. But, she can't without seeing the returns and she needs to Legislature pass a law allowing her to do so.
"I am trying to get the policy to do so. It requires a change in the law and the business community is opposed to it," she said. "We should be able to measure the success of our tax policies in the same way we can measure the success in our education policies, our transportation policies or our child protection policies."
"There needs to be an objective analysis of if they are working."
Bump just finished her first term in office and is looking for another four years. She is up against Republican Patricia Saint Aubin and Green-Rainbow party MK Merelice.
"I knew that it would take a number of years to transform the office and I want those changes to take root," Bump said.
Bump started her political career as a legislative aid and became elected to the state House of Representatives in 1985 and served until 1993. She then went into the private sector, working for a number of law firms and starting her own practice. In 2007, she went back into the public sector as the Gov. Deval Patrick's appointee as the secretary of labor and workforce development and resigned two years later to run for auditor, becaming the first women elected to the office.
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