Three Make Case for 2nd District Seat
Michael Case, left, Paul Mark and Stefan Racz meet Monday night for a televised debate at BCC with David Cachet of Pittsfield Community Television.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Candidates hoping to represent the sprawling 2nd District on Beacon Hill met for the second time Monday for a televised debate at Berkshire Community College that covered topics from charter schools to raw milk.
Democrat Paul Mark of Hancock, Republican Michael F. Case of Washington and independent Stefan G. Racz had debated earlier in the day on the local Vox Radio station; Monday night it was in front of the cameras for The Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television, with David Cachat of PCTV's CityLink moderating.
Perhaps the most interesting thing coming out of the night was that the three candidates weren't all that far apart. They said communities should have control and input on major developments within their borders, such as casinos and wind power, and funding for education and infrastructure — as long as the state paid its fair share.
Their differences were more matters of degree with a few exceptions, such as legalizing marijuana: Case, a retired police officer and military veteran, was against; Racz for, and Mark, an attorney and telecom worker, only for medical marijuana.
They stressed the importance of farming and open space for the largely rural, crescent-shaped region that slices through Berkshire County and into Hampshire and Franklin counties.
"We are providing some of the most gorgeous views in the state," said Racz, a Buckland selectman. "We need to preserve that for future generations."
While supporting alternative energy, he was concerned that wind-turbine siting here would mean ridgelines and the destruction of the environmental beauty. The loss of farms and failure to preserve open space could put lands at risk for developers.
Case said he supports wind turbines but only if the community has significant input and agricultural programs for farming. "I've spoken to many farmers who own a lot of land," who may be land wealthy but cash poor, he said. "They're just barely getting by. We need to give them tax breaks."
Mark said he did not support the state's wind siting law, which limits local input, but would back the expansion of raw milk sales to home delivery. He also spoke in favor of agricultural cooperatives such as Denis Guyer, the man they're trying to replace, is setting up in Dalton.
Racz said he didn't support milk price regulation; Mark and Case said they did, with Case adding only if it was not to the detriment of the farmer.
Both Case and Racz said they'd support a single destination casino in the state because, said Case, "it would draw other than just gambling because it would have shows, and other conventions ... it would be good for the economy of Massachusetts." Racz said he believed "one casino would be a testing ground for income to the state," as long as it did not infringe upon current cultural venues.
Mark said he supported the Senate bill that had planned for three casinos. "I don't think gambling is a magic cure-all but I don't see anybody else really proposing anything to make new jobs," he said. "I am against slot parlors and racinos because they don't have the job creation element so you would only get the bad parts of gambling."
All three said the state's health insurance reform had worked well to expand access but didn't think it had done well enough in controlling costs.
"I don't think it was the best solution, I think a single-payer would have been a much better solution," said Mark. "We could serve as a model for the nation."
Racz said the reform was an innovative idea but the state hadn't felt the total negative impact because elements of the federal health insurance reform will begin kicking in in Janury. "There's not enough money right now," he said, in part because insurance companies were raising rates. "We have to focus extremely heavily on insurance companies and the drug companies. ... make sure they're towing the line."
Health insurance has improved greatly, said Case, but "what we don't know yet is what the cost is going to be. I've heard as high as 42 percent of the state budget is going to health care now. ... Single-payer may be a dream down the road but not right now with the economy the way it is."
They said they would advocate for the state to pay its fair share of the regional school transportation. Racz said the state should take on the contracts for busing and let the schools use the money for education. They agreed it was important to the students to ensure so-called circuit breaker special education funding from the state and were leery of charter schools.
"It's a good idea but you don't want them taking money away from the public school system," said Mark. Case said parents should have the option, but "it's a drain on the public schol and they don't take the children who have problems."
Racz said regular public schools should be held to the same standards of review since charter schools can be disbanded if they don't live up to their mission.
Case said more incentives should be offered to attract and retain businesses. "We need to make the business climate in Massachusetts competitive with other states." Mark said the new creative economy should be supported and bringing health care costs under control and broadband to the region will help spur growth. "Local jobs mean local revenue."
Racz said one of his initiatives is the 2nd Berkshire Business Alliance, a conduit for small businesses in the district to ally and bring the issues affecting them to the attention of the representative. "You have to remember, small business carried us through this recession; they didn't get bailouts."
All three said they would have voted against last year's increase in the sales tax.
Each pledged to do their best to listen to constituents. Case said he would keep an office, likely in Dalton, for constituent services and a staffer to meet with selectmen throughout the district to help keep him apprised. Racz said he would "not favor the town of Buckland over the town of Dalton, Windsor or Peru" and he would get feedback from the towns.
Mark, at 31 the youngest of the candidates, annoyed his opponents with claims that he would keep going to all 22 towns in the district because he was "the only with the energy to keep doing it." The older men said their energy was fine, thank you very much, although Case had a little fun later with Mark by pretending to nod off during his opponent's closing remarks.
The debate will be rebroadcast on PCTV; we should have audio up later Tuesday.
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Auditor Candidates Trade Jabs
Candidates for auditor Suzanne Bump, Mary Z. Connaughton and Nathanael Fortune debated at BCC on Monday night.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The two major party candidates for the state auditor's job spent Monday night trading jabs over negative campaigning and past scandals, leaving the Green-Rainbow candidate to position himself as outside the fray — and of business as usual.
The debate was sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television and hosted at Berkshire Community College. One of the candidates, Suzanne Bump, 54, is a resident of Great Barrington, (which she confirmed again on Monday).
Best quote of the night: Fortune on whether he's a spoiler in the race. 'If electing a Democrat to office would make a difference, we'd already be living in Nirvana.'
The Democrat and former labor official for Gov. Deval Patrick is seeking the position against Republican candidate Mary Z. Connaughton, 50, of Framingham, former director of the Massachusetts Turnpike and a certified public accountant, and Green-Rainbow candidate Nathanael Fortune, 49, a Smith College physics professor and Whately School Committee chairman.
Moderator Daniel Valenti, local writer and political commentator, prefers a free-form style of debate that allows give and take between the candidates. "We will encourage dialogue among the three candidates and we would prefer them to interact with each other rather than me," he said at the beginning of the hourlong debate.
He didn't have to worry about dialogue: Bump and Connaughton breezily clashed in a practiced performance — it was, after all, about the 10th time they'd debated — prompting Fortune to quip, "I did offer to sit between these two."
Bump started the day in Boston on a "Donut Fund Express" to the Berkshires, making stops at independent doughnut shops along the way to highlight recent stories about fiscal mismanagement at the State Lottery in 1990s — some of which occurred during Connaughton's tenure there as chief financial officer. Money was routed to a so-called "doughnut" fund to hide expenses for parties, entertainment and promotional events.
"Yes, these practices were going on for decades before I got there; they ended under my watch," said Connaughton, who claimed she had done much to put in place "culture-changing moves" within six months of joining the Lottery. "I fixed it; I was hired to clean up a mess and I did it."
The Romney appointee waved an endorsement from the liberal-leaning Berkshire Eagle on Bump's turf and noted she is the first CPA to ever run for the post. Bump waved a state auditor's report and attacked Connaughton's performance in dealing with abandoned properties she said cost the state $16 million. Connaughton said it was about eliminating a sweetheart deal with one contractor to ensure competition and getting the money into the taxpayers' pockets, not the state's general fund.
"Suzanne, you just don't get it, you just don't get it," said Connaughton, which elicited some applause from the audience left from the earlier debate for the 2nd Berkshire District.
Bump dismissed her opponent's "soaring rhetoric," "it's her failure to take responsibility that's the most disturbing thing."
Valenti questioned Bump on the recent flap over where her primary residence is. She and her husband had filed for property tax exemptions on both their Great Barrington home and South Boston condo. Bump said Boston had changed the rules without informing them.
All three candidates said they would be advocates for the public and take a more aggressive stand on looking at not just expenditures but outcomes to see if public money was being spent wisely. They all said they would bring in an independent auditor to review the office, which hasn't been done in 20 years. Bump and Fortune said the division's 300 employees and $17 million budget were enough. Connaughton said she'd have employees reapply for their jobs as way to review staffing and qualifications
Bump and Connaughton try to get their points across at the same time.
Fortune tried to keep his comments to the role of the auditor ("it's hard to be a candidate if your mother has trained you if you don't have anything nice to say ...") and said he would be an advocate for the public. He noted his role in reducing energy costs in his own school district through analysis and research and recognition by the state school committees association for his analysis of state and local education funding.
"The three of us have been to enough debates that to some extent we can say each other's points. The most common from Suzanne is you should be a bureaucrat to be this and, from Mary, you should be an accountant or an auditor," he said. "Both those skills are valuable in being a state auditor but neither of them are essential."
Politics and lobbying "distorts the priorities," he said; if public dollars paid only for public services, it would free up $1 billion. "You have to follow the money."
Bump said her experience in state government, during which she oversaw teams of auditors and researchers in investigating spending and outcomes for various work-force programs to "go beyond simply how much money did we spend, but what did we get for it and how can we do it better."
"You need somebody who can set priorities and be a leader and that's what I have done when I was a legislator and as a cabinet secretary," she said, agreeing "somewhat" with Fortune. "We do have billions of dollars in tax exemptions, and tax credits and tax incentives and few of those individual programs have mechanisms to determine if the taxpayers are really getting the benefits they're supposed to get."
Connaughton touted that fact that she is the only CPA who has ever run for auditor and her experience working in the state treasurer's office and the former MassPike. She pledged to run a professional department and bring "lots of sunshine" to Beacon Hill.
"I do not need on-the-job training at the taxpayer's expense. [The auditor] is the people's eyes on Beacon Hill, it's their voice on Beacon Hill to make sure our tax dollars are being spent properly," said Connaughton. "I will manage this office in an extremely professional way ... politics has nothing to do with the state auditor's race."
Toward the end of the debate, Connaughton tried to get a pledge from Bump not to engage in negative campaigning when her television ads hit the air on Wednesday. Bump said it depended on what Connaughton meant by negative campaigning.
"They are going to contain positive things about my candidancy," said Bump and, in response to questions, confirmed "Mary's name will be in it."
Fortune said he'd be happy to take the pledge. "I'm not running any ads at all. I think I'm running a very frugal campaign ... I'm setting a good example for state auditor."
The debate will be rebroadcast on PCTV. We will try to have audio up later Tuesday.
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Green-Rainbow Candidates Chance to Shine
David Cachat of PCTV interviewed, rather than moderating.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The incumbents didn't show but their challengers were more than happy to take the spotlight on Monday night for the state representative debates on Pittsfield Community Television.
Rather than a back and forth between the Democrats and the Green-Rainbow Party nominees, David Cachat, coordinator for PCTV's Citylink, spent a half-hour each interviewing tbe Green-Rainbow candidates for the 3rd and 4th Berkshire districts.
It was a rare chance for a third party whose gubernatorial candidate, Jill Stein, has had to battle to be included in debates.
The debates were organized by PCTV and The Pittsfield Gazette in September. Fourth District incumbent William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox had begged off citing calendar confusion (another debate has been proposed for next Monday) but Christopher N. Speranzo of Pittsfield, running for a third full term in the 3rd District, bowed out on Friday.
"I'm running for representative for the 3rd Berkshire District because I want the job. I want it so much that I plan to serve the entire two-year term," said Mark C. Miller, taking a swipe at Speranzo in his opening statement of what would have been the 3rd Berkshire debate.
Speranzo's come in for criticism for reportedly going after the lifetime job of clerk-magistrate in the Central Berkshire District Court while also running for another term as representative. If he wins and then gets the court job, a special election will have to be held to fill his seat. More than one political pundit has pointed out that's exactly how Speranzo came to office after his predecessor Peter Larkin quit for the private sector only days after being sworn in.
"I don't know whether he's a victim of terrible timing or what, but he's got a decision to make," said Miller, who speculated Speranzo expected to be elected anyway just by running as a Democrat. "If I'm elected all that will be moot ... but I am disappointed we can't have a dialogue."
Miller's comments evoked applause from what audience showed up for the two debates. Both he and fellow Green-Rainbow Lee Scott Laugenour are running against the expectation that Democrats — or Republicans for that matter — are safe bets.
Miller, longtime journalist and former editor of The Berkshire Eagle, said it was time to change government. The Democratic-controlled Legislature "works in the shadows," he said, and needs legislators willing to buck the system. "They won't miss one Democrat from Pittsfield; what they might not miss is a challenge by an independent legislator."
Laugenour had raised the same theme in his earlier interview. A longtime executive with Marriott Hotels in the Northeast, he said his position had given him an inside look at the power and influence-peddling behind the scenes in both parties. "There was a lot of secrecy behind that thick curtain."
Both believe the electorate is ready for a change, noting that the majority of voters in Massachusetts aren't enrolled in either party. Where some are turning toward tea party conservatism, the Green-Rainbow Party is offering an option for progressives.
"People are ready for a new kind of government a new kind of Legislature," said Laugenour. "It's time for legislators to arrive on Beacon Hill whose only debts are [to] the people whose hand they've shaken in their district, not to the affiliations of power brokering that goes on right now.
"Once people have a taste for it, they're going to like it."
Lee Scott Laugenour, whose image refused to be captured.
The candidates were asked similar questions during their interviews. What follows is summing up of their stands on the issues.
Both candidates said the current system is regressive and hurting middle and lower-income citizens. Miller said he wouldn't have voted for last year's increase in sales tax but would not support the current effort to cut it in half: "That would be absolutely disastrous."
Miller said the state constitution prevents a progressive tax system; however, he suggests raising the income tax across the board while providing exemptions targeting middle and lower-income earners. "That would level the playing field a little and bring in a billion or a billion and half more in revenue."
Laugenour, who also would not have voted for the sales tax increase, said it was in the Legislature's power to change to a graduated tax. Its failure to act has put greater pressure on municipalities to use property taxes for services. "The overreliance on property tax revenue has been building for at least the last 10 years that the Legislature has reduced local aid."
The candidates had harsh words for the state and federal health insurance reform. "It's just unaffordable and it's second rate," said Miller. "These are boondoggles for the private insurance industry." Both advocated for a single-payer plan that Miller said was abandoned by the Democrats and the issue that led him to leave the party. Laugenour said health care should be considered as infrastructure.
"It's pretty well proven a publicly funded health insurance system costs less money than ours," said Laugenour, who added he'd experienced such plans while living overseas. "We don't have it right now because we have a lot of insurance industries that purchase influence from the leaders of both parties ... we need people in the Legislature who don't take this money."
"Casinos take more jobs and projects out of the community than they bring in," said Laugenour, who referred to a New Hampshire study that found for every job created by casinos, 1 1/2 jobs were lost.
"It preys on addiction so I tend to be against it for an economic development tool," said Miller. "If you're in an economic low like we are now, it's hard to be against something ... but lot of what they make goes right out of the state."
Both support funding for education at all levels but admitted the difficulty in how to do it. Miller said he was not in favor of charter schools because they tend to siphon not only funds but more motivated students from the public schools. Laugenour said it was important to find ways to provide an equal educational experience not reliant on where you lived. The state had been the first to introduce a public education, he said, and should be able to find a way to improve it.
Miller said he was in favor of alternative energy but didn't think the answer was only in megaprojects like Cape Wind that may well in increase the cost of electricity. Rather, he said, it would be more efficient and cost effective to encourage local activity, such as wind or solar panels on homes and businesses.
"This is decentralized and everyone could take part," he said. "Think of the green jobs that could be developed from this."
Laugenour, who sits on the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority board, is an outspoken advocate for public transportation as a key part of instrastructure. He's made biking around the 18 towns in the 4th District a centerpiece of his campaign (he said he'll take the bus to Boston). He doesn't support the Pittsfield Municipal Airport expansion on environmental and economic grounds, feeling the results won't be worth the cost. Putting the money into expanding bus transportation would have a higher pay off, he said.
"It's because the Legislature does not fund public transportation the way it should," he said. "I'll get a lot more business leaders around the issue of public transportation on evenings and weekends than I ever will to get them to support the airport expansion."
The interviews will be rebroadcast on PCTV and are available on the website (where I watched them.)
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Pittsfield Neighborhoods Host Sheriff Debate
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The West Side Neighborhood Initiative and Morningside Neighborhood Initiative, in collaboration with The Berkshire Eagle, are sponsoring a debate between the two Berkshire County sheriff candidates on Monday, Aug. 16, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at Conte Community School.
Daniel E. Bosley, outgoing state representative for the 1st Berkshire District, and Thomas N. Bowler, a 20-year Pittsfield Police detective, will discuss issues that are particularly relevant to the city's two urban neighborhoods, but will also debate questions that are important to the entire Berkshire region. The debate will be moderated by The Berkshire Eagle's Chief Editor Timothy Farkas.
"Our goal is to encourage more specific answers to important questions to help voters in our neighborhoods, the city of Pittsfield, and Berkshire County understand the differences between these two candidates," said Dominick Villane, chairman of the Neighborhood Initiatives Debate subcommittee. "We encourage the community to attend this important event and offer their input during the public portion of the debate."
The event will covered by local news and radio and broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television. iBerkshires.com will also be covering and plans to post audio from the debate.
Debate questions are being provided by members of the neighborhood initiatives. The final portion of the debate will be comprised of seleced questions from the audience. Those attending the debate will have the opportunity to provide questions to be considered. Each candidate will be offered time for opening and closing remarks.
Bosley and Bowler are running to replace Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, who is retiring after 32 years in the post. Both candidates are Democrats so the race will essentially be decided in the Sept. 14 primary.
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Candidates Forum Scheduled for Aug 17
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The nonpartisan League of Women of Williamstown is sponsoring a public forum for the candidates running in the Democratic primary elections for the offices of the Sheriff of Berkshire County and State Representative from the Berkshire 1st District.
The forum will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. on the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts campus, in the auditorium on the second floor of the Church Street Center. League President Anne Skinner will moderate. Each candidate will make opening and closing statements, and members of the audience will have the opportunity to ask questions.
According to the League, all of the campaigns have indicated that their candidates will be attending. The Democratic candidates for the office of sheriff are Daniel E. Bosley and Tom Bowler. The Democratic candidates for the office of Berkshire 1st District representative are David Bissaillon, Gailanne Cariddi and Edward MacDonald. (There are no Republican candidates for these offices).
WUPE/WNAW radio is also planning an on-air debate for the sheriff' candidates in early September that iBerkshires has agreed to participate in. More information will be released when the date and time as been confirmed.
The primary election will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 14. Because of the dearth of Republican and independent candidates for sheriff and the 1st district, the primary will essentially decide the winners for the two positions.
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