Photo Gallery | Chris Connell announces candidacy for State Rep.
PITTSFIELD — City Councilor Christopher Connell, who said he is unafraid of long work weeks, intends to run for the 3rd Berkshire House seat in the fall election and would retain his seat on the council if elected.
The Ward 4 councilor and about two dozen supporters gathered on the City Hall steps Thursday afternoon to announce his bid for the House seat now held by state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. Connell confirmed afterward that he also intends to remain on the council if elected to the Legislature in November.
"During my two terms on the City Council, I started to understand that there is only so much I can do locally, and I feel I can accomplish more for the city at the state level," Connell said.
He said the city needs someone to more effectively advocate for funding for infrastructure repairs and for the school system.
"I can see them as glaring needs, and as a councilor, there is only so much I can do," he said.
"We also need to explore options of regionalization with neighboring communities due to shrinking populations and increasing costs," Connell said.
Connell, 57, of Dawes Avenue, said he is now running as an independent for the office, but will decide whether to seek one of the party nominations for the House seat before a March 8 deadline to make that declaration. He has stressed as a councilor his preference for working with all political factions toward practical solutions to problems and said he is comfortable with that role.
"I've always been an independent voice for the city of Pittsfield, and I am going to go forward as an independent voice," he said.
One change that could influence the upcoming Berkshire legislative race lineup would be if one or more of the House or Senate incumbents decides against seeking a new term, but thus far none has made such an announcement.
Contacted Thursday, Farley-Bouvier said she intends to seek another term. "This is what democracy is," she said of Connell's bid. "I feel confident in running on my record, which I would put up against anyone."
The incumbent also was critical of Connell's intention to continue as a councilor if elected to the House. "It is certainly legal to collect both those paychecks, but it is not possible to do both these jobs," she said, "especially if you're from the Berkshires. He may not be accounting for the time on the [Turnpike]. So he is either fooling himself or fooling the voters."
She said the dual role might be possible "with a helicopter."
"It is my intention to do both," Connell said during a short press conference after his announcement. "Logistically, I think I can."
He said that is in part due to the fact council meetings are at night while most legislative sessions are held during the daytime. He said he has also checked with the state Ethics Commission to learn that there would be no conflict of interest.
Connell added that he wants to provide "a direct link from local government to state government. I want a local voice in the Statehouse."
As for his private sector work, Connell said he owns rental properties and has reliable employees working with him so he can be freed up to serve both on the council and in the Legislature. His wife, Esther, who is his campaign treasurer, also has experience in real estate, he said.
His prior work, he said, included 20 years in management with the F.W. Woolworth Co., and with the Cumberland Farms Inc., where he became a regional manager with 45 stores in the Rhode Island area, with an annual budget of more than $100 million.
In addition to serving on the council for the past four years, he has served on a number of commissions, committees or boards in city government and with local organizations.
"I think I have enough knowledge to do the job as state rep," Connell said. "And I am used to dealing with big numbers and big budgets."
In his remarks, Connell said his long-term interest in state politics dates to his early years growing up in Bennington, Vt., where he worked as a teen in a men's clothing shop he termed "the hub of Bennington politics," where "people were always coming in and talking politics."
The late Joseph Shaffe owned the shop on Main Street, Connell said, and his son, David, was a state representative, traveling [roughly 100 miles] to Montpelier for 12 years for House sessions at the Vermont Statehouse.
"His father taught me business," Connell said, "and David introduced me to politics."
Connell's family moved to Pittsfield during the 1970s, he said, and after working elsewhere, he settled here in 2002.
"I have always been a hard worker, both in the corporate world and in the construction field," Connell told supporters. "I've been classified as a blue collar worker with white collar experience. I'm a work horse, not a show horse."