Three Democratic candidates for Downing's seat try to separate themselves ahead of primary
LENOX — The three candidates for an open state Senator's seat spent Sunday morning in front of about 40 voters trying to create separation between each other at a "debate" at the Lenox Town Hall.
The event was sponsored by the Lenox Chamber of Commerce and the Lenox Democratic Committee.
The three Democrats are Rinaldo Del Gallo and Adam Hinds both of Pittsfield, and Andrea Harrington of West Stockbridge.
State Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli moderated.
Pignatelli pointed out that, with the decision by incumbent state Sen. Benjamin Downing not to run for re-election, "this is the first time in 10 years that this seat is open."
Pignatelli added that while there is considerable emphasis on the national election in November, "you have a decision to make in six weeks. The Democratic primary is Sept. 8, a Thursday. And that's an important date."
The district which Downing represents is the largest in Massachusetts, said Pignatelli, encompassing 52 cities and towns.
The event was less a debate than a discussion. The candidates were all asked the same questions and asked to respond. They were also each allowed a preliminary statement and a post-discussion statement.
In overall philosophy, the three candidates were similar. There was some nuance to each response, certainly. Del Gallo emphasized several times that he was a Progressive and follower of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Harrington said she would work to move the state in a more Progressive direction, while Hinds seemed more moderate.
All emphasized, for example, that they favored a thorough cleanup of the Housatonic River by General Electric.
All three also agreed that broadband access was crucial to the Berkshires, and Hinds and Harrington both noted that the delay in funding a broadband initiative was "shameful."
Del Gallo did not disagree, but pointed out that outlying towns would probably do better to fund at least a portion of the cost of initiating broadband infrastructure themselves than waiting for the state to do so.
The three candidates were all opposed to introducing more charter schools in the area.
"No one," said Harrington, "is clamoring for charter schools."
"We have school districts struggling for funding," said Hinds. He added that the state's "one size fits all" funding formula did not serve school districts in Western Massachusetts.
Del Gallo was not opposed to lifting a cap on the number of area charter schools, but emphasized he would also request that if a cap were lifted, that local school districts should decide whether to add charter schools.
The candidates supported Attorney General Maura Healey's recent decision to ban "copycat" assault weapons.
"I feel obligated to protect our children and ourselves," said Harrington. "It's not about taking away guns from sportsmen."
"These are weapons of war," said Hinds.
Del Gallo said he believed Healy did a "wise thing" in banning the weapons.
Regarding the opioid epidemic, Hinds opined that more resources were needed to deal with intervention, treatment and harm reduction. Harrington agreed, emphasizing that the district has not been granted the funds to deal with the epidemic.
Del Gallo believed that "the state has a lousy attitude toward relapse" believing that more money should be allocated to that effort.
Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.