Suzanne Bump Seeking Re-election as Auditor
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.
U.S. Senate Candidate Brian Herr Fighting for Name Recognition
Brian Herr, on the left, met with Republicans at Pittsfield campaign headquarters Thursday morning.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Brian Herr says U.S. Senator Edward Markey is disrespecting voters by dodging the campaign.
The Republican Herr is challenging Markey for the seat but the incumbent has done little to no campaigning. Only one debate between the two candidates has been held and the race has seen little interest across the state.
Herr says Markey's lack of a campaign is disrespectful because it doesn't give Massachusetts voters an opportunity to make up their minds. Markey's avoidance has also made it tougher for Herr to gain name recognition because of the overall lack of interest in the Senate campaign.
"Sen. Markey's strategy is to not campaign. Sen. Markey refused to debate us again. He refuses to come and do things like this. He hasn't traveled across the state extensively and meeting voters one on one. The strategy is to keep this race as low profile as possible," Herr said on Thursday during a campaign stop to Pittsfield.
"If he doesn't campaign a lot of people in the media — in Boston in particular — don't cover the campaign. If they don't cover him, they don't cover the campaign, they don't cover us."
He said the lack of energy Markey is putting into the campaign is "undemocratic." Meanwhile, the race for governor has been stealing the spotlight across the state.
"If Sen. Markey really wanted to talk to the voters of Massachusetts, he would have done so. His decision not to do that is a disservice to the people," Herr said.
The Malden Democrat and former U.S. representative won the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013; this is his first run for a full term. Markey has not campaigned in the Berkshires this election but Thursday was Herr's second visit.
With less than two weeks remaining, the Hopkinton Republican is ramping up efforts to be heard. He'll be launching a series of advertisements to show the contrast between him and Markey.
"We also knew it would be a two-week race and we are in the middle of that two-week furor," Herr said.
He'll need a strong effort as most of the polls show Markey winning the election easily. And he is still challenging Markey for more debates after being rebuffed in his request for them to meet in debates across the state.
"We'd do whatever it takes to go in front of the voters and compare and contrast the two candidates," Herr said.
Despite trailing, Herr said he believes he can win the election. He says there is a huge group of undecided voters that he hopes to get on his side at the Nov. 4 election.
"We are stuck politically and as a result our economy continues to sputter. People in Massachusetts want new ideas. They want new blood. They want new energy," Herr said.
He says his 30 years in the private sector mixed with years of being active in politics creates a "good mix" for the seat. He previously ran for U.S. Senate in 2010. For more information on Herr, click here.
"We can definitely get this done even though it is a quiet race. I don't care if I am the least known Senator in American history. It doesn't matter to me. It is about Massachusetts," Herr said.
He added that in the last few weeks fund raising has ramped up after a "difficult" start to the campaign.
Area Democrats Making Final Push For November Election
Maura Healey is running for attorney general but she isn't just focused on her own campaign.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — As Maura Healey's campaign for Attorney General enters the final weeks leading up to the November general election, the candidate is rallying the vote.
But not for herself.
On Saturday, Healey rallied area Democrats and volunteers for Martha Coakley's campaign for governor.
"Seven years ago Martha Coakley gave me he opportunity of a lifetime. She scooped me out of private practice and made me head of her civil right's division. She empowered me and she empowered others in that office to go out every day and fight for people in this state," Healey said.
In the Democrats' South Street office she told supporters that Coakley has led the fight for economic and social justice in the attorney general's office.
"She knows as governor she will have an even greater platform to expand equality, to expand fairness," Healey said.
Recapping Coakley's work on such topics as the Defense of Marriage Act, foreclosures, and women's reproductive rights, Healey said Coakley has the values to move the state forward.
While Healey may have been focused on Coakley during Saturday's event, the Democrats are united in pushing for the entire ticket, which includes Healey for attorney general.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing has headed the Democrats' statewide "coordinated campaign," which aims to united the party after the primary into one effort in the general election.
"They've (Republicans and Independents) been able to focus on Nov. 4 since all the way back then. Our candidates were laser-like focus on Sept. 9. Our job at the coordinated campaign is making sure that our greatest strength, our talented pool of candidates, isn't used against us," Downing said.
With just 17 days left, the campaign is switching from an effort to convince independents to vote for the Democratic ticket to an effort to get their supporters to the polls.
"We're switching from a persuasion universe. We're building off of what we've been doing for the past several months for Maura Healey, for Deborah Goldberg, for all of these folks, talking to friends, neighbors, folks who may be undecided. We're switching from that to a turnout universe," said Jerry Thompson, who is heading the regional "get out the vote campaign."
"We're focusing on really pulling out our voters."
Jerry Thornton said a good ground game could be the difference of 5 percent.
Thompson said a strong "ground game" of volunteers reminding voters who support Democratic candidates or are likely to support Democratic candidates can sway the election by as much as 5 percent.
"This field program can really make or break everything," he said.
That five percent could prove to be very big in this gubernatorial election because Republican Charlie Baker and Coakley are polling dead even. State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier says Baker's campaign as a lot more money to finish the final two weeks with an array of advertisements.
"All the money in the world isn't going to win an election if you don't have a ground game," she said.
Locally, Donna Todd Rivers has taken on coordinating volunteers for the final push. Across the walls of the campaign headquarters are large notepads asking for volunteers to fill hours in the final days.
The Democrats say they want to reach thousands of voters multiple times, so a lot of volunteer hours are needed.
But, they say that is what need to happen to continue what Gov. Deval Patrick has started over the last eight years.
"We have had a tremendous governor for the last eight years and I miss him already. But we have to look to the future. We have a slate of candidates who will continue that good work," said Mayor Daniel Bianchi.
Other elected officials at Saturday's rally were state Rep. Paul Mark, District Attorney David Capeless and City Councilors Nicholas Caccamo and Kathleen Amuso. Dan Johnson was in on hand representing U.S. Rep. Richard Neal.
Coakley Stresses Commitment to Berkshires
Gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley greets supporters at the Freight Yard Pub after a day of campaign stops that started in Dorchester. She also met with voters in Great Barrington and Pittsfield.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Martha Coakley ended a swing through the state on Saturday by toasting a title she hopes to claim on Nov. 4: Governor Coakley.
The Drury High School graduate vowed she hasn't — and wouldn't — forget her home county to the small group gathered in the courtyard of the Freight Yard Pub.
"I promise you, as your governor, if you help me get elected, and I know we can do this, I will have your back," the Democratic candidate said.
Part of that will be ensuring health care access, Coakley said, including mental and behavioral care.
"Let's make sure that every part of the state, including North Adams, has the primary care and health care you need and deserve."
In North County, most residents believe that means ensuring the former North Adams Regional Hospital reopens in some form.
Coakley noted her office is still investigating the actions of the former health-care system's board of trustees in its closure and the efforts by her office and local and state officials in restoring emergency services.
"It needs to be a full, concentrated effort still to see what else do we need and how do we that," she said. "I will be committed to doing that as governor, as well as working with the your new attorney general, and I believe it will be [Democrat] Maura Healey, who oversees not-for-profits, to make sure we get real access for people out here in the Berkshires."
The Democratic candidate hammered on her campaign platform of educational investment and workforce training, health care access, broadband access, transportation infrastructure, clean energy and development of precision technology to continue to rejuvenate the economy in a sustainable manner, and build on previous efforts by current Gov. Deval Patrick.
"Not just bring in a big-box store and bringing in businesses that take up roots when the economy changes," she said. "Let's build a sustainable economy."
Coakley said she also will continue efforts in sustainable and alternative energy developed by the Patrick administration.
"I've been impressed with what Governor Patrick has done," she said. "Of course, Sen. Benjamin Downing has been a leading voice in moving Massachusetts ahead."
She later added, "We want kind of sustainable, regional economic plan for North Adams, the county, it has to include a clean-energy feature."
What she doesn't support is the current proposal to run a natural gas transmission line through parts of the Berkshires and across the state. The Kinder Morgan Energy project has been heavily opposed by small towns along the route.
"That proposal by Kinder Morgan is not the right proposal for the neighborhoods that they plan to go through," said Coakley.
With less than five weeks to the election, Coakley, the current attorney general, is trying to get some daylight between herself and Republican candidate Charlie Baker. The most recent polls show the two in a dead heat, with Coakley marginally ahead.
Not surprisingly, she has stressed her local connections in a region that's long felt ignored by the heavily populated east end of the state. Born in Lee and raised in North Adams, she also was in the first Williams College class to graduate women who had attended all four years.
Accompanied by her husband, Thomas F. O'Connor Jr., and her two sisters, Anne Gentile and Mary Coakley-Welch (whose husbands also hail from North Adams), Coakley was welcomed by supporters and patrons of the pub, stopping to pose for photographs, talk policy or just greet old friends.
She will also march in the annual Fall Foliage Parade on Sunday afternoon.
"It's heartwarming for me to come home," she said. "I started out my campaign here, we kicked this off here a year ago.
"I said we're not going to get in this race unless we pour our heart and soul into it and we put together a team to help us."
Baker, she said, doesn't have the same level of committment to protecting children from abuse, to keep people from losing their homes or investing in mental and behavioral health care.
"My Republican opponent, if he knows how to get to North Adams, isn't going to come here very often."
Coakley said she won't forget her city or the Berkshires.
"I will make sure that we in Massachusetts, in every corner, from Merrimack Valley to the South Coast to North Adams, we will be prosperous and fair."