Photo Gallery: Democratic candidates for governor speak at Berkshire Brigades forum

PITTSFIELD -- The campaign for governor swung through the Berkshires Sunday afternoon, with the five Democratic candidates seeking local partisan support ahead of the state primary later this year.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Treasurer Steven Grossman, Dr. Joseph C. Avellone III, Donald Berwick, a health care administrator, and civil rights attorney Juliette Kayyem participated at a political forum sponsored by the Berkshire Brigades, the county's leading Democratic Party organization. The party nomination is up for grabs since Deval L. Patrick isn't running for a third, four-year term.

The candidates showcase also included the four men running for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket: James Arena-DeRosa, Jonathan Edwards, Steven Kerrigan and Michael Lake.

The party nominees for both offices are elected separately in the state primary, this year scheduled for Sept. 9. The winners are paired together and will face the duo that emerges from the Republican primary during the Nov. 4 general election.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey opened the forum by delivering a pep talk to get Berkshire Democrats excited about the 2014 election season.

Following remarks from the lieutenant governor candidates, the gubernatorial hopefuls each had 10 minutes to introduce themselves and outline their campaign platform to the 300 people gathered at the Sons of Italy ITAM Lodge 564.

Avellone, 65, says job creation is his top priority, calling for an improved skilled workforce to meet the needs of 21st century factories.

"We need to draw tens of thousands of jobs in smart manufacturing, precision manufacturing, life sciences ... and in order for them to thrive here we have to think big," he said.

The former Wellesley Selectmen and Harvard medical School alum called for more investment in public schools and the need to bring health care costs under control and change how medical care is delivered in the state.

Avellone feels "you can't tinker around the edges" when it comes to revamping health care.

If elected governor, Berwick, a former Medicaid and Medicare administrator, will advocate for a single-payer system, believing government is the key to ensure everyone has the right to quality, affordable health care. However, the 67-year-old cited a national survey that found only 19 percent of Americans are confident state and federal intervention can resolve the health care crisis and other major issues facing the country.

"When we lose faith in government, we lose faith in ourselves," he noted.

Berwick vowed to also champion more state spending on public education from preschool through state universities.

As for Coakley, 61, the Berkshire native says a boost in public education spending means a more educated workforce in order to bring high-tech, high-paying jobs to Massachusetts.

"We also need to raise the minimum wage and have earned sick time for all," she said, referring to the one million workers in Massachusetts whose jobs don't provide sick leave.

Coakley added the state has a responsibility to foster regional economic development from the Berkshires to Cape Cod.

Grossman also supports the earned sick time bill before the state Legislature, noting his family business, Grossman Marketing Group, has provided paid sick leave for more than 20 years.

The 67-year-old also plans, as governor, to help create 50,000 new manufacturing jobs in five years.

"Manufacturing is in our bones," he said. "We know how to make things and make them well," he said.

Grossman also advocated for universal preschool for four-year-olds and the need to reduce the debt of college graduates by boosting investment in state-funded higher education.

The youngest of the candidates at 44, Kayyem believes Massachusetts can attract more, better-paying jobs.

"We can compete with the 49 other states ... for companies that want to grow," she said. "The goal of the next governor is to be committed to moving forward and to think outside the box."

In addition, the former administrator with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says the state has to embrace a global economy and realize overall progress is a marathon.

The candidates forum wrapped up with a brief question-and-answer segment with all five Democrats agreeing to end unfunded state mandates imposed on cities and towns or ensure they are funded.

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