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."
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."
Maura Healey spent Friday meeting voters in Pittsfield.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Maura Healey has always been the underdog.
She was the underdog as "5-foot-4 scrappy point guard" in her former professional basketball career and she was the underdog when she sued, and won, the federal government.
"I was the one crazy enough to propose that we sue the federal government many years ago over DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act]. At the time, people told me 'don't do it. It is too much and you are going to lose.' But we did it," Healey said on Friday during a meet and greet at Mad Jack's Barbecue.
"We did it for 20,000 married couples in this state who are gay and were told by the federal government that your not really married."
Now she is the underdog in a race for the democratic nomination for attorney general against a well-known former lawmaker, political pundit and former gubernatorial candidate, Warren Tolman.
Healey is boasting of her experience not only as being the underdog but being in the attorney general's office. After being a prosecutor in a Boston-based law firm, Healey joined the attorney general's office in 2007 and most recently oversaw about half of the office before running for office.
There, she brought the nation's first civil rights lawsuit against a predatory lender and helped write the buffer zone law for women to access abortion clinics, as well her work on the DOMA lawsuit. Now, with Attorney General Martha Coakley running for the governor's office, Healey wants to run the entire attorney general's office.
"Nine months ago, I've never run for office. I never asked for a vote. I never raised a dime. I had no idea what a campaign actually entails. But, here we are," Healey said of the campaign.
She first needs to win the Democratic nomination against Warren Tolman, who boasts a long career in the public eye as a former Legislator. After months of getting her name and story to the Democratic delegates, Healey came "within a hair of winning" the convention.
"We managed to come within a hair of winning that convention. That is really remarkable. We've also been up in all of the polling, internal, external and elsewhere, which is amazing when you think about us as an unknown nine months ago," she said.
"I feel terrific about where we are at and where we've come from. We are where we are because this is a grassroots campaign. This has been able being out and having a chance to connect with people at places like this or in people's living room."
One of the people who hadn't known Healey prior to the campaign was state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who organized the meeting and greet.
"She impressed me so much. And one of the things that made a big impression on me, and I'm sure you all understand why this will resonate with me, is that she is not afraid to take on the establishment," Farley-Bouvier said.
"Clearly, nine months ago the establishment didn't look twice at her. Then they started to get to know her more and as more people started to learn her story and heard from her herself, and how she is able to learn issues quickly, to respond with grace and intelligence and with solutions to problems, she's shaking the ground a little bit. People are getting a little bit nervous."
Now, Farley-Bouvier is "wholeheartedly" supporting Healey. As attorney general, Healey says she will be focused on consumer protection by going after "new forms" of predatory lending and predatory for-profit schools, increase affordable house, illegal gun and drug trafficking, protecting women's reproductive rights, and "be a leader" in criminal justice reform.
"I want to take on environmental issues. Months ago I started hearing about the pipeline issue. As attorney general, I will be really focused on this. I spoke out about this and I spoke about this for a reason - there has been a lack of transparency and information. It is simply not right to march onto people's property and tell them they are going to survey that land and ultimately take it over for something we know little about," she said.
"We haven't studied the need or what else is available. As attorney general, I want to fight for transparency and accountability in that process. And that may mean taking on the federal government. And I've done that before."
With such a docket of issues she wants the state to tackle from the attorney general's office, she said "you need somebody with experience and you need somebody with energy."
"I have the experience and I'll be ready to go on day 1," Healey said.
AG candidate Maura Healey met with voters on Saturday in Pittsfield.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Maura Healey has already overseen half of the attorney general's office. Now, she wants to take it all over.
With Attorney General Martha Coakley now seeking election as governor, Healey has launched a campaign to replace her.
Currently overseeing the attorney general's public protection and business and labor bureaus, the Democrat says she knows the "power and possibilities" the office has to make positive impacts in people's lives.
"I know how important it is for Massachusetts to have an attorney general's office that is nation leading, that leads the nation in standing up for civil rights and giving a voice to those who are vulnerable," Healey told members of the Berkshire Brigades on Saturday at Dottie's Coffee Lounge.
"And in leading the nation in protecting consumers and leading the nation in thinking about smart approaches to criminal justice reform, public safety and drug addiction."
Healey grew up in Hampton Falls, N.H., and moved to Massachusetts to attend Harvard, where she received her undergraduate degree in government. She is the oldest of five siblings with her mother being a school nurse and father a high school teacher.
After graduating, she went overseas to play professional basketball. She returned to Massachusetts and received her law degree from Northeastern University.
Healey worked for a federal judge overseeing the cleanup of Boston Harbor before becoming a litigator at a private law firm.
"I jumped at the chance seven years ago to take a 70 percent pay cut and join the attorney general's office as chief of the civil rights division. And I saw, over the last several years, that there is no office where you can have a greater impact on people's lives," she said.
One of her largest accomplishments in the office was successfully fighting against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), she said. At the time, the president and U.S. Department of Justice were defending the law.
"To me it was a matter of fairness," she said, adding a story about how a couple wanted to be buried together in a state veterans cemetery but were being blocked by the government.
She also took on predatory lenders, putting together a litigation team to go after banks participating in those practices. Healey was the first in the nation to bring a civil rights case against a lender and she also started the Home Court program, which used settlement funds to help residents modify their mortgages.
One of her first issues she tackled in the attorney's general office was writing the buffer zone law regarding access for women to abortion clinics. That law survived supreme court challenges. She has challenged laws that allow physicians to deny contraceptive care to patients.
And she says there is a lot more she can do if elected. Healey wants to "really tackle" the issue of drug abuse, which has become an epidemic across the state. She says there is a real shortage of beds for mental health and addiction treatment programs.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing was on hand to hear about Healey's campaign.
"Using settlement proceeds from the office — when we sue pharmaceutical companies and others — I want those resources to go to beefing up services for those kind of treatments and care," she said.
From the office, she says she will also "bring people together" to do a better job at prescription drug monitoring.
That stance earned her the endorsements of the mayors of Holyoke and Northampton and Hampshire County Sheriff Robert Garvey on Tuesday.
She also vowed to go after the growing for-profit schools market that "pocket" federal student loans but do not provide an education that gives students the tools for jobs.
"It is predatory and it is wrong," she said.
Healey also wants to advocate for a revamping of the state's criminal justice system. She says the state needs to provide more job training, life skills training and counseling to those in jail so that they don't come back. Meanwhile, on "the front end," there needs to be more options than jail. She wants courts to identify individuals who are in danger of continually going through the court system and provide drug treatment and other programs to stop the slide.
"I think you have a real opportunity to convene and lead that conversation," she said.
Entering the race in October, when she resigned from the attorney general's office, Healey says she wants "to be the people's point guard."
"I've been in that office. I've seen the power and the possibility of that office. In my mind it was a very easy decision because I am so passionate about this and so committed to building on the success of that office," she said, and boasts of being the only candidate who has worked in the office. "I think Massachusetts can lead on all of these issues."
She has gained support from state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.
"When it comes to equal rights, when it comes to consumer protection, when it comes to making sure everybody in the commonwealth is treated fairly, the office of attorney general really leads that fight. So it is important to pay attention to all of the offices that are being fought for this year," Farley-Bouvier said. "I'm supporting Maura because she's done the job. She is a lawyer. She has run about 50 percent of the attorney general's office for about seven years."
Healey is vying for the Democratic nomination with former state Sen. Warren Tolman of Watertown, an attorney and former gubernatorial candidate, and champion of the clean elections law.
John Miller of Winchester, an attorney and expert on construction law and public infrastructure contracting, is the Republican candidate.
BOSTON — Former Suffolk County District Attorney Newman Flanagan and former Worcester County District Attorney John Conte have endorsed Martha Coakely in her re-election campaign for attorney general.
Coakley's opponent, James McKenna, served under both Conte and Flanagan when the two were district attorneys.
“Martha Coakley is the only candidate in this race with the experience to protect our kids, seniors and the most vulnerable,” said Flanagan in a statment released Oct. 20. “Martha has 25 years of experience protecting the citizens of the commonwealth – the victims, the witnesses, everybody that has been preyed upon through crime in Massachusetts.”
“Martha Coakley is clearly the best candidate and I urge the voters of Massachusetts to keep Martha doing the fine job she has for the past four years,” said Conte. “Martha has been an ally and a friend to her fellow prosecutors and partners in law enforcement and I am proud to support her in ensuring justice and safety for the citizens of the commonwealth.”
“I thank District Attorneys Flanagan and Conte for their support,” said Coakley. “This race is about choosing an attorney general who will keep people safe, and who will best stand up for the consumers, taxpayers, and families of Massachusetts in these difficult times and I appreciate that these district attorneys believe that I am the best candidate.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, McKenna served in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office under District Attorney Flanagan and in the Worcester District Attorney’s Office under District Attorney Conte. Since 1998, McKenna has been in private practice as a civil defense lawyer, largely defending insurance companies.
Coakley says she is the only candidate in this race who has prioritized public safety challenges such as cyber crime, senior safety, neighborhood safety, and child protection. She says her opponent has remained virtually silent on these critical issues throughout the past two months.
We show up at hurricanes, budget meetings, high school games, accidents, fires and community events. We show up at celebrations and tragedies and everything in between. We show up so our readers can learn about pivotal events that affect their communities and their lives.
How important is local news to you? You can support independent, unbiased journalism and help iBerkshires grow for as a little as the cost of a cup of coffee a week.
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.