|By G. Michael Dobbs
Sen. Elizabeth Warren greets Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe with state Rep. Benjamin Swan looking on at Ashe’s annual political fundraiser on Aug. 21.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Who is Joe Avellone? Mike Lake? Harold Naughton? At Sheriff Michael Ashe’s annual clambake there are plenty of people who are relative political unknowns running for office. Their goal is to walk away from the political fundraiser having gained the awareness of some hardcore political activists.
The people who came to the Ashe’s event play bingo, they may win a drawing, and they may eat a steak dinner. What they will all do is talk politics.
With the end of the Deval Patrick gubernatorial administration in sight, this clambake was the place to be seen among the Democratic faithful and Avellone was diligently working the crowd. Avellone is a surgeon, the former COO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and a senior vice president of a global drug development company. He wants to add governor to that list.
Patrick introduced himself to Western Massachusetts almost a decade ago at one of Ashe’s clambakes.
Avellone said he is most interested in linking growth industries with the educational system to build the skilled workforce those companies need to grow in the Commonwealth. He also cited controlling health care costs a priority.
The cost of heath care is a problem for economic development, he said, noting that Massachusetts has the most expensive health care in the world.
Although some people have spoken of the high cost of doing business in the state, Avellone maintained that creating the workforce with the necessary skills is the element to keep start-up companies from moving elsewhere.
Also looking for growing his name recognition was Lake, founder and executive director of the World Class Cities Partnership at Northeastern University. Lake is running for lieutenant governor and was appointed as President Bill Clinton’s special assistant for White House Operations, as well as serving as the director of Development for United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.
Although there are several other Democrats in the field, the man who appears to be the front-runner is Treasurer Stephen Grossman. Arguably, Grossman is the first treasurer in recent memory who people actually know thanks to the school building programs he oversees as well as the innovative program of transferring the Commonwealth’s money from out of state and foreign banks and into locally owned banks, which has been used as capital for economic development.
Grossman said he offers voters “proven leadership” in business, philanthropy and elected office. He also sees small business development as the state’s “powerful engine for job creation.”
The treasurer has started a “young professional advisory council” in order to identify those factors important in maintaining people ages 18 through 35 to “work, play and stay here.”
He has also started a similar advisory group of small business owners.
Grossman said he had spent more than three hours at the clambake pressing the flesh and listening to people. He added that attending the clambake gave him the “opportunity to reconnect and connect to a group of activists.” He said he already has the support of many mayors in Western Massachusetts whom he said know how to turn out the votes.
State Rep. Harold Naughton, who chairs the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, might not have the name recognition as Grossman, but he counts local Democratic stalwart Mayor Michael Bissonnette among his supporters. Naughton is also running for lieutenant governor and after some good-natured joking, Bissonnette said that Naughton is a “problem solver.”
Naughton was most recently in Springfield for a hearing of his committee as part of an investigation into gun violence and said, as a resident of Central Massachusetts, he has “knowledge and empathy” for Western Massachusetts.
An attorney and a military veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Naughton said he would bring those experiences as well as his 19 years in the Legislature to the position of lieutenant governor.
Perhaps the hottest local race is the one that was essentially a surprise: the state Senate seat of Michael Knapik, who has given his notice to take a job at Westfield State University. Seen by many as the front-runner in this tight race – the primary is Oct. 8 – is state Rep. Donald Humason Jr., the long-time Westfield Republican who served as an aide to Knapik.
Humason has been campaigning throughout the district and said he has had “great responses” from voters. He acknowledged that so far he doesn’t have to worry about a primary and said he would “run the same race no mater who is in.”
He said independent and Democratic voters see him as a “local guy with 10 years experience in the House who can hit the ground running.”
Although he said that he may be more conservative on some issues than Knapik – and vice versa – he said he understands well that if elected, his district and constituency will change. “I won’t throw my ideology out of the window,” he said, “but I will do the best for the district.”
Holyoke City Councilor David Bartley is one of the two Democrats vying for Knapik’s seat and said the short time table of the campaign isn’t a problem for him.
“It’s just the opposite,” he said. “It gets me fired up.”
Bartley believes that as a Democrat he would be more efficient in the state Senate than a Republican and noted that Knapik was in a caucus of four other Republicans.
The high voltage guest this year was Sen. Elizabeth Warren who gave the press a short availability. When asked about reports that her former opponent Scott Brown is considering a run for presidency, she quickly said with a smile, “That’s up to the Republicans.”
Standing next to her was Congressman Richard Neal who added, “She was ready!”
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