Saturday May 19, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON

Here comes the September 6th 1st district Democratic congressional primary.

I have interviewed all of the candidates and find them to be civil and decent men. Andrea Nuciforo is a nice man who has made a series of decisions that may not serve him well. As a politician, he follows in the footsteps of his late father who was a revered figure in the Berkshires as a senator and a judge.

When his father died, young Andrea took up the profession and acquitted himself well in the Senate, where he rose to important, influential positions. He was good at raising money and had no trouble repeatedly winning reelection. It was certainly not a secret that he wanted to go to Congress, and everyone knew that when popular liberal Congressmen John Olver retired, the ambitious Nuciforo would run.

Maybe it was the trip from Boston, which can be wearing, or maybe it was some other personal reason, but Nuciforo decided to ditch the Senate seat and take the Register of Deeds position. In doing so, he frustrated the aspirations of two talented women who were vying for the seat. That caused some residual resentment. Some people saw the registrar position as a jumping off post for his run for Congress. With his name and background, it was no contest. He won big.

The registrar job paid well and allowed him to continue to engage in his law practice. However, his ambition may have gotten the better of him when he announced that whether or not Olver retired, he would run for the politically sainted Olver's seat. That may have been his biggest mistake.

No sooner did the primary field begin to take shape than the popular Olver anointed his colleague, the brilliant Richie Neal from Springfield, as his preferred successor. In fact, Olver, maybe one of the most liberal members of the House, and Richie Neal are classic economic liberals. The two districts differed and so did some of the policy positions on the tough social issues. Neal has always represented the announced interest of his largely blue collar constituency.

Obviously, the Olver endorsement puts Nuciforo at a disadvantage. When the liberal congressman announces that there is virtually no difference on the major issues between him and Neal, it is a huge boost to the Neal candidacy. Nuciforo has been saying that since voter turnout is greater in the Berkshires than in the old Springfield district, but that assumes he'll get all the Berkshire votes. He will not.

To make things even worse for Nuciforo, a third candidate -- Bill Shein -- entered the race, splitting the Berkshire voting bloc even more. Shein is a classic progressive and has an attractive message. His message is "enough!" Shein has been energetic and worked hard to get his message out, putting an absolute cap on how much money he is willing to take from contributors.

Richie Neal is one of the most intelligent, articulate politicians I have ever met or known. He is one of the most influential and powerful politicians in the Congress and there is a real possibility that the House goes Democratic this year that he will become the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and will be able to do wonderful things for the First District which can use all the help it can get. I admit that I really like Neal as a human being. I always look forward to my conversations with him. He has a firm grip on history. He uses his talents as a former teacher to help all of us make sense out of very complicated issues. Maybe I haven't got this right, but my bet is that Richie Neal will be our next congressman. In any case we are being treated to a rare glimpse of American Democracy at work, and we do have some real choices to make.

Alan Chartock, A Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.