Smitty Pignatelli Launches Campaign For 7th House Term
State Reps. Gailanne Cariddi, Stephen DiNatale and William "Smitty" Pignatelli.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Nearly 300 people filled the Pittsfield County Club on Thursday night to support William "Smitty" Pignatelli's election campaign.
The 4th Berkshire District representative is running unopposed for what will be his 7th term.
"I never dreamed of being here for 12 years and going again," Pignatelli said, overlooking the large crowd to kick off his re-election campaign.
"We've done a lot of great things" in the House, he said, but he believes there is more to do. He cited the state's work on requiring all citizens to have health care but said "we have more to do to maintain affordability, to maintain access for individuals and businesses."
He said the state needs to do more for job creation — particularly with modern manufacturing companies to reverse the declining population — and that while the state has invested a lot in higher education, students are still taking on too much debt.
Meanwhile, Pignatelli said the state is "well positioned" financially for the future.
"We are well positioned to take off when the economy really gets rolling," Pignatelli said. "I think the Berkshires is going to be first out of the gates when things get rolling."
The state has more than $1 billion set aside in the so-called "rainy day fund" and the recession has been "rainy," he said. But he believes the economy is turning around.
One of the Berkshire's top economies is tourism and leaders of the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Berkshire Visitor's Bureau teamed up to present a gift of thanks for the effort he's put toward the cultural economy.
"We're so grateful of how you support to cultural community and all that you do for us," said Norman Rockwell Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt.
Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman was one of many elected officials on hand for the event.
Pignatelli was a model for Rockwell when he was a boy and Moffatt and Berkshire Visitors Bureau President Laurie Klefos successfully pitched that story to a national magazine on legislators. They presented Pignatelli with a framed copy of the article.
Outgoing Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary Grant told of Pignatelli's work on forming the Berkshire Compact in which he kept the focus on the students.
"When we need to make a case for increased funding for public higher education, Smitty got himself on the committee on higher education so that he could be a voice not just for MCLA or BCC but for the students all across the commonwealth. He did that with great distinction and passion," Grant said.
Grant called Pignatelli more than "an incredible legislator" but also a friend. Another friend of Pignatelli's, state Rep. Stephen DiNatale, drove from Fitchburg for the event. DiNatale said they have become great friends through their work at the State House.
"You can see how much respect and love you have for Smitty Pignatelli. You have to return him to the State House for as long as he wants to return because he is the integrity in the State House. People talk about politicians, integrity and honesty, he is all of those things," DiNatale said. "That is a genuine compliment. This is a great indication of how you feel about Smitty and you are all very, very right."
Thankful for the remarks, Pignatelli then dedicated the campaign to his parents who he says instilled the tradition of "giving back."
Attorney General Candidate Tolman Talks Drugs, Guns in Election Bid
Warren Tolman spoke to area Democrats on Sunday at Camp Russell.
RICHMOND, Mass. — Warren Tolman remembers one particular night he took his son trick-or-treating.
"Two weeks after my dad died — he was the third of three to die — we were going out trick-or-treating, my son and I. He was dressed as a cowboy with the chaps and all of the stuff cowboys wear. As we're walking out the door, he looks up to me and says 'dad, all cowboys smoke,'" Tolman told iBerkshires on Sunday in an interview at Camp Russell.
That was more than 20 years ago when he was in the state Legislature and it would trigger his all-out offensive against tobacco companies.
"They got my father. They got my mother. They got my aunt. They will not get my son. I just went after them with all the vigor and energy I could."
As both a state representative and state senator, Tolman headed a movement against tobacco companies from Beacon Hill. He pushed for the ban on smoking in restaurants and sales of individual cigarettes. He forced the companies to disclose their additives and ingredients, among the array of laws passed in the 1990s.
"I was attacked by Rush Limbaugh and called an 'anti-smoking nazi' — that's how I knew I was doing something right," Tolman said.
The Democrat also worked on campaign finance reform and crafted laws to protect victims of domestic abuse during his time in the Legislature. And he was happy with his work over an eight-year period.
Tolman then ran for lieutenant governor in 1998 but lost in the general election. Four years later, he lost a bid for governor.
At that point, he dropped out of the public eye and went back to being an attorney, with international law firm Holland & Knight, while teaching at Boston College on the side. He raised three children.
Then the Boston Marathon bombing happened and one of the alleged bombers was tracked to Tolman's hometown as the city was shut down.
"I had the SWAT team come through my house. We could talk for two hours on just that day. But, when you are standing at the top of your basement stairs with your 15-year-old daughter beside you and these guys are in your basement at the foot of your stairs, you hear one of them yell 'door open right,' you see the guns turn to the right and for a second you think 'my goodness, is this going to go down in my basement?'" Tolman said.
"I think about what those guys are trying to do to make a difference. They put their lives on the line for me and my family. I harkened back to my tenure in the Legislature and I like the feeling that I made a difference."
Tolman started to think about going back to politics. When Attorney General Martha Coakley announced her candidacy for governor, two former attorney generals, knowing Tolman's thoughts of possibly re-entering the public sphere, urged him to run for it.
"I was proud of those initiatives and I know I've saved some lives. I know kids aren't smoking today because of my efforts and I'm really proud of that," Tolman said. "I look at the AG's office today as one that can have a tremendous impact on new issues."
Those new issues include bring "smart gun" technology into the state. Tolman refers to the technology as "seat belts for guns" in which the handles of guns are equipped with palm-print sensors that will only allow certain people to fire. Tolman says the National Riffle Association has essentially forced Smith & Wesson, which developed the product, to shelve the technology. Tolman wants to make it mandatory.
Tolman says he wants to go after the "drug scourge" that is plaguing the commonwealth. He says he wants to force pill producers to make tamper-resistant medicine, sue the pharmaceutical companies for any unfair and deceptive behavior and bring up charges on doctors who are overprescribing. Meanwhile, with laws now forcing insurance companies to pay longer stays for substance abuse recovery, Tolman says he is ready to ensure that actually happens.
"Mine is a broad vision. It is a vision in which one can utilize the attorney general's office to make a dramatic impact on a wide range of issues," he said.
But the job isn't just about prosecuting and investigating, Tolman said, but also advocating for laws in the Legislature and bringing various parties together.
For example, Tolman is calling for a summit to bring the state's colleges and university together to develop and implement best practices to combat sexual assault on campus. He also says he wants to make the process for residents to file consumer complaints easier.
"I know that when we make college campuses safer, other states will do so after. I know that if address the opioid scourge, it will be a nationally prescient thing. I know that when we make smart-gun technology finally available in Massachusetts, other states will follow," Tolman said. "It's about being a leader."
Tolman says not only is he the best candidate for the attorney general position but that he can help the entire Democratic party's ticket.
"I think I add a lot to the Democratic party in terms of the electability of the entire Democratic ticket. I appeal to a progressive Democrat as well as appeal to the working-class, blue-collar folks," Tolman said. "It is about appealing across the board."
Berkshire Elected Officials Support Grossman Campaign
Sheriff Thomas Bowler, state Rep. William 'Smitty' Pignatelli and Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman toured Apex Resource Technologies on Thursday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Just slightly more than a week before the primary, Steven Grossman was in town to announce the endorsements of Sheriff Thomas Bowler, City Council President Melissa Mazzeo and Mayor Daniel Bianchi in his bid for governor.
The three local endorsements build on strong support across the county from elected officials. Grossman announced the additional endorsements but also, as has been part of his campaign for more than a year, toured one of the city's businesses.
All of the county's House delegates have thrown their support behind the candidate — including Gailanne Cariddi, a high school classmate of front-runner and Berkshire native Martha Coakley.
Coakley, Grossman and Donald Berwick are vying for the Democratic nomination to be the party's candidate in the general election against presumed Republican candidate Charlie Baker, who is facing off in the primary against Mark Fisher.
"Every one of the elected officials who have chosen to support me, whether it is Gailanne or Paul Mark or Smitty or the mayor, the sheriff, the council president, they all have people who respect them. They are credible people," Grossman said after touring Apex Resource Technologies.
"To have support from Martha's hometown says 'there is a guy on the ballot, another person, who can get the job done for North Adams.' "
Cariddi said North Adams can't lose if it comes down to Grossman or Coakley. But, her first choice is Grossman because of his background in business and his work as chairman of the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
"I have great respect for him as an individual. He comes from almost the same background that I do in that he grew up in a family business. He grew up into position of leadership. His family business was a lot bigger than Cariddi Sales and was better for their family," Cariddi said. "They were a really good employer, a progressive employer."
Cariddi says education is a key priority and her district has been the most active in the county when it comes to building or renovating schools. Cariddi has worked with Grossman on three local projects.
"I have seen him in action in those meetings. We've had several school issues in this district. We finished up the Adams-Cheshire school under his leadership. We are in the middle of Colegrove [Park] School under his leadership. And we are just beginning discussions with the School Building Authority with the Mount Greylock Regional High School," Cariddi said.
His chairmanship on the MSBA has also won over the vote of state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier. She credits Grossman with "keeping his word" and moving the Taconic High School project along in the process.
"He has kept his word and more than one time he has had to intervene and say 'we told Pittsfield they would get their school and we're not going to let this get stuck anymore.' I have a great appreciation for that," Farley-Bouvier said in a recent interview.
On Thursday, Grossman reiterated his support for Taconic High School. He remembers the debate over how many schools the city needs. He says he sees importance in the school because it could be a "gamechanger" for the region.
"One of the things that will characterize Berkshire County over the next one, three, five, 10 years is a potential explosion of advanced and precision manufacturing," Grossman said.
He later added, "one of the problems the Berkshires has is that there are more jobs available than there are people to fill the jobs. If that's the case, let's do everything we can to recruit, train and retain the next generation of tool makers and advanced manufacturers."
Having a focus in manufacturing is what brought him to Apex. Grossman says he wanted to see Apex because it is a model of the advanced manufacturing he hopes will define the area.
And that starts with a renovated high school. Grossman says every day a new high school isn't built, the more young people the area loses to the eastern part of the state. That's the value he saw as chairman and he says he helped keep the focus on it.
General Manager Tony Liporace showed Grossman around the Downing Industrial Park business.
"It was obvious to everybody that Taconic needed to be rebuilt or renovated. It was obvious that if we could do it more quickly, consistent with the local community and with the validation of the curriculum, this was good for the community. Every day that we don't have a new school is a day we lose somebody," Grossman said.
For Mark, Grossman stood out because of the educational focus — particularly a plan to freeze college tuition. Mark is part of the house's higher education committee and recently headed a subcommittee looking to curb student debt — identifying rising tuition and fees as a cause.
"Treasurer Grossman's proposal to freeze fees and tuition at our public colleges and universities for the next four years is an initiative I support wholeheartedly," said Mark in a statement released by the Grossman campaign. "Access to a college education is essential to leveling the playing field for young people across Massachusetts."
Bowler cited the candidate's focus on substance abuse and mental health as lead issues as why he support Grossman.
Both Mazzeo and Bianchi released statements backing Grossman, saying they feel he is the candidate that would work the best with them. Bianchi cited his "commitment" as treasurer to the county.
The representatives said they, too, feel like Grossman work best with the Legislature. For Grossman, that support is what is giving him confidence as the polls show the race tightening.
"If the mayor of Pittsfield says Steve Grossman is somebody who believes deeply in Pittsfield and is going to invest and be my partner. And the president of the City Council says she is going to be our partner. And the sheriff says he is working with me on the opioid crisis that we've got and I've got some idea for that. If your top leaders are all saying this is somebody who gets the Berkshires, who understands it, who spends an enormous amount of time here, he's spent all his life out here working with his dad. That's the kind of thing that sends the message to people who say, I'm going to give Steve Grossman a vote because he is a proven jobs creator," Grossman said.
While he may have won the most votes at the Democratic State Convention in June, he has been trailing Coakley since. But, he says it isn't until the final two weeks before the race that people make up their minds so he is confident he'll be the party's candidate.
"I think this is going to come down to the wire," Grossman said.
Grossman Talks Manufacturing, Minimum Wage
10-09-2013 - Grossman spoke at the Berkshire Brigades office on Wednesday after filming a television show with the Democratic group. PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Manufacturing is in the state's DNA so...
Lt. Gov. Candidate Cheung Focused On Technology Biz Sector
Leland Cheung visited Camp Russell this past weekend.
RICHMOND, Mass. — Leland Cheung speaks the same language of those in the technology business sector.
Cheung is running for lieutenant governor to help advance those industries in the state. Cheung has spent his last five years as a city councilor in Cambridge, during which he took on statewide roles with the Massachusetts Technology Collaboration and the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
"I'm able to walk into office in Cambridge of Google and talk about the nuts and bolts. I am probably the only person running for any office that can actually code," the Democrat said on Sunday. "It just gives me an added level of credibility with them that other electives don't always enjoy."
He was serving as a councilor when Google opened its office. But he noticed that while residents and city officials were raving about how it would help the tax roles, they were missing a key element in growing that sector missing.
"The issue was that everybody was talking about the innovation economy and how great it was to have Google and Microsoft in the city for the tax base. But nobody was talking about the kids growing up in public housing, literally two blocks away, that weren't getting education or mentorship and support they needed to work there," he said.
These companies need an educated work force, he said, so the city reached a deal with the housing authority in that every time repairs are made to a building, the city's fiber network is installed in the apartments.
While that helped Cambridge, his work through the Mass Technology Collaborative and Mass Broadband to run a fiber network across the entire state showed him that every community is facing a similar issue.
"We were at a school in Otis where we lit up the network for Mass Broadband. It was amazing. The school that previously had DSL now had a fiber network and kids were video conferencing with kids in South America and researchers at NASA," Cheung said. "The reality is that if you are a kid in public school in Otis or a kid in public housing in Cambridge, if you can't go home and access a computer to do your homework, you can't compete with your classmates let alone with kids around the world."
And competing on a global scale is what Massachusetts has to do, he said. He points to Silicon Valley as a region or Singapore as a country being in similar scale in area to Massachusetts. Cheung says the state needs to get the technology sectors — which includes green tech or biological — on the same page.
"The same issues I've been talking about in Cambridge are the same issues we have across the commonwealth today. It can't just be about Boston, Cambridge and that area, but everywhere else," Cheung said.
Education and infrastructure will be the key to Massachusetts' economic focus, Cheung said, by giving companies what they need to relocate or grow here.
"That's what attracts companies that create careers. Companies relocate for three years, where the CEO wants to live, where they can get the lowest taxes and where they have the best workforce and infrastructure to grow," Cheung said. "By focusing on education and infrastructure, you create pathways to careers."
If that sounds similar to current Gov. Deval Patrick's plan, that's because Cheung helped write the platform.
"I was part of the platform drafting committee appointed by [Democratic Party ] Chairman [John] Walsh. My name is next to more sections that anybody else's, except the chairman of the committee. I helped write the Democratic platform and I think my experience has given me the ability to articulate that," he said.
For education, he is calling for a stronger focus on preschools, community colleges and youth center, as he says he has done in Cambridge.
Also in Cambridge, Cheung touts moving municipal money from the "entire tax base" out of an overseas bank account and into a community bank that had proven reinvestment in the community. He also increased procurement of supplies from local sources and supported building a net-zero school.
"I am the only candidate in office. I don't just have talking points; I have a track record," he said.
Prior to his election to the City Council, Cheung worked as a venture capitalist. He has degrees from Stanford in physics, economics and aerospace engineering. He also a master of business administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a policy degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
With a seat open for lieutenant governor open, Cheung jumped into the race in February.
"I think the lieutenant governor is one of the most underrated positions and probably one of the best positions there is the constitutional government. The governor has to worry about a million things, from fixing potholes on the turnpike to increasing efficiencies in agencies," Cheung said. "I've been an entrepreneur my entire career so the idea of having a budget, a platform and a staff while being limited by only my own creativity and willingness to work hard, frankly I find is really exciting."
Later adding, "The lieutenant governor really has the ability to focus on long-term issues in a way that no one else does."
Cheung says if elected, his first task would be to open regional offices across the state to bring the "executive" branch to the cities and towns. He said he will personally staff the branches from his budget.
Cheung is seeking the Democratic nomination on Sept. 9. Also running for that nomination is Mike Lake
and Steve Kerrigan.
The winner of that election will be partnered with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee for the Nov. 4, general election.
Area Democrats Ramping Up For November Statewide Election
State Sen. Benjamin Downing is the chairman of the party's coordinated campaign aimed to rally voters to the polls in November.
RICHMOND, Mass. — County Democrats haven't forgotten the night Republican Scott Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate.
And they don't want anything similar to happen again.
"Scott Brown did nothing fancy in that campaign. He got 100 percent of the people who voted for John McCain and Sarah Palin to come out. One hundred percent of their vote showed up. Sixty percent of our vote came out and we lost," state Sen. Benjamin Downing told area Democrats on Sunday afternoon.
"We know that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach where we lost an election and we know we could have done better."
It's a point Downing's been making as he traverses the state as chairman of the party's "coordinated campaign."
Downing says his role is twofold: communication and organization. The state Democratic Party learned its lesson from the Brown election and is starting early to rally Democratic voters to support whoever comes out of Sept. 9th's primary, he said. While the Democratic candidates are concentrating on primary turnout, the coordinated campaign is working on the next cycle.
"When we get our vote out here in Massachusetts, Democrats win. We've been able to get to 30,000 of those drop-off Democratic voters that generally only come out for a presidential election," Downing said.
On Sunday, Downing was at another Democratic rally, this one closer to home. The barbecue at Camp Russell was organized by the Berkshire state delegation, Register of Deeds Patsy Harris and the Pittsfield Democratic City Committee.
"The goal is to bring energy and awareness to the Democratic party. It is what the coordinated campaign has been doing all summer, Senator Downing has been the chair of that. It is part of the state party's effort to ensure that the grassroots and the Democratic ideals are energized in this big election coming up," said Pittsfield Democratic City Committee Chairman Kevin Sherman.
The gathering drew some 50 or so people for food and drinks, including the elected officials Downing, state Rep. Paul Mark, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and Sheriff Thomas Bowler. Representatives from Congressman Richard Neal's office were also in attendance.
Lieutenant governor candidates Leland Cheung and Steve Kerrigan and attorney general candidate Warren Tolman spoke to party members as they enter the final stretch before the primary.
"To me, the goal is to ensure Massachusetts Democrats don't take for granted what we have. We understand what we want. We understand our ideals. We understand what leaders we want in office. If we want that to continue, we can't take it for granted," Sherman said, calling the Brown election an "eye opener."
"If we don't organize. It we don't stay true to our virtues. If we don't campaign. If we don't work together, we lose the type of leaders we want or get leaders we don't want," Sherman said.
Some of the party's active volunteers, including Sheila Murray of the Berkshire Brigades at left, attended Sunday's event that was both a fundraiser for the party but also a rally for organizers to get out the vote.
Mitt Romney was a governor the party didn't want and Downing says if another Republican is elected to the office, the Democrats will be playing "defense" on every issue.
"We're going to make sure that voters across the commonwealth remember that we've had Republican governors before. We had them for 16 years and we know the result of having Republican governors.
"It leaves us 47th in the nation in job creation. We end up with a Big Dig financing scheme that gives us a billion deficit very single year in transportation investments.
"Beyond that deficit — because it would be one thing if we spent that money wisely but it ties it up in the Big Dig financing scheme that doesn't even help Boston out as much as it should. It certainly doesn't help outlying areas like this or the Cape that needs those investments to grow our economy," Downing said.
In Downing's role as chairman of the coordinated campaign, he says he is "reminding" voters about Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker's party affiliation and his previous stances on issues.
"He's running away from it. He's trying to hide from it. He doesn't want everything that comes with that label. He could run as an independent, nothing is stopping him. He's running as a Republican and he is going own that, every last bit of it," Downing said.
Meanwhile, Downing is organizing canvasses to reach out the voters and emphasizing the state's progress under Gov. Deval Patrick.
"Massachusetts is back in the leadership business again. We're first in the nation in energy efficiency. We're first in the nation in student achievement," Downing said. "We're first in the nation in health care coverage. We are first in the nation in veteran services at a time when we know our federal delegation — Congressman Neal and others — are trying to make sure the [Veterans Affairs] lives up to its promise. We are showing the way."
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