Sunday June 3, 2012

While Democrats from across the state gathered in Springfield Saturday to kick off the campaign season, one Berkshire County congressional hopeful made a point of skipping the party’s convention this year.

Alford-based writer and activist Bill Shein boycotted the event in protest of what he describes as a "breach of neutrality" by the state Democratic committee in the contested 1st Massa chusetts District primary.

While a party spokesman insists that the party is remaining neutral in the race, Shein claims the state committee has repeatedly shown favoritism for incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal of Springfield, a 12-term incumbent who is challenged this year by Shein and Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. of Pittsfield, the current Middle Berkshire register of deeds.

"It seems that habit, unquestioned tradition, and a lack of State Committee-approved guidelines for the party’s proper role in contested U.S. House races have left you and your staff without clear rules," Shein wrote in a letter to party leaders. "The party must undertake more rigorous efforts to ensure it treats all candidates in House races equally."

Shein’s letter cited four instances of what he termed "inappropriate official favor itism" on the part of the state Democratic party:

n The use of a local caucus as a Neal campaign event.

n The decision to share office space with Neal in Pittsfield and Springfield.

n The use of party funds to send a communication to state Democrats on behalf of Neal.

n Allowing Neal to ad dress about 5,000 state delegates during the convention without extending the same opportunity to his two opponents.

Kevin Franck, a spokes man for the Massa chusetts Democratic Party, denied the accusation of institutional favoritism.

He said the party never picks sides in contested primaries. Instead, he said Neal was asked to speak at the convention because he currently represents the district where it is being held.

"While there are a range of issues, decisions and actions that need to be taken each year in connection with the Massachusetts Demo cratic Party’s conventions, we always work to make sure that the host community is well represented," Franck said in a statement. "Since we’ll be in Springfield, the delegates will be addressed by the local Democratic leaders who made up the convention’s Host Commit tee, the Mayor of Springfield and the member of Congress who represents the city.

"We strive for fairness and for planning that enhances the grassroots focus we have had for several years because it is that grassroots focus that has propelled our party to major victories in the past years. It is not always easy planning an event for more than 5,000 people to attend, but we believe we have succeeded in treating everyone involved in a fair manner and we regret that there is one candidate who may disagree."

In his letter, Shein recognized that skipping the convention -- an event both his opponents attended -- would likely put him at a disadvantage because he would miss an opportunity to address 600 delegates from the new 1st District. But he said it is worth the political cost.

"The important principle here -- basic fairness and equity in a Democratic Party primary -- is more important than any short-term political benefit gained by remaining silent and attending the convention," Shein wrote. "I believe that given the facts, and the party’s insistence on proceeding with yet another clear violation of neutrality in a contested race, my attendance would send the wrong message about what is acceptable."

To reach Ned Oliver:
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