Barrett takes 1st Berkshire District Democratic primary

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NORTH ADAMS — John Barrett III is one step closer to returning to political office, but this one is on Beacon Hill.

With a hefty lead late Tuesday evening, Barrett appeared to be the Democratic Party's choice to succeed the late state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi.

In the special election primary on Tuesday, Barrett defeated three other candidates to become the Democratic nominee for the 1st Berkshire District, moving on to face Republican Christine Canning in the November special election. 

"It's been a long eight years for me, but I'm back!" said Barrett when he gathered with supporters at Mingo's Sports Bar and Grill. "All I can say is thank you! Your support has been incredible. I'm so grateful," Barrett posted on his campaign's Facebook page shortly before 9 p.m.


Barrett handily won North Adams, where he served as the mayor for nearly three decades, earning 1,239 votes to Lisa Blackmer's 394, Stephanie Bosley's 630, and Kevin Towle's 82 votes.

He also took Adams, the district's second largest town, earning 484 votes to second-place finisher Bosley's 301 votes.

Barrett's political career has now progressed after defeats in 2009 when he sought a 14th consecutive term as mayor of North Adams and unsuccessfully attempted a comeback in 2015. 

"This was a victory for the working men and women of the Northern Berkshire area. I'm a middle class guy and I felt as though they've been left out of the equation for several years," Barrett said.

Barrett said the area needs jobs and to diversify its economy to avoid becoming overly reliant on a single industry, as well as improve its education systems.

"[The message] resonated in just about every single working class community," Barrett.

Barrett believes his experience and relationships on both sides of the aisle also helped his campaign. He also said his campaign returned to his base.

"This is a campaign that you had to identify your voters, to go to your base. I had the biggest base," he said.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party welcomed Barrett's victory in a statement released Tuesday evening.

"John Barrett will be a bold, progressive voice for the working families and residents of the 1st Berkshire district and will continue to build upon the work the late Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, including increasing access to broadband and investing in programs to support and sustain local industries," said Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford.

The special election was scheduled earlier this year following the death of former state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, who died of cancer in June while serving her fourth term.

The primary proved to be tightly contested, with little indication of who would come out on top prior to Tuesday's vote.

The candidates pushed hard on social media to encourage voters to turn up at the polls — and they responded.

By shortly after 5 p.m. in North Adams, the district's largest community, election officials reported turnout nearing 25 percent — far more than they had projected for the primary election, which typically sees a low turnout.

"There were a lot more people than I thought were going to be here," said Ron O'Brien, the head warden at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center in North Adams.

Despite Cariddi's unexpected death and the subsequent special election, the Democratic primary fielded a competitive list of candidates.

Bosley, daughter of former state Rep. Daniel Bosley, was the first to jump into the race in July.

She campaigned on education and workforce development. She called out a need for a three-tiered education funding system in Massachusetts and increased funding for adult education programs.

Blackmer, who is serving her fifth term on the North Adams City Council, threw her hat into the ring shortly thereafter.

As a former president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and a treasurer/collector in the town of Buckland, she focused on the issues facing struggling cities and towns and argued she has the experience to address them.

Barrett, the former mayor of North Adams for 26 years, told voters he wouldn't be making a career out of being a state representative.

But given his experience — which includes more than two years at the helm of the BerkshireWorks workforce development program in Pittsfield — he argued he could effectively work for changes to the education funding formula and workforce development programs.

Towle, the final candidate to enter the race, brought a unique perspective to the table.

Towle worked for nearly a year as Cariddi's legislative aide, helping her craft proposals that he suggested he would see through as the district's representative. Among them were plans to provide financial assistance for first-time homebuyers who recently graduated from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts or Williams College.

Republican Christine Canning ran unopposed in the primary election.

The 1st Berkshire District encompasses the towns of Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, Lanesborough, New Ashford, North Adams and Williamstown.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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