Saturday July 21, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON

I recently heard about a poll commissioned by Congressman Richie Neal that found him way ahead of Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. and Bill Shein in the race up to the Democratic Primary on Sept. 6. I have been interviewing Richie Neal on the radio for years. I find him to be the brightest of bright lights on the "Congressional Corner" program that I host. His opponents in the primary are also good people.

Shein is a smart, energetic and right-on-the-issues guy. He clearly has a bright future in politics. He won't win, but he has done well in this campaign and is someone to keep your eye on.

Nuciforo might have had a shot if the district had been differently configured. His big mistake was announcing years ago that he would run for the office held by outgoing 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. John Olver, no matter what. (Olver has since announced his retirement at the end of this term.)

Put yourself in Olver's place. Would you be happy when Nuciforo did that? You would not. So turnabout being fair play, Olver, the liberal's liberal, announced that there was virtually no difference between his voting record and Richie Neal's. That went a long way to reassuring many primary voters in the liberal Berkshires that Neal was their man. I keep banging my head against the wall asking myself, "What could Nuciforo have been thinking?"

In fact, if the district had been drawn in a different way, the ex-state senator from the Berkshires may have had a shot.


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The arithmetic of this run just didn't add up. Neal is an incumbent with a terrific record. He has seniority in the House and may well end up the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He was, among other things, one of the few people with the guts to vote against the Iraq war. His geographic advantage with all his old district voters is greater than that of the Berkshires piece which has been added on. He has been endorsed by most organized labor unions. He told me that he has accepted the invitation to debate because it was the right thing to do even though the frontrunners in a campaign typically avoid debates like the plague. You have to respect him for that.

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On another topic, one of the great success stories in the Berkshires is the comeback of The Mount, Edith Wharton's former Lenox home. Under the superb direction of Susan Wissler and a committed board of trustees, this magnificent treasure has been brought back from the operating table where the attending docs thought death (bankruptcy) was imminent.

There is really no reason to go into a "who-hit-John" scenario, but let's just say mistakes were made that led to the near-death experience. On the other hand, while it was a close call and the patient is not entirely out of the woods, things are looking hopeful.

The Berkshires, of course, are now one of the premier places to be in the country when you are looking for culture. The rich "in" crowd may get to the Hamptons, but they have nothing to compare with what goes on here. What with Tanglewood, Shakespeare, Berkshire Theatre Group, Barrington Stage Company, Williamstown Theatre Festival and on and on, it figures that one of the greatest historical literary figures (though she had some warts) in the country would be a part of the cultural mix.

What I love about The Mount is that it presents programs that are greater than just a homily to Wharton. A sold-out series of Monday afternoon talks by outstanding authors and free live music on the terrace on Friday and Saturday evenings have been receiving rave reviews.

One of the most contentious problems that The Mount had to deal with was the purchase of Wharton's original library. Even that difficult problem seems to have been resolved. At the height of the crisis, The Mount owed its lenders nearly $8.5 million. That debt has reduced by nearly half.

Of course, there are still challenges, but thanks to the creditors who know how important The Mount is to the Berkshires, things are really looking up. I love this story -- it makes me happy.