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Ex-Medicare Chief Mulling Run for Governor

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Former Medicare chief Dr. Donald Berwick was in Pittsfield on Tuesday to introduce himself and listen to Berkshire Brigade members as he 'strongly considers' a run for governor.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Dr. Donald Berwick grew up in a small rural town where if someone's car was stalled on the side of the road, you didn't drive by.

You stopped to help.

It was a general idea that he grew up with, that "we're all together and we help each other." And it is that general idea that has now led him to "strongly considering" a run for governor.

His father was doctor, making house house calls miles away helping everyone he could and Berwick followed those footsteps.

He went off to Harvard Medical School and then went on to become a pediatrician. Meanwhile, public policy was an interest of his and he received his master of public policy degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

While working in private practice, there were inefficiencies that hindered his ability to provide the best care — for example labs tests not being returned quickly.

"I got interested in quality. How do we do better?" Berwick said on Tuesday when he introduced himself to members of the Berkshire Brigades, the county's leading Democratic organization. "I became a student not just of health care but of improvement. I began studying on anything gets better."

He found the best organizations didn't "disrespect" the people working for it. But, like his younger days in Connecticut, worked together with motivated leaders in various disciplines using their own imagination and plans to work toward the common goal.

That management belief coupled with his drive to "make everything better" led him to start the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement, bringing health-care professionals from across the world together to optimize health-care delivery.

"I then started to grow a national and international organization to try to improve health and health-care worldwide. And that grew. It is now the largest and most significant of such an organization in the world," he said.

Meanwhile, he still saw patients but wanted to do more. While he could treat a virus and make the health systems better, he couldn't solve the root cause.

"What makes a kid sick is not just the germ ... it is poverty, something in the air that shouldn't be there, injustice, fear or just social circumstances," Berwick said, adding that health care extends far beyond medicine.

Berwick told a story of a child growing up in poverty who had to fight to get a bone marrow transplant. He finally received it to cure his leukemia only years later to be murdered because of his social circumstances.

He then got the taste of the public sector. In 2008, President Barack Obama selected him as a recess appointee as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He was called on to change the system after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

He oversaw seven of the 10 provisions put in place by the act while leading the $820 billion health insurance agency. He led that organization by forming close relationships with other agencies.

"The first rule is that we have to run CMS in the way you want health care to be," Berwick said.

But on the legislative side, the environment was often "toxic" and elected officials weren't making decisions based on what "they feel in the heart" but rather "what they saw on TV," he said, and both parties in Congress were not working together and it was hurting the government's ability to work for the greater good of the people.

"That was entry into high level government," Berwick said, adding that he was excited with the direction the administration was going in universal health care.

His term ended after 17 months when he resigned because it was clear a Republicans would oppose a Senate confirmation for full appointment. He returned full time to his home with his wife, Ann, who is the chairman of the state Department of Public Utilities.

Berwick addressing the Berkshire Brigades.

Now, a year after his term ended in Washington, he is ready to dive back into the public sector with a run for governor.

"I want to stay in the public sector. What governments can do is phenomenally important if it is done right. By right I mean, well run and responsive to the public and in good partnership," he said. "I want to make the best possible community."

If he formally enters the race, he is planning to run on a platform aimed at improving the state's health care system, particularly lowering the costs by focusing on keeping patients healthy rather than "filling beds"; educating children; ending poverty, and solving economic problems the state faces by improving the energy policy.

"I would like to be governor to bring that kind of thinking about proper management, commitment to the poor, total commitment to children and continue swinging the bat at health care. I think I can do that and I'd like a chance to try," he said.

Berwick and Treasurer Stephen Grossman are the only two candidates so far who have indicated they may enter the 2014 race. Berwick hasn't yet announced but is going on a "listening tour" across the state to hear from the people.

Once news leaked out that he was considering a run, the Brigades invited him to speak. Grossman recently spoke at the Brigades' annual dinner.

     

Senate Candidate Lynch Meets With Unions, Voters in Pittsfield

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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U.S. Senate candidate Stephen Lynch poses with supporters at Dottie's Coffee Shop on Saturday morning.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield Firefighters Association wants Stephen F. Lynch to be the first card-carrying union member on the U.S. Senate floor. 

The union leaders greeted Lynch at Dottie's Coffee Shop on Saturday morning to show their support for his Senate bid. The 8th Mass District representative is vying for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Secretary of State John Kerry.
 
"Congressman Lynch is a working man. He came from labor, he was a steelworker for 18 years and he understands the problems of the middle and working class," President Tim Bartini of International Association of Firefighters Local 2647 said. "He understands the issues we have."
 
Local labor officials made up the majority of the crowd at Dottie's, giving Lynch a chance to express his views to the strong local organizations. The local electrical union, IBEW Local 2324, and General Electric retirees, IUE Local 254/255, were on hand.
 
"Technically, we don't take a stand on the primary so our executive board hasn't taken an official vote," said International Union of Electrical Workers Local 254/255 President Peter Menard. "But we stay active and we got an email saying he would be here so I came to meet him."
 
The underdog candidate in the Democratic primary (set April 30) has made a recent splash in the race by reeling in more than 40 union endorsements. 
 
"I know what it is like to work hard. I know what it is like to work from week to week. I know what it is like to stand in unemployment lines," Lynch said of the support he's gained. "I've got a lot of the work ethic that you see out here in the Berkshires."
 
Lynch is running on a platform calling for tax reform to close corporate loopholes, incentivize companies to stay in the country and ending what he sees is unneeded spending.
 
"We've also built in, over time, incentives for companies to move their business off shore. Those are incentives the legislature has put in over the years into the tax code that is serving to export jobs," Lynch said. "There may have been a day in this country where we could afford to do that but that day has since passed."
 
Lynch said there are programs that Department of Defense leaders and the president have said are unneeded but they continue with support from congressmen in those districts only because they are putting people to work.
 
"You've got programs that are not needed that are being pushed for the purpose of creating jobs," said the South Boston native. "We've got to be smarter. I'd rather have our defense workers working on something we actually need than projects we don't."
 
Health insurance has also become a talking point for Lynch, who says medical manufacturer in his district is looking to expand into Ireland because the federal Affordable Care Act has loaded on too many taxes. The country is "fumbling away" an industry that is "perfect for Massachusetts," said Lynch, who broke with Democrats to vote against the act.
 
Lynch is calling for reform of the ACA because he says more and more companies will be trying to sidestep those taxes. Additionally, he believes billions could be saved with reform to federal employee health insurance benefits. 
 
"Some of the federal employee health benefits are not only ripping off the employees but also ripping off the taxpayer because we don't have a competitive system," Lynch said. "I think we could save billions of dollars on our employee health."
 
But Lynch's overall message is that corporations have become too big and powerful that "regular folks" don't stand a chance. Banks are getting larger and larger and telecommunications and media are becoming more and more consolidated.
 
With the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, basically recognizing organizations have free speech rights, corporate interests have a much bigger play in Washington, Lynch said.
 
"We're not being treated fairly. They are using the public airwaves, the public spectrum and we're being ripped off in the process and that is because of the power of money in Washington," he said.
 
And with that, there has been the cultivation of a negative attitude toward unions.
 
"We've become a pariah. I don't get it. I don't understand that. These unions, all they are trying to do is to give workers a voice in the work place," Lynch said. "These companies are getting so big and so powerful that you don't have a prayer in negotiating with your employer unless you've got the opportunity for collective bargaining."
 
Lynch is a third-generation union man who believes that health care, wages and pensions negotiated by unions "sets the bar for non-union workers." He reminds voters that the eight-hour work day and 40-hour work week exist because of unions.
 
The middle class has been whittled away over the 15 years, he said, and where once a CEO made 60 percent more than the average worker, that has grown to 600 percent while wages have generally stayed flat.
 
"We are having a trend in this country of having a class of haves and have-nots. There are a whole lot of people in the have-not department," Lynch said, who says "a lot of the blessing in my life" came because his parents were union workers.
 
But despite reeling in so much union support, Lynch is still considered the underdog candidate. The congressional delegation's dean, U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey of Malden, wrapped up key Democratic endorsements on entering the race, including union backing from SEIU and the powerful Masachusetts Teachers Association, and, says Lynch, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
 
"The intent was clearly to clear the field for one candidate. They had chosen our next senator. Everybody dropped out, except for me," Lynch said. "If they are going to be success in picking out our next U.S. senator, then they are going to do it all the time."
 
With the Democratic backing for Markey, Lynch is distinguishing himself as an outsider to his own party.
 
"I know I am fighting an uphill battle, folks have called this a 'Braveheart' campaign. But given the challenges we have in Washington, I can honestly say the most important relationship in Washington is with the people who sent me there," he said. "I don't work for Nancy Pelosi, I won't work for Harry Reid. I work for the people who sent me there and sometimes that gets me in trouble. If I read a bill and I think it is bad, I vote against it. That puts me at odds with people in my party sometimes but, damn it, I don't represent the Democratic Party in Washington. I represent these people here."
 
Lynch says he won't be able to "outspend" Markey but he "will out work him."
     

Downing Announces He Won't Run For U.S. Senate

Staff Reports
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing will not be running in the upcoming special election for the U.S. Senate.

Downing released a statement Friday saying that after considering all aspects of the race — "especially financial" — he decided not to run in the special election to replace U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who was nominated for Secretary of State.

"Over the past three weeks, I have spoken with family, friends and colleagues throughout the state about a possible run for the U.S. Senate," Downing said in the statement. "The response was overwhelmingly positive, not only from my friends in Western Mass., but from fellow public servants, party activists and citizens of all stripes. I will be forever grateful for their words of encouragement, advice, and endorsement."

He continued, "I wish their faith in me was enough to sustain a campaign, but I know that every consideration – especially financial – must be made before a race of this type is undertaken.  After considering every aspect of a possible campaign, I have determined that I will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in the upcoming special election."
 
In December, Downing said he was considering a run and was prepared to mount a campaign.

The move would have been a large jump for the young Senator, but one he was confident he could take. Downing said he would have been able to "energize" the younger voter across the state by bringing a "fresh face" to government.

Since then, U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey of the 5th Congressional District announced a campaign and reeled in endorsements from key Democrats across the state - including Kerry, Vicki Kennedy, former U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy's widow, and former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank, who is expected to be appointed to the seat until the election.

Markey also has received endorsement and financial assistance from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch are both still considering runs at the seat. On the Republican side, former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown has hinted that he too would be in the running.

But don't expect Downing to stay in his current position forever. Downing has previously considered running for the U.S. House of Representatives and doesn't hide his desire to move up the ranks. Downing is in his fourth term in the state Senate.

     

Senator Downing Weighing U.S. Senate Run

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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State Sen.
Benjamin Downing

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Sen. Benjamin Downing could soon have an opportunity to join the "center of the debate" by bringing a fresh face and energy to U.S. Senate.

The senator, who was just elected to his fourth term, hasn't hidden that he wants to move up the in the political ranks. Last year, he weighed the possibility of running for the U.S. House. Now with what many are considering the imminent appointment of U.S. Sen. John Kerry as secretary of the state, Downing is prepared to mount a campaign in a special election for that seat.

If he decides to run.

"Why I am considering it is why I got into politics in the first place," the Pittsfield Democrat said on Thursday. "If you care about economic development, the center of the debate is in the U.S. Senate."

Downing is one of several Democrats reportedly exploring the possibility of running. U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Michael E. Capuano, and Edward J. Markey have all hinted at running for the nomination; Attorney General Martha Coakley has not ruled out a second try for the Senate.

There also has been fringe talk of two well-known names entering the race — Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy Jr. (who lives in Connecticut but owns a home at the Kennedy compound on the Cape) and actor and Oscar winner Ben Affleck, who's been involved with Democratic campaigns, including Elizabeth Warren's unseating of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.

Who actually enters the race is on all of their minds. Downing is waiting to see who is planning to run and then developing and examining his campaign strategy to see if he has a "legitimate" shot at winning.

"Successful statewide races are not handed to people who are the next in line," Downing said, believing he can energize both the Democratic base and unenrolled voters.

Brown himself has signaled that he may resurface as the Republican candidate, noting in his farewell speech on the Senate floor that "victory and defeat is temporary." The special election — and the timing — would be similar oddly enough to the circumstances that propelled the still popular Brown into the Senate the last time around.

Downing and Brown served together in the state Senate, although Brown also served three terms in the House before moving up to the Senate two years before Downing. Downing, of Pittsfield, easily won his first election and has run unopposed his last three terms for the Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin district, the largest district geographically.

The move would be a large jump for the 31-year-old but not one that hasn't been done before.

"While it is a significant step, it is one Scott Brown and Barack Obama took," Downing said. "I believe I can stand toe to toe with Scott Brown."

Downing knows how brutal campaigns for a national seat can be — he was recently part of the Warren campaign that defeated Brown — and he says he is ready for it.

"When it comes, I will be ready to take the step," Downing said, adding that he is ready to hit the ground running if he decides to make the "hard decision" of entering the race.

     

Nuciforo Proposes Federal Foreclosure Remedies

Nuciforo Campaign
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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Attorney general candidate Maura Healey addresses local supporters and hospital advocates on Saturday.
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Congressional candidate Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., a former state senator, on Sunday proposed that Congress adopt a new federal law to protect homeowners from unfair foreclosure practices.

"The cities of Springfield and Holyoke have been hit hard by the worst flood of foreclosures in decades," said Nuciforo, who is currently Middle Berkshire register of deeds. "These communities need leadership in Washington to prevent any further damage to homeownership, home equity, or community stability. Any homeowner who receives a foreclosure notice should be eligible for a mediation process, with mandatory participation from the lender. I propose that Congress adopt a measure to bring the homeowner and the lender together to resolve foreclosures and protect homeowners."

Nuciforo's proposal would permit the modification of interest rates and payment schedules, allow for principal reduction, and ban foreclosures without proper documentation.

Nuciforo noted that his proposal is based on legislation recently passed in Massachusetts. It requires lenders to determine if the net value of modifying an existing mortgage is greater than the anticipated recovery from foreclosure. If so, the lender is required to offer loan modification to the borrower.

According to the Hampden County Registry of Deeds, 1,937 foreclosure deeds went on record from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2011.

"When it comes to protecting homeowners, Congressman Richard Neal has been largely absent," Nuciforo said. "In the years leading to the 2008 financial crisis, Congressman Neal consistently supported the deregulation of major mortgage lenders and other banks. Congressional support for deregulating lenders contributed substantially to the collapse of the housing market."

The congressional record reflects that from 1994 through 2000, Congressman Richard Neal of the 2nd Massachusetts supported five measures, including the repeal of Glass-Steagal in 1999, that deregulated the mortgage and banking sectors in the United States.

"While Congressman Neal worked to deregulate lenders and strip legal protections from consumers, I authored a successful measure in the Massachusetts Senate which enacted one of the toughest pro-consumer mortgage protection bills in the nation."

Nuciforo said that if Congress fails to act to protect homeowners this year he would submit legislation to do so within his first 90 days of taking office.
     
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Where to vote in Berkshire County

State Election
Tuesday, Nov. 4

Voting is from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Deadline to register or change party affiliation was Oct.15.


Candidates on the ballot in races for state office; all others on the ballot are unopposed. Links will take you to their campaign websites.

U.S. Senator
Edward J. Markey, Democrat
Brian J. Herr, Republican

Governor/Lieutenant Governor
Charlie Baker & Karyn Polito, Republican
Martha Coakley & Stephen Kerrigan, Democrat
Evan Falchuk & Angus Jennings, United Independent Party
Scott Lively & Shelly Saunders, Independent
Jeff McCormick & Tracy Post, Independent 

Attorney General
Maura Healey, Democratic
John B. Miller, Republican

Secretary of State
William Francis Galvin, Democratic
David D'Arcangelo, Republican
Daniel L. Factor, Green-Rainbow

Treasurer
Deborah B. Goldberg, Democratic
Michael James Heffernan, Republican
Ian T. Jackson, Green-Rainbow

Auditor
Suzanne M. Bump, Democratic
Patricia S. Saint Aubin, Republican
MK Merelice, Green-Rainbow

Municipal Elections

The cities of Pittsfield and North Adams will hold municipal elections for mayor, city council and school committee in 2015

You may vote absentee: if you will be absent from your town or city on election day, have a physical disability that prevents you from voting at the polls or cannot vote at the polls because to religious beliefs.

2010 Special Senate Election Results

Election 2009 Stories

Election Day 2008

 

 

 



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