Green-Rainbow Statewide Candidates Launch 'Listening' Tour
|Local Green-Party activist L. Scott Laugenour, center, accompanied candidates Danny Factor, left, and Ian Jackson to submit their nomination sheets at Pittsfield City Hall.|
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A trio of Green-Rainbow Party state candidates toured the Berkshires on Tuesday, meeting with citizens and filing their papers at Pittsfield City Hall.
The group kicked off the day in front of the closed North Adams Regional Hospital to press a focal point of the party's platform: Universal health care.
"Health care is a human right," said Danny Factor of Acton, who is running for secretary of the commonwealth. If the government can bail out a corporation, it can find funds to secure a deal to reopen a critical medical facility, he said.
"There's a lot the government can do in that and it can look into other options, such as taking it by eminent domain."
Auditor candidate M.K. Merelice of Brookline, an "occasional Franklin County resident," said North Berkshire's position was similar to that of the "forgotten county" of Franklin with its pockets of poverty.
"It does seem to me that this has as much to do with classism as anything else," she said. "If this hospital was located in the Southern Berkshires rather than the Northern Berkshires this would not be allowed to happen."
She said if elected, she would determine what type of medical services the community needed.
The candidates, including Ian Jackson, running for treasurer, called for more transparency and information regarding the closure, and a possibly publicly operated system with greater accountability to the people.
"People did pay for medical care, [that money] didn't just evaporate," said Jackson, who called for a different payment structure to make it easier for lawmakers to understand what happened.
After North Adams, the three candidates traveled to Kelly's Package Store in Dalton to discuss the long-pending bottle bill. That bill would expand the 5-cent deposit on soda and beer bottles and cans to other packaging — such as water or sports drinks.
Kelly's Package Store owner John Kelly recently testified in favor of the bill, saying recyclables is becoming a "secondary economy." The store collects and recycles bottles as an additional source of income.
"We felt like the expansion of the bottle bill would raise the recycling rate in the average household from 33 percent to 88 percent," Kelly told the candidates.
He added that those deposits help community groups raising money through bottle drives while there are individuals who collect bottles from the side of the road for extra income.
The candidates say that bill is long overdue.
"Just having a small deposit make sure it is going to the right place instead of going into a landfill," said Jackson.
But, it is more than that too, said Merelice, adding that the bottle bill is just one small step in turning the state's economy into a more environmentally-friendly one.
"It is a tiny step of what a future economy looks like," she said. "This may seem like a little thing, but when you look at the environment as a whole ... ."
Factor said there is a "culture" that needs changing when it comes to being environmentally friendly and encouraging more recyclables through the bill would help make that change. The bill will help push environmental consciousness into people's minds, which can lead to even more environmentally friendly practices.
Merelice added, "part of auditing is recognizing that the commonwealth's resources are no confined to finances. Part of the resources are people and the environment."
Following Kelly's the group went to Berkshire Organics to discuss the labeling of genetically modified organisms. Berkshire Organics focused on organic, high-quality foods, which the Green Rainbow Party supports. The party wants to push the labeling bill and no cracking under the pressure of major corporate suppliers who oppose it.
The three candidates rode the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus from Lenox to Pittsfield's Intermodal Transportation Center, where they heard from BRTA Assistant Administrator Robert Malnati on the region's public transportation.
|The candidates set up outside North Adams Regional Hospital to kick off their tour.|
A strong demand for increased evening and weekday service remain among the ongoing challenges for which the agency has had insufficient funding, Malnati said.
"Sixty-five percent of the population that we serve don't have a vehicle," Malnati told them, saying limitations in transportation availability was an obstacle to an economic development in an area increasingly dominated by jobs in the service industry.
Candidates expressed concerns about regional equality in transportation, as with health-care issues seen in their earlier NARH visit, and stressed that Berkshire residents must remain organized in order to effectively advocate for their needs.
"There's a saying that the quickest way that people give up their power is thinking they don't have any," said Merelice.
Green-Rainbow hopefuls said Berkshire County, which has seen high showings for their party in recent elections, is an important part of the upcoming election.
"We love this area," said Merelice. "It's important to identify your base."
Candidates said while the Green Rainbow party does have an overarching platform of core beliefs, they are touring the commonwealth to hear about each region's specific needs.
"Right now there's no candidate from the Berkshires running in our races, so it's important to come out and see what the Berkshires want and need," said Jackson.
The tour of the Berkshires led them to Pittsfield City Hall, where they submitted their nomination sheets to be on the ballot.
"We're calling this a listening launch," Merelise said of the daylong trip.
iBerkshires writers Tammy Daniels, Andy McKeever and Joe Durwin compiled this report.
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Economic Talk Dominates Williamstown Selectmen's Race
|The four candidates for two seats on the Board of Selectmen focused on jobs at an election forum last week moderated by Anne Skinner.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The men who want a job with the Board of Selectmen think it's the job of that board to help bring jobs to the region.
If that sounds a little repetitive, then so was a candidates forum hosted Wednesday by the Williamstown League of Women Voters.
The four men vying for two open seats on the Board of Selectmen shared a platform built on economic development during air time on the town's community access television station.
The event, which ran for a little more than an hour and was moderated by chapter President Anne Skinner, focused almost entirely on how each of the candidates would help revive the local economy.
Hugh Daley, Gary Fuls, Andrew Hogeland and Jack Nogueira are on the ballot for the May 13 town election. Two of the four will win three-year terms on the five-person board.
Three of the candidates hit on the theme of economic development in their opening statement, and Skinner pressed them for more details about their ideas in that area with her first question of the night.
Hogeland suggested a collaborative approach that brings more voices from the town's business community and takes advantage of the successful strategies being employed in neighboring communities.
"We don't have a game plan for Williamstown at all to survive [population decline]," Hogeland said. "Anything we do has to be coordinated with our neighbors in North Adams and Pittsfield. I think if we do more branding, cross marketing, cooperative stuff throughout the area, we'll have a better chance."
Hogeland specifically identified the tourism and hospitality industries and talked about the town capitalizing on its two main assets: Williams College and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Daley agreed that tourism is a mainstay but argued there is a place for manufacturing in the town.
"Another Sprague Electric is not coming back," Daley said, referring to the North Adams industrial giant that was a mainstay of the local economy for generations. "But small niche manufacturing has a place. ... My company [Meehan Electronics in North Adams] is a small, 20-person shop working in the aerospace industry."
Daley said the Selectmen needs to start an economic development committee akin to other volunteer committees in town addressing specific issues, like agriculture and affordable housing.
"I would hope to be appointed to it," he said. "We have a ton of creative people in Williamstown. Everyone wants the same thing. We just have to tap into them and organize them."
Daley said the town needs to reach out to summer tourists and Williams alumni to try to get them to make Williamstown their home. He suggested the town partner with the college to promote economic opportunities in town in its alumni magazine.
"We are a company town," Daley said. "The company happens to be Williams College."
Fuls and Nogueira agreed the town needs to take a strategic approach and said it needs to look well beyond the town line to build the economic base.
"We need to come up with a marketing plan, an advertising plan not only for Williamstown but for Pittsfield, Lenox, North Adams and Adams to let people around the country know what we have to offer," Nogueira said. "If they come to Lenox, have them come a little further north and come see Williamstown."
"Right now, the Berkshire County Chamber of Commerce is working on bringing North County and South County together," Fuls said. "Again, you have to have a plan where if you have people coming to Lenox, you tell them, 'Hey, if you drive 40 minutes, you can go to the Clark or you can go see Williams College and walk around the campus.' "
Daley said the town has a strong potential partner in North Adams. Hogeland said Williamstown's neighbors to the east and south have the right idea.
"This town needs to spend more of its time and its personnel on economic development," he said. "You look at our neighbors, and they actually have people hired with job titles that have the words 'tourism' and 'development.'
"We need to put together a broad team of people from different disciplines. For me, that would be the prime initiative."
Part of that solution includes looking at ways to recruit "satellite businesses" that could partner with the town's two big non-profits, Hogeland said.
Even when Wednesday's forum turned to other topics, the conversation seemed to come back to jobs.
The closure of North Adams Regional Hospital and the uncertain future of health care in Northern Berkshire County is a hardship for town residents, the candidates agreed. But part of the solution may lie in creating new ways to access health care, some of the candidates said.
"I don't think we'll ever see a hospital in Williamstown ... but the town and the college needs to come together," Nogueira said. "They have a facility that serves their students. Maybe the town and the college should come together and put together something that serves the residents, too."
Fuls picked up on the idea and noted that new private practices or an urgent care clinic in North County would be, "another way to bring business here."
Likewise, the subject that has dominated the town's political conversation for the last two years — affordable housing — has an economic development dimension.
"We need to welcome people to come to Williamstown," Nogueira said. "I think this is what affordable housing is going to be doing ... allowing people who can't afford half-million dollar homes to come or the ones who are here and thinking of leaving Williamstown because they don't think there's anything here for them to stay."
Nogueira said Williamstown does not have enough space to develop a strong manufacturing base, but it should work with North Adams and Pittsfield as they grow their economies and create housing options in the Village Beautiful for those who take jobs in other Berkshire County municipalities.
And the future of Mount Greylock Regional School figures into the local economy, too.
"I've been thinking a lot about sustainability of the local economy and population changes," Daley said. "I believe we must focus on ways to stop the shrinking population and hopefully bring people back.
"That means creating an economy that has a job for them, a housing market that has a place for them to afford and an education system where they want to send their children."
If Mount Greylock goes ahead with a new or renovated building — or even if it doesn't — the cost of infrastructure at the school promises to be a challenge for whoever wins the Selectmen's races. That's a point not lost on Daley.
"At my core, I believe we should invest in schools, but we should balance that with the ability to pay," he said.
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Adams Candidates Hold Forth at Maple Grove Forum
|Candidates attending Sunday's forum were, from left, Edward Driscoll, Melissa McGovern-Wandrei, George Haddad, Michael Ouellette, Barbara Ziemba, Kelley Rice and Jeffrey Snoonian; not pictured, Edmund St. John IV.|
ADAMS, Mass. — Candidates for the town election pitched their platforms at the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday afternoon.
The club annually offers up one its monthly meetings at the PNA as an open election forum for any candidate wishing to attend.
Candidates running for selectman, Planning Board, town moderator, School Committee and treasurer/collector spoke this year.
Two-term incumbent Michael Ouellette is being challenged by newcomer Jeffrey Snoonian for a three-year seat on the Board of Selectmen.
Ouellette is a lifelong resident and property owner; Snoonian considers himself an "adopted son" who recently chose to settle here permanently after many years of visiting.
Ouellette has been active in a number of civic capacities, including 18 years as a town meeting member and currently as a delegate to the Metropolitan Planning Organization and member of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority advisory committee.
A retired GE engineer, he's also worked in real estate development, including subdivisions in Adams and Lanesborough.
"I'm a working selectman, I'm not a rubber stamp," he told club members. "I look at everything before I vote."
Oullette stressed that he does his research before casting a vote to ensure actions are in the best interest of the town.
He also said he's been very active in seeking tenants and developers for the Memorial Middle School and Greylock Glen, and in advocating with state and federal officials, including the governor, on behalf of town projects.
"I do my homework and I put my heart into it, trying to make the best decision I can," he said.
He thinks the town should divest itself of properties when it can, including the middle school, work with school officials to make school budgets educationally as well as fiscally sound, and promote the development of the Greylock Glen, and possibly a disc golf course at the glen.
"I want to drive for regionalization where ever it is in the best interests of the town," he said. "We need to look at each aspect of it. It can provide better services at a cheaper cost."
Snoonian is a native of Lawrence who attended the University of Massachusetts with an Adams roommate who introduced him to the town more than 20 years ago.
"When I decided I where was going to spend the rest of my life I chose Adams," he said.
He has not served on civic committees or boards but said he was "not afraid to talk" and expects to be an active member of the board. "I probably open my mouth too much," he said. "I have a plan for being called out of order."
His background is in construction, having owned one contracting business and been a partner in another one. That has given him experience in fiscal responsibility, he said, as well as union negotiations.
"Adams biggest asset is it's a nice place to raise a family," he said. "There's a ton of cheap real estate here. Once you fill them, then people start looking to fill businesses."
Snoonian said he sold off his businesses because he felt government was intruding enough to make it difficult to operate.
"People have told me Adams is really a quagmire to open a business," he said, hoping to make it more business-friendly.
He, too, believes the town owns too much property and the middle school should be sold, but said he did not know enough about what the current situation.
Kelly F. Rice and Melissa McGovern-Wandrei are both running to complete the two years left on treasurer/collector post being vacated by Holly Denault. Both said they would expand some evening hours to accommodate residents.
|Kelly F. Rice|
Rice currently works in the community development office and has worked as an administrative assistant in various capacities for the town for 14 years.
She has been a resident for 31 years and property owner for seven, and a town meeting member and member of the Events Planning Committee.
"I think I have the qualifications for a smooth transition," she said. Rice did, however, say she would need more learning and time in the post to become a certified treasurer, which can take several years.
She said she is acquainted with the town's financial procedures and accounting software, does the payroll and records the bank statements for grants, among other duties.
In response to questions, she said she was familiar with the town's issues with the IRS (over misfiled pension documents) and a large backlog of unpaid taxes.
"I am a town resident and I'm very concerned about that also as a taxpayer," Rice said, but added she has to follow the state process to foreclose, which can take years.
"I look forward to strengthening the town any way I can," she said.
McGovern-Wandrei was raised in Clarksburg and is currently the appointed treasurer/tax collector in Clarksburg and the president of the Berkshire County Collectors & Treasurers Association.
She and her husband now live in Adams and their children attend the schools and they have been active with the football boosters.
McGovern-Wandrei was the elected tax collector for 15 years in Clarksburg; when several elected offices were in the process of changing to appointed, she worked as assistant treasurer in Lanesborough to begin certification in pursuit of the Clarksburg post.
She said the town could move quickly to collect delinquent taxes by placing liens at the beginning of the fiscal year to put pressure on homeowners and banks. It also prods homeowners into making repayment agreements.
"Put the lien in and explain that you won't act on the lien unless they don't make the payments you agree upon," McGovern-Wandrei. "Then you know if people really want to keep their house.
"We have a 3-5 percent collection rate in Clarksburg, which is very good."
She said there have been recording issues from the treasurer's office in Clarksburg predating her tenure that have been cleaned up.
"I love Adams and I would love to come in and help you straighten this out," she said.
Dennis A. Gajda and George J. Haddad are running for the three-year seat on the Board of Assessors. Only Haddad attended Sunday's forum.
Haddad said he was approached by several people asking him to run and decided to after speaking with the town assessor about the commitment.
"I think I can handle what could be done," said the former six-term selectman and interim town administrator.
Haddad said he was willing to take whatever classes or seminars required. "Whatever we're supposed to do we will do," he said.
Running unopposed are Edward Driscoll for moderator, Barbara Ziemba for a five-year term on hte Planning Board and Edmund R. St. John IV as the Cheshire delegate to the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee.
Each spoke a little about their duties and answered questions. Ziemba, who's served as a planner for 27 years, said two other members of her board have been on a similar length of time.
"I do not doubt there would be some vacancies sooner or later," she said, urging "new blood" to run for office.
Maple Grove officer Jeffrey Lefebvre thanked the candidates and asked voters to turn out for the election.
"I hear a lot of people griping, but when you get 15-20 percent voting it seems 80 percent are content and I know 80 percent are not content," said Jeffrey Lefebvre.
The town election is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, May 5. The deadline to register to vote is by 8 p.m. on April 15 at Town Hall.
The forum was also recorded by Northern Berkshire Community Television; check the schedule for show times.
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State Senator Finegold Seeking Treasurer Post
|State Sen. Benjamin Downing with colleague Sen. Barry Finegold, who is now seeking the treasurer's office, at a meet and greet Friday.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Sen. Barry Finegold doesn't want the state's pension funds invested in fossil fuels.
Sure, he can support a bill to do that. But Finegold says he wanted to do even more with the pension system.
So he is running for treasurer.
"I want to make sure we are responsible and I want our pension funds to reflect our values. Instead of investing in companies like Exxon Mobile, we should invest in green tech and renewable companies," the Andover Democrat said on Friday, when he met with members of the Berkshire Brigades at Juice and Java on South Street.
After four years in the state Senate, Finegold is looking to fill the shoes of Treasurer Steve Grossman, who is running for governor. Finegold says through the office, he can make a bigger impact on the entire state.
"You have the ability of an office to do a lot for so many people. Whether it is financial literacy, whether it is School Building Authority, pension funds, abandoned property, Cultural Council, it is a very important position that has a lot of influence," Finegold said.
The treasurer also oversee things like the revenues from the Lottery system, which in turn get passed on to the cities and towns.
"It is a huge generator of revenue to local communities. It is a lot. Places like Pittsfield and the surrounding communities depend on local aid and the Lottery drives a lot of money back to the communities."
The treasurer chairs the School Building Authority and Finegold says he'll try to find ways to smooth the process for town's looking to build and advocate for even more funding.
"I want to have one of the most robust school building authorities in the country. The elementary school I went to is still in the same shape it was when I went there in the '70s. If we are serious about giving people 21st-century education, we have to have schools that are 21st century," he said.
He also wants to boost financial literacy across the state because "we have way too many people losing their houses to foreclosure and bankruptcy."
And Finegold believes he has the qualifications to truly make an impact on the job and do it well. He went from living in the Georgetown Housing Projects to Beacon Hill. His parents were living in the Hyde Park project when he was young and the family moved to Andover when his father took a job as a teacher at Northern Essex Community College. His mother was a special education teacher.
"My family moved out from the Georgetown Housing Projects so I tell people, I wasn't a rich kid. I wasn't a poor kid. I was truly middle class. I worked for everything I had and worked my way through college and law school," Finegold said.
From there he moved to Pennsylvania to attend Franklin & Marshall College. He returned to Massachusetts to earn his law degree at the Massachusetts School of Law.
Only a year after college, at age 29, he started a firm that has grown to employ 25 people.
In 1992, he heard former President Bill Clinton speak and it inspired him to get into politics. He was elected to the Andover Board of Selectmen. Shortly after, he was elected to the state House of Representatives. Four years ago, he was elected to the Senate. He later attended John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
"I think it is a position where you can do so much good for so many people," Finegold said of now seeking the treasurer position. "My background with the private sector and the public sector, I feel like I can do a great job."
In the Senate, Finegold spent a lot of time on environmental issues. He says he is a "big proponent of renewable energies" including solar, wind and thermal. He is currently chairing a committee seeking election reform, which he hopes will allow early voting and same-day registration.
In January, he launched his campaign for the treasurer and says he has receive a lot of support from mayors and state officials.
State Rep. Thomas Conroy is also seeking the Democratic nomination for the treasurer position. The Green Rainbow party will be putting Ian Jackson on the ballot for it.
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Green Rainbow Party Places 3 Candidates on Statewide Ballot
|Both Daniel Factor and Ian Jackson gave stump speeches at the meet and greet event.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Green Rainbow party is putting three candidates on the statewide ballot.
Last week, two of the three rallied party members at the Rainbow Restaurant, just a few weeks prior to when the campaign officially kicks off.
Attorney Daniel Factor of Acton is seeking election as the secretary of the commonwealth. Factor says he is running to spread ideas currently unheard under the current, mostly Democratic, government.
"We're at a point right now in Massachusetts where basically there is only one party running the show. But when we have conversations with people all over Massachusetts, there is a very wide diversity of views but those view don't end up being represented," he said.
Factor wants to shift the focus of elected officials and policies from catering to large corporate interests to focusing on human rights.
"I am against having a society and a commonwealth that is based on corporate greed. There are things we can do if we recognize that every person in Massachusetts has basic human dignity, respect and love."
One idea Factor poses is that the state ends foreclosures altogether by using eminent domain to take the properties from mortgage holders.
"We can take the real estate from the mortgage company and guarantee that everyone has the right to remain in their home. It is these types of ideas that people have that aren't reflected in our elected officials," Factor said.
Meanwhile, he says job creation needs to be a focus and workers need a "living wage." He calls for a creation of an "economic bill of rights" guaranteeing people have enough to live.
"One day there will be a state that eradicates poverty. I'm not talking about tolerating poverty or ameliorating it. What we need to do is talk about eradicating it," he said.
He supports a single-payer health insurance system, bans on fracking and nuclear power while moving toward more renewable energy, he opposes casinos and is calling for the creation of a "bank of the commonwealth." That bank will invest in creating more co-operative business ownership.
|Daniel Factor of Acton is running for secretary of the commonwealth.|
Further, from the secretary's office, he wants to change the way corporations are chartered by making any company prove they are working for the public good before earning the designation.
"Our policy has to be that people matter more than profits," Factor said.
Factor grew up in New York City before going to Northwestern University for his undergraduate degree in political science. He then went to Vermont Law School, where he earned his law degree with a focus on environmental law.
Ian Jackson, of Arlington, is hoping to win the treasurer's seat. His goal is to create a "bank of the commonwealth" focused making "investments we can be proud of."
He doesn't want the state to put their money into fossil fuels but rather invest in greener companies. He feels that won't just help with the environment but also makes "financial sense."
Jackson said he would also be pleading the case for a single-payer health care system to help save businesses and the state money. Further, he wants the state's money to be allocated in helping "the common man."
"We need people who will be for the common man and try to restore us to a commonwealth where we are trying to do for the common good," Jackson said.
The treasurer sits on the Massachusetts School Building Authority board and Jackson says he'd use that seat to help streamline the building of new schools.
|Ian Jackson of Arlington is running for state treasurer.|
"My town like many other towns are going through the process of building a school. I'm sure there are plenty out here in the Berkshires. Half of the schools go through the process more than once. Something is wrong with the process. I believe most school committees, when they get together are reasonable," Jackson said.
"I'm sure the superintendents have better things to do than filling out the application a second time."
He earned a business management degree from Clark University and then his master's degree from Northeastern in computer science. He currently works as a software engineer while also investing on the side.
Jackson opted to run for the seat after the Green Rainbow party helped his son. He is now lending his time in hopes to help the party.
His son, Frank, got involved with the party when he was working as a residential assistant at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
"He realized he was making less than minimum wage. When he brought that up to the administration, they wouldn't help him. Nor would the people in Boston," Jackson said. "He organized as a union with some of his fellow students and with the help of the Green Rainbow party candidates was able to get enough money so that the students could live."
M.K. Merelice is also running for auditor but she was not in attendance at the meet and greet.
The Green Rainbow party is still a small but growing sector of voters. Locally, L. Scott Laugenour, a member of the party's state committee and former Green Rainbow party candidate, says the party is growing.
When he first joined the party, only eight registered voters in Lenox were Green Rainbow. Now, there are 34 and as the warm weather comes, the party will be out there growing the membership even more.
Laugenour says people feel "disempowered" with politics and the Green Rainbow party is hoping to turn that around. He says everybody agrees that money and politics should be separate and the best way to send that message is to vote for the Green Rainbow party candidates, who do not take in corporate donations.
Having candidates on the ballot every year helps spread the word about the party as they seek to become larger players in state government.
"We like, as a party, having statewide candidates because it gives every voter in the commonwealth an opportunity to vote Green Rainbow and to think about 'hey, politics can be different,'" Laugenour said.
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