Clinton, Sanders backers rally for support in Pittsfield

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PITTSFIELD — With New Hampshire's primaries in the rear view and Massachusetts' 10 days ahead, the city got political on Saturday.

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton opened a "pop-up office" on heavily trafficked North Street, while supporters of her rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, canvassed neighborhoods door-to-door.

The latest polls show Sanders has opened up a seven-point lead on Clinton in the state. His local supporter sought to build on it.

"We have a ton of support on the ground [in Berkshire County]," Steven Coyne, a Sanders supporter, said. "We have momentum. Right now we've pulled ahead in the [Massachusetts] polls dramatically."

Roughly 30 people gathered at Pittsfield team leader Ray Alt's home on Bartlett Avenue intending to fan out from there.

Blocks away on North Street, Clinton's local team touted their candidate's experience and cool head, deriding Sanders' policy proposals as too radical.

"We have much in common with the other candidate, but we believe our candidate has the experience to get the job done," Clinton supporter state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, said at the new office. Around 10 people gathered at the office on Saturday.

Clinton supporter Mary O'Brien contrasted Clinton's coolness under fire during the Benghazi Hearing with Sanders' "intensity and anger."

"I'm not sure that would fit in the White House," O'Brien said, preferring Hillary's demeanor. "His idea that we're going to have a revolution — that does not appeal to me. The word 'revolution' has to more frighten than inspire you, in my opinion. I think we need change, to follow up on President Obama and continue to achieve change for the better. Bernie seems to stop everything where it is and start all over again."

The Sanders crowd up the road did not find political revolution so disagreeable an idea.

Nominating Sanders, Coyne said, would be the best way to start "steering this country away from some of the destructive policies of the past 30 to 40 years."

"One of the points of politics is to say, 'Hey, we want to take ownership as the people of America and start taking the Titanic, steering it away from the iceberg and getting it back into port so we can rebuild this country," Coyne said. "I think Bernie Sanders can do that."

Ward 6 City Councilor John Krol said, "I want to make Pittsfield a centerpiece of" Sanders movement.

"I think we're a very progressive city," Krol said, pointing to Sanders' broad appeal here. Alt, too, said Sanders enjoys "a lot of organic support in Berkshire County."

Lee Doctor Michael Kaplan said Sanders' calls for a single-payer health care system alone make him a superior candidate to Hillary. Kaplan has fought for such a system for 30 years with Physicians for a National Health Program.

"Bernie's program is basically our program," Kaplan said. "It's the only answer if you're looking to cover everybody and keep health care affordable."

On the other hand, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, said Clinton has been far more successful in proposing and passing legislation in her political career.

"As a legislator, I know what needs to occur to see good legislation passed," Cariddi said. "The president needs to work with Congress. I don't think what [Sanders] is proposing would get any traction."

Each gathering featured individuals whose history with the candidates went back decades.

Irmgard Arruda, a German immigrant and Sanders supporter, said U.S. politics frightened her in the '80s, the era of Ronald Reagan, when she was living in northern Vermont.

Then Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington 1981, and changed her view.

"He was a beacon of hope for me," Arruda said. "And over the years you build a certain trust. He has fought for the same causes since then with consistency and energy, and will continue to stand up for what's right."

On Clinton's side, Kathy Nuffer of Albany, N.Y., said she followed closely Clinton's political career and misses having her as a senator.

"She spent her early years working with families and children in need," Nuffer said. "When she ran for senator here, people initially called her a carpetbagger, but then she visited all 62 counties and really won people over. When she got to office, she started moving on her initiatives, and by the second time she ran it was a no-brainer who to vote for."

While their local supporters were busy on Pittsfield's streets on Saturday, the candidates themselves campaigned until the very last in Nevada while that state's caucus' were underway.

Clinton led by as much as 20 points in Nevada through late 2015, but polls showed the race had narrowed to a tossup by Saturday.

Farley-Bouvier said despite polls showing a statewide lead for Sanders in Massachusetts, she thinks the primary will be "tight" here, too.

"We need to counteract [Sanders' recent gains] with a very robust local campaign," she said. "We know what works is identifying our voters, having lots of one-on-one conversations, and getting them to the polls."

Sanders supporters meanwhile felt the wind was at their backs, and with their candidate headed back to Massachusetts for a rally in Amherst on Monday, the lead would only grow more dramatic, they said.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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