PITTSFIELD — For the first time in a decade, Benjamin Downing's name will not be on the ballot for state Senate in the district that includes Berkshire County.
The Pittsfield Democrat did not seek re-election after five terms, but other Democrats and a Republican are vying to replace him. The Democrats — Rinaldo Del Gallo, of Lenox; Andrea Harrington, of Richmond; and Adam Hinds, of Pittsfield — are battling for their party's nomination in Thursday's primary.
Christine Canning, of Lanesborough, is unopposed for her party's nomination and will meet the Democratic winner in the Nov. 8 general election.
In the Democratic primary race, the three candidates have all stressed progressive views on the issues facing the district and the state — at times trying to claim the mantle of "the most progressive" in the race.
The candidates, who are profiled below, are seeking to represent a massive 52-community district that includes all of Berkshire County and towns in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.
Rinaldo Del Gallo III
Rinaldo Del Gallo III says it right out: "I am the anti-establishment candidate, no doubt about it," as he stated during a debate for the three Democratic candidates seeking to replace Downing.
The Lenox attorney, 53, also has stressed throughout his campaign, "My general theme is, I am running as a Bernie Sanders progressive ... It was one of the first decisions I made."
Although both his Democratic Primary opponents — Andrea Harrington and Adam Hinds — share similar progressive views of most major issues, Del Gallo asserts he has been out front first on those issues, and has never been shy about taking on the establishment view.
Often, he said, as with the push for a $15 minimum hourly wage, the fight against a Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. plan for a cross-state natural gas line, and efforts to ban polystyrene foam containers and plastic shopping bags, decriminalize marijuana, push fatherhood rights and shared parenting, and transgender rights to use public restrooms, his views have become mainstream over time.
The Pittsfield native also has asserted that he's been a public figure in the Berkshires for 15 years, while he said Hinds was primarily working out of the Berkshires, and sometimes out of the country, and Harrington, also an attorney, hasn't been "visible" in the political limelight and has been largely absent from battles over major issues.
Del Gallo also touts his many newspaper columns, published in The Berkshire Eagle and other papers in the state as evidence that he is not afraid to take a public stand or push for change.
The candidate, who supported Sanders, the Vermont senator, in his run for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he believes the political revolution that movement began will now continue at the local and state levels and in Congress.
Like Sanders, Del Gallo said income disparity and the shift in recent decades of a disproportionate percentage of wealth toward the upper income levels, are at the base of other issues facing Massachusetts — including opioid addiction, poverty, a decline in spending on public education, and wage levels that do not support a chance at a middle class lifestyle.
He said he favors a graduated income tax — which 33 other states have — and the so-called "millionaire's tax" amendment proposal, or a higher rate for those with high incomes; a $15 an hour minimum wage and support for unions as they seek higher wages and benefits from employers.
Higher wages would give workers the disposable income to make purchases that would lead to more robust economic development, he said, noting that the 1950s through 1970s featured a more egalitarian economy in terms of the distribution of wealth and also strong growth, despite much higher tax rates on the wealthy and on corporations.
"I would submit that those were some of the most economically prosperous times in our county," Del Gallo said during an interview.
In addition, he supports a single-payer health care system; universal pre-K; tuition-free and debt-free state higher education; investment in green energy to replace fossil fuels and creating jobs in the Berkshires around that technology; investing in high-speed rail from the Berkshires to New York and Boston and improved public transportation; improving infrastructure, and the rapid expansion of high-speed internet in the smaller towns of the 52-community Berkshire-Franklin-Hampshire-Hampden Senate district.
On the environment, Del Gallo lists as accomplishments his proposals for a foam polystyrene food container ban in Pittsfield, which was passed as an ordinance, and for a ban on single-use plastic bags, which city officials are now reviewing. He received a Hero of the Ocean award from the state Senate for his efforts on the city's polystyrene ban.
For information, visit statesenate.rinaldodelgallo.com.
Senate candidate Andrea Harrington, of Richmond, concedes she hasn't been as politically active as some others running for statewide office, but she tells voters: "There is really no one in this race who brings the kind of experience that I bring to this position."
That, she said, "is based on my experience of growing up here, seeing what our economy has gone through, coming from a working class family, having kids in the public schools, running a small business, and really advocating on behalf of my clients in the courts here every day I know I have the skills to be effective for the district in Boston."
Harrington is an attorney whose husband, Timothy Walsh, owns the Public Market in West Stockbridge; and she is a mother of two who says residents can count on her to fight to improve the lives of working people and families in Berkshire County.
Harrington advised potential constituents during one debate "not to let my size fool you," saying, "I am a fighter."
Until recently, voters were not as focused on Thursday's Democratic primary. Her campaign initially had been "a process of educating people," she said, "but I think people are starting to tune in now, and I am really, really happy with the response that I am getting."
In a 52-community Senate district, encompassing all or part of four counties, Harrington said it "definitely is a challenge. You can't knock on doors in every community." She said she's taking advantage of community or political events, especially in all the rural communities, not to mention meeting potential voters at transfer stations, "which is a good place to meet people."
Asked what she would like her legacy to be if elected, Harrington responded, "In 10 years or 20 years, when I look back and judge my performance as a state senator, I will judge it based on what did I do to stop the population decline and to turn that around, and what did I do to expand economic opportunity here in this district. Those are the biggest challenges, the most pressing issues and those feed into everything else."
She added that she doesn't believe "we have taken a districtwide or a countywide approach to economic development. But I see people starting to work toward that. I would like to take a systematic approach to economic development assess our strengths and weaknesses."
She said, "I would like to come up with a vision for economic development — what do we want the economy to look like in 10 years? And then take the steps to get there."
Her work with the board of BerkShares in South County "really influenced my thinking on the economy," she said of the organization, which tries to maximize the circulation of goods, services and capital within the region to bolster the local economy.
Like Downing, Harrington said she has a strong interest in promotion of sustainable energy. Education also is one of her top priorities, she said, "and my No. 1 legislative priority is universal preschool. It solves a host of problems."
Harrington said she represents many families in court and she see the effects of an inadequate education and many people who had negative experiences while in school.
Other key issues, she said, include moving to a $15 minimum wage and funding more treatment and support options in fighting opioid addiction. Harrington said she would push for a full-service hospital in North Adams and to preserve medical facilities in South County.
The Senate district is "the most progressive district in the state," she said. "I see the seat as an opportunity to really push the state in a progressive agenda."
Harrington grew up in Richmond and graduated from Taconic High School in Pittsfield in 1993. She is a 2003 graduate of American University's Washington College of Law, who returned to the area in 2007 after practicing in Florida.
For information, visit www.andreaforsenate.com.
Adam Hinds believes his experience, growing up in Franklin County, working in Berkshire County's two cities and in the Middle East with the United Nations makes him the best qualified candidate to succeed Downing.
Hinds, 39, said during an interview that as a native of the Buckland-Shelburne area who has served in recent years as organizer and director of the Pittsfield Community Connection program to combat youth violence and gang influences, and as executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, he has developed "a real understanding of the issues and the challenges" facing the district.
The candidate also cited as valuable experiences his work on the campaigns for former U.S. Rep. John Olver, and on U.S. Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, as well as his work with the U.N. for eight years prior to his return to Western Massachusetts to lead the Shannon grant-funded Pittsfield youth program in 2013-14.
Experience helping to negotiate power-sharing, cease-fire, boundary and other agreements between various groups or factions in the Middle East after the Iraq War will help him in working with political factions and issue stakeholders toward positive solutions, Hinds said.
He said he was told by supporters who urged him to run for the Senate seat, "We like that you have been very proactive in ensuring that all the various aspects of the population have been involved" in trying to address youth violence, addiction, poverty and other issues.
"That has been my model," he said, "ensuring that people understand the narrative and helping to define the narrative and proactively working with folks across the spectrum and to demonstrate action. That's what we have done and what I've done since I came back, and pretty much what I've done in my career."
On legislative and social issues facing Massachusetts, Hinds said "the top issue is jobs, jobs, jobs," to which he would add "energy and the environment, education, and basic infrastructure and transportation."
Closing "the digital divide" separating rural towns in the region from other areas of the state in terms of broadband access has to be a priority, he said, along with ensuring a fair share of funding for transportation infrastructure projects in the region.
Those issues, along with education funding — including vocational education and workforce training — directly impact the local economy, Hinds said, and the ability to attract new businesses and other development.
He said he would push for changes in the state aid formulas for Chapter 70 aid to school districts. Hinds said he opposes the November ballot question seeking to expand the charter school system.
Workforce training funding is key to filling many of the more than 1,000 jobs in the region that are open at a given time, he said.
On energy, Hinds said he favors greater efforts to diversify the region's energy sources, specifically lowering its reliance on natural gas in favor of renewable energy.
Hinds said his work with youth and low-income residents also has given him an understanding of the opioid addiction crisis that is devastating communities across the state.
"It's true there is no shortage of challenges," he said, "but I also think there is an endless stream of opportunity."
Hinds is a 1998 graduate of Wesleyan University and of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
For information, visit www.adamhinds.org.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.