Races heat up in western Mass.
|By G. Michael Dobbs|
It wasn't just the temperatures that rose last week in western Massachusetts. Political activities also were in the upswing with area Republicans meeting with state and local candidates in West Springfield as well as Attorney General Thomas Reilly taking his campaign to Springfield and Chicopee.
Although the dress was casual for the back-yard event at Chicopee Alderman Shane Brooks' house, the effort was not. Brooks and his family played host to over 100 Chicopee residents and officials at an event to bring out support for Reilly's campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Brooks offered cold drinks and food as well as a tent in case of rain to his guests at the Aug. 3 gathering. A sound system was in place to make sure everyone heard the speakers and "Reilly for Governor" signs covered the yard's fences.
State Representative Joseph Wagner and Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette were among the officials who were offering their support of the attorney general.
"Reilly's experience in life is similar to our own," Wagner said before the candidate arrived. "He has working class roots and a demonstrated record of accomplishments in public service."
Brooks echoed the sentiment.
"His values are very much like my own," said Brooks, who also cited the fact that all of Reilly's children attended public schools.
Reilly has been described as the front-runner in the three-person primary race, but Deval Patrick, a political newcomer, has attracted endorsements from over 40 state representatives as well former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger and Congressman John Olver.
Patrick and Christopher Gabrieli, the other Democratic candidate, are both multi-millionaire businessmen. His supporters see the fact that Reilly is not in their financial league as a plus. Emphasizing his connection to the working class seemed to be the theme of the evening.
Once Reilly arrived, Brooks, Bissonnette and Wagner took turns escorting him around the audience. The candidate took his time speaking with people before coming to the microphone after an enthusiastic introduction by Brooks.
"I think that Shane has lined up the first job in the Reilly administration," Wagner joked. "I'm aiming for number two."
Reilly said that the best part of politics is "when you can come home and meet old fiends."
Reilly was born and raised in Springfield.
He said that the 2006 election is "an important election." Since 2001 there has been a loss of 155,000 jobs in the state and that Massachusetts is 45th in the nation for job growth. The Commonwealth is the only state to have lost population as well, he said.
"Literally the future is walking out the door," he said.
Reilly said the state would be no better than it is now under a Kerry Healey administration. He touched on his present working class roots by noting that his family has lived in the same apartment in Watertown for the past 36 years. He sees the effects of the state's economic situation through the lives of the young families in his neighborhood that work two jobs just to stay ahead.
As he has in other campaign appearances, Reilly said that funding public education; making healthcare affordable; putting an end to violent crime; and growing the economy were his priorities.
He said the state's greatest asset is its "regular people," and he told own story of tragedy and triumph.
For people who had heard Reilly speak before there were no substantial changes or developments. He didn't mention the Big Dig investigation, which is going to be a focal point for the next administration no matter who might win.
After the speech, Reilly told this reporter that if elected governor he would work to develop a strategy to "get Springfield back on track quick" so there is no longer a need for the Finance Control Board appointed by Governor Mitt Romney to oversee the city's finances.
He also said that if elected he would evaluate how the new distribution plan for the Chapter 70 funding for municipal schools works in order to consider a new formula for the Additional Assistance funds.
There were also over 100 people at the annual Western Massachusetts Republicans Picnic at the West Springfield Elk Pavilion on Friday night.
And they were doing the same things: eating hot dogs and hamburgers and talking politics, but from the other side of the aisle.
Hunter Golden, one of the picnic's organizers, explained the purpose of the picnic was to give the public a chance to meet candidates and there were candidates aplenty, including Mike Franco for Governor's Council; Ron Cutler for State Senate; Christopher Leisey for state representative; Kevin Corridan for state senator; and Robert Magovern for state representative.
The announced retirement of State Senator Brian Lees has created a domino effect in local politics. Because State Representative Gale Candaras is running for Lees' seat, there are two vacancies created locally. The result is there will be a Republican primary between Cutler, Enrico "Jack" Villamaino and Corridan. Christopher Leisey and Robert Collamore are contesting the slot being vacated by Candaras on the Republican side.
Magovern said that he will have his official campaign kick-off on Aug. 24 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Oaks in Agawam. A member of the Agawam City Council, Magovern is facing another member of the Council, Joseph Mineo, for the seat vacated by Daniel Keenan.
Cutler reported that his campaign was going well and that he was willing to debate his Republican opponents "anytime anywhere."
Leisey said his campaign was also going very well. A member of the Wilbraham Planning Board, he said he was learning more about the Springfield part of the district 51 percent of the district is in the city. He said that he is "willing to debate him [Collamore] if I ever see him."
Franco said that his campaign for Governor's Council is "going smoothly." He said the district is large and it's difficult to find volunteers throughout it so his biggest goal is to "get the message out." Part of his challenge, he said, is educating voters on what the Council does in part it confirms the governor's appointments to the judiciary. Franco is the lone Republican for the position so he will not be facing a primary contest.
Corridan said that his background as a legislative aide for six years and as an assistant district attorney in Hampden County provided him for a "pretty good background." He said that his independent point of view would best serve the voters, as he was willing to make difficult decisions.
Both of the Republicans running for the right to face Senator Edward Kennedy also attended. Kenneth Chase, the owner of a group of French and Spanish language schools in the eastern part of the state, said he's running because "Teddy fell asleep at the wheel on several issues."
Chase's priorities are on the treatment of illegal aliens he wants them "repatriated" so they can apply for legal entry and development of greater energy resources.
His opponent, Kevin Scott, a businessman who has served on the Wakefield Board of Selectmen, said his biggest issue is that Massachusetts wants a senator it can be proud of. He described himself as "a middle class guy" and said the largest difference between him and Chase is that he has a "long-standing history" of working with Democrats, Independents and Republicans.
Scott said a poll from Suffolk University showed that 43 percent of the respondents said they would vote against Kennedy.
"I won't be the latest sacrificial lamb," he said.
The clear high point of the picnic was the speech given by candidate for lieutenant governor Reed Hillman. Although current Lt. Governor Kerry Healey was supposed to attend the event, she bowed out.
Hillman is a former State Trooper and state representative, who clearly has a sense of humor. Hillman, who is balding, said Healey picked him because "she was sick of having a corner office roommate who was borrowing her hairspray."
He said he agreed to run because "I was drinking very heavily."
With that quip he asked if there were any reporters in the room.
Turning serious he said that he and Healey would roll back the income tax, lower the unemployment tax paid by Bay State employers and develop more affordable housing.
They would use the office as a "bully pulpit" to address issues. Hillman said the state needs a two party system.
"We need balance," he added.