Photo Gallery | Berkshire Brigades hosts Democratic candidates debate at BCC
PITTSFIELD — The five Democratic candidates seeking legislative nominations in the Sept. 8 primary participated in wide-ranging candidate debates Thursday evening at Berkshire Community College.
In back-to-back events sponsored by the Berkshire Brigades, incumbent state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and challenger Michael Bloomberg, of Holmes Road, faced off first in a one-hour debate.
Then, Democratic Senate candidates Andrea Harrington, of Richmond, Rinaldo Del Gallo, of Lenox, and Adam Hinds of Pittsfield, who are vying to replace Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, debated over 90 minutes.
Progressive positions — and often which candidate was the most progressive on an issue — dominated the debates. But differences over perceived qualifications and approaches to serving in the Legislature did emerge and provoked some of the sharpest exchanges.
In the House debate, moderated by Williams College political science professor Jim Mahon, Bloomberg was critical of what he termed a lack of progress during Farley-Bouvier's time in the House since 2011. Talking about the flight of young adults from the Berkshires in search of economic opportunity, he said, "This is why we need new energy; we need fresh ideas. We need change."
The area has received less state funding and support in recent years than during the terms of Farley-Bouvier's predecessors, Bloomberg asserted.
The incumbent fired back by asking voters to look at her training and work in the special education field, at her work at City Hall and as a city councilor in Pittsfield prior to her election to the House, and asked them to note "the absence of such experience by my opponent."
In her closing remarks, Farley-Bouvier also asked voters to "think of this election as a job application and put my resume and my opponent's side by side."
She cited "gaps in his work resume" and lack of significant employment in Berkshire County.
Bloomberg, a 2008 Pittsfield High School graduate and 2012 University of Massachusetts grad, said he hasn't been working recently because he is studying economic issues at UMass. He said he previously gained experience working for a start-up hedge fund, Kora Management.
The candidate added that he grew up in the Berkshires and his family has deep roots in Pittsfield. He said he always intended to return to the area and now hopes to help foster an economic climate that will lure other young adults to settle here.
Farley-Bouvier asked voters to compare the endorsements from political figures and organizations she has received to those Bloomberg, a first time candidate for office, has attracted in the primary race.
And she touted what she termed a "proven progressive record" in Boston and a reputation "for being everywhere" at community events, and for working in a collaborative manner to accomplish legislative goals. Among initiatives she expressed pride in were efforts to ensure equal pay for equal work, which she said involved a tough 20-year struggle that recently came to fruition.
Bloomberg said he has gained experience working in a high-pressure industry and through his studies that would lead to new approaches to economic development here. One change he would pursue, he said, would be to organize the House representatives from the 26 Gateway Cities, such as Pittsfield, toward gaining a larger share of economic development funding.
The candidates are seeking the party's nomination for the 3rd Berkshire House seat, with the winner facing independent Christopher Connell, a Pittsfield city councilor, in the Nov. 8 general election.
The Senate debate, moderated by former Judge Fredric Rutberg, president of The Berkshire Eagle, included numerous questions, follow-up questions and candidate-to-candidate questions.
Del Gallo claimed the "Bernie Sanders progressive" mantle, saying he is running a Sanders-style campaign and stressing strong measures to close the income gap with tax reform to shift the burden more toward the wealthy.
He also several times asserted that he was the first of the three candidates out front on such issues as opposition to the proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline project that was dropped amid strong opposition, and to support a $15 minimum wage.
Harrington and Hinds disputed that claim, saying they also early on took the progressive stand on those issues.
Del Gallo also asserted that he has been "a visible member of the community for 15 years," advocating for causes like a ban on polystyrene in Pittsfield and writing numerous newspaper columns on a range of progressive subjects. He added that Hinds only recently returned to the area to accept a position in Pittsfield and Harrington has not been "visible" on the political scene.
Hinds, a Buckland native, said he has been directly working in the community and tackling tough issues like gang violence and drugs as the founder of the grant-funded Pittsfield Community Connection program for at-risk youth and later as the executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in North Adams.
He also cited his work with the U.N. in the Middle East where he said he learned to work with communities toward collaboration while also encountering negotiators "with some tough actors."
Harrington described herself as someone who has "always been for the underdog" and said she'd be a tireless advocate for working families, which she said are increasingly unable to afford to live in the Berkshires and get ahead.
She promised to pursue "a progressive agenda" in the Senate and added, "I am not a politically connected person, but what I am is a fighter. Don't let my size or my gender fool you," said Harrington, who is slight of build.
The candidate said her work as an attorney and her experiences growing up in a working class family in Pittsfield have given her the ability to forge collaborations but also the insight to know when to stand up strongly in opposition.
Hinds said the Senate position "needs someone to be effective in pushing an agenda," saying his experiences growing up in a family that stressed education, his local work with youth the low-income residents, with the U.N. and working for former U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst, has prepared him for the job.
Del Gallo said in his closing remarks that "I am the anti-establishment candidate, no doubt about it." But he asserted that more than his opponents he has been out in the community and active for more than a decade and he would fight hard against income disparity, which he said is at the root of many other problems.
"You need someone with fire in his gut," he said.
In November, the winner will face Christine Canning of Lanesborough, who is running unopposed as the Republican candidate.
The debates were held in the Koussevitzky Arts Center at BCC and were recorded by Pittsfield Community Television. Rutberg noted prior the Senate debate that despite a Red Sox-Yankees game and the Olympics on TV, the room was packed, indicating that democracy was alive and well.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.