Friday August 31, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The three candidates in the 1st Congressional District race traded barbs over defense spending cuts, stemming home foreclosures, saving Social Security and other campaign issues on Thursday night in their only Berkshire County debate.

U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal primarily found himself defending his 24 years in Congress against former state Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. and writer/political activist Bill Shein during a one-hour radio debate heard throughout the county. WBEC (AM 1420) hosted the live, in studio broadcast, simulcast on sister stations WNAW (AM 1230) in North Adams and WSBS (860 AM, 94.1 FM) in Great Barrington.

Pittsfield Community Television, Northern Berkshire Community Television and Community Television of the Southern Berkshires also plan to televise the political forum prior to the next week's decisive state primary election.

Neal, Nuciforo and Shein are vying for the Democratic party nomination in the newly redrawn 1st Congressional District. The district includes all 32 Berkshire County cities and towns along with Neal's home base of Springfield in Hampden County.

Barring a write-in candidate surfacing after Thursday's primary, the winner will succeed U.S. Rep. John Olver because no Republican or third-party candidate will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Olver isn't seeking re-election after a 20-year career on Capitol Hill.


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Nuciforo, of Pittsfield, and Shein, of Alford advocated reduced defense spending as a way to balance the federal budget and stimulate the economy.

They both called for a 25 percent cut in defense, with Shein claiming those losing government jobs can be placed in the private sector.

Neal pointed out that defense spending cuts will hurt private industry, especially in Pittsfield.

"You need to be careful about a 25 percent cut in defense as General Dynamics is one of your biggest employers here," he said.

Neal suggested that cutting the nation's unemployment rate in half will help stimulate the economy.

Nuciforo said what's needed is "tax sanity."

"Let the tax cuts expire for the top 2 percent and extend the tax credits to everyone else," said the current Middle Berkshire District register of deeds.

Shein went a step further saying, "We need to restore progressive taxation and make sure corporations pay their fair share, including General Electric."

Neal's opponents also verbally attacked the congressman on the mortgage foreclosure crisis, claiming he did nothing on Capitol Hill to prevent thousands of people from losing their homes.

"In Hampden County alone, there are 2,000 foreclosures on record," Nuciforo noted.

In his rebuttal, Neal said he's still fighting for homeowners and consumers in Congress, while Nuciforo hasn't the past six years.

"If you really cared about these issues, you wouldn't have left the state Senate and you don't deal with them as register of deeds," he said.

Shein claimed all of Con gress is to blame, in part, for many homeowners' inability to pay their monthly mortgage payments.

"We need [national] policies in alignment with the people of this country, not the banks writing the checks," he said.

As for keeping Social Security solvent for decades to come, Shein called on lifting the Social Security tax cap to keep it funded. Nuciforo advocated for maintaining the cost of living increase benefit to Social Security recipients, something Congress failed to do in 2009 and 2010, he said, under Neal's watch.

Given his personal history, Neal questioned Nuciforo's assertion.

"I was raised [by relatives] on Social Security," he said. "There's no greater champion in Congress for Social Security and Medicare."

Neal also denied Nuciforo's claim that he was siding with Republicans who support limiting the reproductive rights for women. The veteran congressman said he supported the Affordable Care Act.

Nevertheless, Nuciforo felt he was more progressive when it came to health care.

"We need people in Congress we can trust on health issues," he said.

Shein vowed to ensure all women have access to gender-specific health care services.

"I don't think they should be denied legal abortions, if they are poor," he said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233