Candidates present background and positions at Sixteen Acres forum
| By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD– A candidate’s forum arranged by Springfield City Councilor Clodo Concepcion offered voters a side-by-side comparison of many of the candidates running this year.
With the exception of one moment, the candidates maintained an information-only format rather attack and debate. About 40 people attended the event.
Participating in the forum were the two register of probate candidates, Suzanne Sequin and state Sen. Gale Candaras; three of the four district attorney hopefuls, Brett Vottero, Shawn Allyn and Anthony Gulluni; all three candidates for the 9th Hampden state representative seat, Edward Collins, Jose Tosado and School Committee member Peter Murphy; and all of the candidates for the state senate seat being vacated by Candaras, Debra Boronski, Springfield City Councilor Tim Allen, Eric Lesser, Ludlow Selectman James, “Chip” Harrington, Aaron Saunders and Dr. Thomas Lachiusa. Although he is not on the ballot this year, but rather in 2016, Nick Cocchi who has announced he is running for Hampden County sheriff was also invited to speak.
Taking place at the Greenleaf Community Center in Sixteen Acres, the discussion often referenced Springfield although the register of probate race involves the entire country and the 1st Hamden-Hampshire senate district also includes Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Hamden, Longmeadow, Ludlow, Wilbraham and portions of Chicopee.
Concepcion gave each of the candidates three minutes to discuss their positions and background and then a follow-up three minutes. “I want the people to know who they are voting for and why they are voting,” he said.
Wielding a gavel, Concepcion kept the candidates to the time limits often cutting them off before they could finish.
The state senate candidates went first with Lesser leading the group. He characterized himself as a candidate with experience in grass roots organizing who has experienced frustration with the political status quo. He sees solution in changing how Western Massachusetts is perceived in Boston through organization and said he would work on such issues, if elected, as high-speed rail connecting Springfield to Boston as well as job training. “None of this is going to happen if we do the same thing over and over,” he said.
Harrington asked the audience “Where is the outrage?” about the subjects of drugs and violence in Springfield. A part-time police officer in Ludlow, Harrington said he has seen the opiate problem first hand and he would go to the House looking for funding for additional police officers. He also emphasized his experience and accomplishments as a Ludlow selectman.
Saunders cast himself as the candidate with Beacon Hill experience. He was the chief of staff for Candaras for years and called the Legislature “a funny place.” He added, “I know how it works.” Stating that Western Massachusetts has “momentum” with its current legislative delegation, he said he want to be a part of this team.
Allen stressed his Springfield roots and his accomplishments on the City Council, such as leading the effort to re-open the city’s libraries and fighting the licensing as a proposed biomass plant. He also noted his involvement in helping out his ward after the tornado. He emphasized the need for collaboration in government and added, “The things I’ve done on the council hopefully illustrate what I’d do in Boston.”
Lachiusa spoke about his career in social work and provided the only moment of heat during the event by asking Lesser whether or not he had a job. Lesser responded he was in law school and Lachiusa then went on to discuss his hopes to attract the University of Massachusetts to build new research facilities in Springfield.
Debra Boronski, the sole Republican running for the senate seat, presented her background in private business including being the founder and president of the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. She stressed the role of small business in the Western Massachusetts economy noting how they create jobs. She added that if elected she would go to Boston with the message the state collects enough tax revenue and that the government should use it wisely.
The 9th Hampden state representative seat will be decided by the primary election on Sept. 9, as all of the candidates are Democrats.
Tosado said he has “a passion for public service” and went over his background as a member of one of the first Puerto Rican families to settle permanently in Springfield to his service in the Navy and his 30-year career with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. He noted that he stayed in Springfield and didn’t abandon it even after his father was murdered in his own business. Referring to his years on the City Council, Tosado said, “The best indicator of future is past performance.”
Murphy emphasized his view that education is a “big game changer” and the importance of improving the city’s schools. If elected to the House, he said one of his priorities would be to advocate for full day pre-kindergarten classes, which have been shown to prevent children dropping out of school. He also the war on drugs has been unsuccessful and that mandatory sentencing hasn’t made communities safer. He said that “wholesale criminal justice reform” is needed.
Collins also spoke of his life-long residency in Springfield and his service in the Navy. He also spoke about his career with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and said he would fight for economic equality across the state. Collins told the audience “there’s not a lot of difference between our positions” referring to his fellow candidates, bur added the reason he should receive support is “I think I have a record of getting things done.”
Gulluni started off the three candidates for district attorney by stressing that as a current assistant district attorney he has “intimate knowledge” of the job now. After having worked for the last two district attorneys. He said he understands the impact the office can have and he said he has received the endorsement of former District Attorney William Bennett. The conditions in the county are “at a crossroads,” he said and new leadership is needed.
Allyn explained that he “has never been a prosecutor and I would bring a totally different vision to the office and that’s what we need.” His priorities would be to get illegal guns off the street and increase treatment options to stem the tide of drug abuse. He would like to prevent “feeding people into the justice system.”
Vottero spoke about his experiences as child participating in an international exchange program and how that positively affected him. Although he has been a prosecutor for years acknowledged for his expertise he said, “My experience is beyond the court room.” Noting his record, he added, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Candaras led off the two candidates for Register of Probate and said that although people may be aware of years of service as a legislator they may not realize that she is an attorney with years of experience and training. She spoke of the impact the proposed MGM Springfield casino would have on the courthouses in Springfield and said she would be a “zealous advocate” for a new courthouse.
Sequin stressed that she is not a politician and is running an independent. A veteran of the office, She was appointed to fill out the term of former Register Thomas Moriarty and said she is a “hard-working compassionate leader.” Sequin acknowledged she has never run for office before and said, “This is a little hard for me,” a remark positively received by the audience.
Cocchi readily said that his candidacy was not as immediate as the others at the form as the sheriff’s race isn’t until 2016, but he accepted Concepcion’s invitation because he wants to meet the voters. Referencing his 21 years of experience in corrections, he said he has been dealing with the opiate problem for the last 15 years although only recently have the general public has been aware of it. He said that he understands “the importance of second chances” and corrections are about “putting a better product back into the street.”