| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – For a voter looking to research candidates, the event at the Springfield Central Library was one stop shopping.
The library opened its doors to all local candidates for local, county and Congressional seats on Aug. 11 for a two hour meet and greet and voters clearly took advantage to come out to meet candidates, as well as support those they have already chosen.
The candidates for sheriff were well represented with James Gill, Nick Cocchi and Thomas Ashe staying for the duration. Michael Albano left before the event ended.
Gill, who is running as independent and not affected by the primary on Sept. 8, said his campaign is “right where we need to be.”
He added, “We haven’t peaked yet.”
He said voters are beginning to understand that Gill knows how to manage the budget for the Sheriff’s Department and live within the department’s means.
Republican candidate John Comerford said that he has also been reaching out to voters who have responded to his message of using sheriff’s deputies to augment local police departments,
“I’m having as much fun as I can [with the campaign] without being obnoxious,” he said with a smile.
Ashe said he has been maintaining a hectic schedule as the primary looms. He acknowledged and thanked the supporters who have been working on his behalf.
He is continuing to focus on what the Sheriff’s Department can do to assist public health efforts to curb the opioid crisis. He noted there have been 1,000 deaths in the first six months of this year.
“We have to do a better effort,” he said.
Cocchi noted the primary on that date was just 28 days away. He said his campaign has knocked on 15,000 doors and plans to double that in the days up to the primary.
He believes his campaign is doing well not just in Springfield, but also in other communities in the county.
Citing his experience at the jail, Cocchi said, “I know what we have to do and know how to get it done.”
He disagrees with Ashe’s plan to use part of the jail for treatment beds for non-incarcerated addicts, as he believes the move would interfere with public health agencies as well as adding an additional stigma to the treatment of addiction.
The candidates for the 9th Hampden District state representative’s race were also there. The seat is open with the retirement of long state Rep. Benjamin Swan.
Libertarian Robert Underwood, who has run for the seat before, believes Libertarians have a good presence this year with its presidential nominees of former Gov. Gary Johnson, but there are fewer members of the party running for local office than last time.
He added a seat in the Legislature is important, as “people are not entirely happy with their choices.”
Michael Jones, another candidate for the seat, is running as Republican and said people have told him they would like to see a teen center in the district. For Jones, the issues include supporting progress in public school and working on more housing. He believes there and abandoned houses and lots that could be redeveloped.
Jones ran for mayor of Springfield and said the lessons he learned during that campaign he is applying to this one.
The race for the 9th Hampden state representative seat is a busy one with two more candidates: Ken Barnett and Ben Swan Jr. Barnett, is a corporate financial analyst who has served as a co-chair of the Sector F Community Policing effort and was a commissioner for the Springfield Civic Center and Symphony Hall.
He said significant issues are facing the district include public safety and abandoned buildings. He noted the recent destruction of the former Massachusetts career Development Institute building by arson is an example of the problem. He question, “Why are folks allowed to keep buildings blighted?”
He wants to bring the community together and said, “We are so divided we hurt each other.”
Swan said he is focusing on issues such as early childhood education to make sure children are ready for grade school.
He affirmed some of the issues of which voters have spoken include jobs and the economy, as well as the addiction epidemic.
He acknowledged that being the son of the current and longtime representative had both its positive and negative effects, he said he believes his father has been “an awesome steward of the office,” but that he is hos own man.
He stressed he is not “not a professional politician” and added, “Fame and fortune are not the reasons I’m doing this.”
Republican James “Chip” Harrington who is running for the State Senate seat currently held by Eric Lesser, said he feels with the summer winding down and the sheriff’s race partially determined by the primary on Sept. 8, more attention will be paid to his contest. He has suggested staging a debate with Lesser in every community in the Senate district and added voters he has met have responded well to his background as both a small businessman and as a police officer.
He said voters have identified the issues to him as the opioid crisis, crime and the lack of employment opportunities for younger people in the region.
Lesser said his campaign has been going “great,” and that he had spent that day. He said the is open to debates with Harrington “as long as a neutral person is hosting it.”
He added, “The more our issues are discusses, the better.”
Lesser said he plans to reintroduce his bill to have a study to examine the possibilities of passenger rail between Springfield and Worcester, that would then be linked to Boston.