Incumbent Rep. Farley-Bouviver, newcomer Bloomberg ready for Sept. 8 Democratic primary faceoff


PITTSFIELD — The Democratic Primary in the 3rd Berkshire District House race in Pittsfield pits incumbent state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier against Michael Bloomberg of Holmes Road.

The winner in Thursday's voting will face independent candidate and City Councilor Christopher Connell.

In the Democratic race, the candidates have clashed over how effective Farley-Bouvier has been in five years in office in passing legislation to benefit the district and in securing state funding for Pittsfield.

She has pointed to their comparative resumes, noting the many jobs and positions she has held and the "gaps" in the 26-year-old Bloomberg's resume since college.

He has called for a fresh approach on the issues and renewed energy in dealing with the Legislature, which she contends her "team approach" has greatly benefitted the city during her terms.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg knows he faces a tough challenge in trying to defeat incumbent Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier.

But the 26-year-old city resident said he senses momentum building behind his candidacy and he believes he is better addressing the issue voters are most interested in — economic development.

"My priorities are the No. 1 difference," he said during an interview. "I am not big on sweeping progressive issues," which he said has been a principal focus of the incumbent.

Citing such issues as GMO labeling and a bill to allow residents to obtain licenses regardless of their immigration status, Bloomberg said he would likely vote for those proposals but believes reps. from wealthier districts can and should provide leadership on those issues, while the important issues in Pittsfield revolve around jobs and economic development.

Bloomberg, who has worked for investment firms in New York and has an educational background in economics and technology, said he could have an immediate impact on local development by "bringing attention to Pittsfield" among innovative business people from outside the area.

He said he would ask to be appointed to legislative committees like the Joint Committee on Revenue, the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, the House Committee on Technology and Intergovernmental Affairs, or similar committees where he believes his familiarity with finances and technology would benefit the district.

The candidate also notes that Farley-Bouvier is active in the Legislature's Progressive Caucus, saying he would focus on the much larger Gateway Cities Caucus, which represents small- to medium-size cities in the state that, like Pittsfield, face economic development challenges. That group of representatives could be an effective lobbying force for additional state funding and resources for those cities, he said, adding that he would seek a leadership role in the caucus.

Bloomberg said one of his principal reasons for running for the House is to help the city as it approaches its Proposition 2 1/2 levy ceiling, after which override votes would be required to raise local tax revenue. Sluggish growth and overall declining real estate values here since the recession of 2008-09 have been cited as the reason the city's tax levy total has risen close to the override ceiling level.

On specific issues, Bloomberg said he would push for more workforce development funding, noting that Massachusetts spends on worker training at a level well below the average in other states. That's one reason, he said, that hundreds of open jobs typically go unfilled in the Berkshire region.

Bloomberg also said that, while Farley-Bouvier "is well liked around Pittsfield," she "hasn't passed a bill" she proposed in five years as a lawmaker, and did not obtain budget amendment funding for local projects until this year. He said the other three House reps in Berkshire county have obtained more than her total "in this year alone."

He said some local officials have told him that when they hoping for state funding and looking for "who to lean on, it hasn't been Trish."

Unlike Farley-Bouvier, Bloomberg also has taken a strong stand against the proposed Walmart Supercenter for a William Stanley Business Park site, saying a retail project there instead of industrial development "is the antithesis of smart development."

The other key to development, he said, is in finding ways to work in collaboration with businesses. "Incentivizing the private sector is what really works," he said.

After college, Bloomberg worked in New York City with a startup hedge fund and also with a large financial institution with the firm's technology and recruiting teams.

He is a 2008 graduate of Pittsfield High School and 2012 graduate of the University of Massachusetts.

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Tricia Farley-Bouvier

The incumbent said she is getting mostly positive feedback while going door-to-door in Pittsfield's 3rd House district. But one issue which generates some negative comments, she said, is the new Taconic High School project, for which the city will borrow about $44 million.

"But I stand very firm on the school," she said. "It is the key to economic development." She adds that, after the City Council unanimously approved borrowing for the new school — which also will receive $76 million in state funding — "people could have taken it to a ballot vote, started a petition. The option was out there, but there was no movement to do it."

Farley-Bouvier said she believes most voters understand the vocational component of the new high school will be one of the driving forces behind future economic development in the city, which most believe is dependent upon advanced manufacturing and similar businesses and the necessary work force training.

In responding to criticism from her opponent that she has been unable to pass any bills she originated and that she has brought home fewer budget amendment items for smaller projects than the other Berkshire lawmakers, Farley-Bouvier said Bloomberg doesn't really understand the legislative process because "being a legislator means being part of a team; that's how it works ... There isn't a piece of legislation that passes because of one person."

She added, "If look at bills I have [co-sponsored] and worked very hard on, such as gas leaks, pay equity, public accommodations for transgender people — those bills that I put a lot of time and energy on have become law."

As co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus in the Legislature, Farley-Bouvier said that group "had a primary role in all those bills." In addition, she said, the caucus has learned to work well with House Speaker Robert DeLeo toward getting the most progressive measures possible through the House and signed into law.

"Budget amendments are a very small part funding," she said, although she noted the $75,000 she put in this year for the George B. Crane Memorial Center in Pittsfield.

But the major funding to a municipality, she said, includes big ticket items like the $76 million in school construction, which she worked on for many years along with city officials and other local lawmakers; $1 million in a state environmental bond for an turf athletic field planned for the Berkshire Community College campus; and the last two phases of state funding for The Common and downtown Streetscape work.

"That happened because of good relationship with [former] Gov. Deval Patrick" and work by her and many other officials in Pittsfield and in the region, she said.

State funding for the Tyler Street Transformative Development Initiative is another project she worked hard to bring about, Farley-Bouvier said. "TDI is a really big deal," she said, "and again it was teamwork."

She said lawmakers in the Gateway Cities Caucus pushed to create the enabling legislation and got the Pittsfield project and others funded. She said she is "a very, very active member of the Gateway Cities Caucus. I have gotten to know most of the members; we work together, and some of them are my closest colleagues."

On the Walmart Supercenter plan for the William Stanley Business Park, Farley-Bouvier said Bloomberg's quick opposition reflected "a difference of approach" from her own.

"Within an hour he came in and said this is a terrible idea," she said. "My approach is that the first job of a legislator is to listen."

She added that she reserved comment before talking to city officials, small business people and residents. "When I go door to door, by far more people want this," she said, "and this also is not a Legislature decision; it will be the city's choice."

Her job resume compared to her opponent's is something else Farley-Bouvier said she wants voters to consider.

That includes teaching special education students in Central America with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which is similar to the Peace Corps; working with the city's Adult Learning Center; serving as a city councilor for four years, followed by a stint as director of administration in former Mayor James M. Ruberto's office, and then first winning election to the House seat in 2011 in a mid-term election.

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