Race for Berkshire district attorney enters final stretch
With just over two weeks until election day, district attorney candidates Andrea Harrington and Paul Caccaviello are pulling into the home stretch of an unusually contentious bid for the office.
Harrington, who has campaigned on a progressive reform platform, was chosen as the Democratic nominee in the September primary. Caccaviello, the sitting district attorney who came in a close second — just 692 votes behind Harrington — is running a write-in campaign, which will allow those who didn't vote in the primary, or who were ineligible, to turn out on Nov. 6.
"We had a really strong team so we've continued doing what we were doing before the primary," Harrington said. "We've had a huge boost of energy from the community, and just like a lot of support from the party which has really been fun."
In the months since the primary, Harrington has continued to garner endorsements from Democrats statewide, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey this week. Attorney General Maura Healey, and local progressive officials, have also publicly supported the Richmond attorney.
Caccaviello, who recently earned the support of attorney Judith Knight — who polled third in the primary with 5,066 votes, 24.3 percent overall — has amped up his campaigning to not only get his message out, but also educate voters on how to put his name on the ballot.
In addition to running a billboard ad that towers over Merrill Road in Pittsfield, Caccaviello has also printed business-card sized informational sheets. On the back of the card, there is a sample ballot to show voters what to do on election day if they chose to write in his name.
"It's also about debunking this myth that you need to spell my name correctly; you do not need to do that," Caccaviello said, noting that the state requires only that a write-in vote reflect the intent of the voter. "In some ways my name is a blessing and a curse. It has a lot of letters, but there is only one of me in Berkshire County."
In the days after the primary, both Caccaviello and Harrington saw a dip in their donations; that picked up again in late September and into this month.
In the most recent reporting period, Oct. 1 through 15, Caccaviello brought in nearly $16,000 in donations, and spent about $11,000 on primarily advertising, including mailers.
He ended the period with $16,789 in the account, according to campaign finance reports.
"Fundraising has been going well. It's an indicator of how much support there is for my effort," Caccaviello said. "It's been tremendous."
Early in the race, Harrington led not only in donations, but in how visible she was on the trail.
Caccaviello has said from the beginning he is not a professional politician, but he understands the need to step up his game after the primary.
"It's different in a write-in campaign; you need to educate voters that this is part of the democratic process," Caccaviello said. "In order to do that, you want to be more visible."
Caccaviello has opted out of running an expensive sticker-campaign after learning that the adhesive may clog up voting machines. He has instead created the cards, which he hopes voters will bring to the polls with them.
Harrington said that being successful in the primary has allowed her to take the opposite approach and worry less about money.
"It's nice because being the Democratic nominee I really haven't had to focus as much on that," she said.
Still, her campaign account is far from dried up.
Between Oct. 1 and 15, she brought in $8,125 in contributions and spent $3,386.
She ended the period with $11,614.
For Harrington, one of the most exciting parts of the race has been earning the public support of Democrats she's long admired.
Healey, whom she first met at the state Democratic Convention several years ago, and Warren were her inspirations to get involved in politics, unsuccessfully running for state Senate in 2016 and later this race for district attorney.
"Andrea Harrington has the experience, the vision, and the passion to lead Berkshire County forward — keeping residents safe, expanding treatment to fight the opioid epidemic, and supporting our communities." Warren said in a written statement. "I am standing with Andrea Harrington for Berkshire County District Attorney on November 6th and hope you will do the same."
Markey also provided a written statement in support of Harrington.
"I am proud to support Andrea Harrington for Berkshire County District Attorney," he said. "As the Democratic nominee for District Attorney, Andrea has the right priorities for Massachusetts, and I look forward to working to get her elected in November."
Harrington called the support of the senators a "true honor and privilege."
Caccaviello also picked up a key endorsement last week from Knight — a decision the Great Barrington attorney said was not made lightly.
While Knight's progressive platform may hew more closely to Harrington's — they both called for bail and sentencing reforms — she said Caccaviello has the experience needed to run the office.
Caccaviello has worked as a prosecutor in the Berkshire District Attorney's Office for nearly 30 years. Harrington has been an attorney for about 15 years, but has tried less than a dozen criminal cases — and never as a prosecutor.
Still, before she endorsed Caccaviello publicly, Knight wanted him to commit to making changes within his office.
She said that during their numerous meetings she wanted to be certain that Caccaviello would take a different approach toward defendants with mental illness and addiction issues by offering diversion programs in lieu of going through the traditional system.
Knight said she feels confident he will take this approach, and use mandatory minimums sparingly and not at every chance that the office gets, she said.
"I could see that we were going to move forward in this direction and he would be someone who could actually get these policies done," Knight said. "With Andrea's inexperience, changes are going to have to fall by the wayside because she's going to have to learn how to run the office. She won't have the time or ability to do that because her focus will be on these other things she doesn't know."
Caccaviello said Knight suggested organizing a "community council" modeled similar to an civilian advisory board for the office. He said Knight will be spearheading the group if he is elected.
"We're still in the formulating stages." he said. "That's something I'm excited about."
Contested races for the office of the district attorney have typically been few and far between in Massachusetts, as the general public was overwhelmingly uninformed about the position, according to Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program for the American Civil Liberties Union.
This race, however, has sparked interest — and occasional sniping — across Berkshire County.
From early on, supporters of both candidates have been critical of the opposing sides, occasionally taking personal jabs online or at canvassing events.
Most recently, Pittsfield City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo has publicly accused Harrington of threatening her political future in a September phone call.
Harrington denied ever making such a threat.
Mazzeo said she received a call on Sept. 18 from Harrington, who she said accused her of running Caccaviello's write-in campaign.
When Mazzeo said she wasn't running it, but has supported Caccaviello from the beginning, Harrington allegedly brought up her political aspirations in a threatening tone.
"When and if you chose to do something in the future, you're going to need support," Mazzeo quoted Harrington as saying.
Harrington indicated that support won't be there, Mazzeo said.
The details of that conversation, which wasn't recorded, have been reported by a local blog, "Planet Valenti," and later radio stations.
Harrington has insisted that she never made such a threat.
"I am proud of the positive campaign that I have run based on making Berkshire County a safer place to live, work and raise a family," she said in a written statement sent by her spokesman, Adam Webster. "Unfortunately, some of my opponent's supporters have shown that they are willing to do or say anything to get him elected."
Mazzeo said she is angry that she's been "called a liar."
This phone call isn't the first to spark controversy throughout the race. In July, the wife of former Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless called an online Pittsfield broadcast's lead advertiser, assailing the company for backing a program critical of her husband.
In a minutelong voicemail message, Betsy Capeless expressed her "great dissatisfaction" with the firm for advertising on "The John Krol Show," which appears live on a Facebook show.
The call came several days after Krol had been critical of steps Capeless took this winter to ensure that when he retired in March, Caccaviello would be named his replacement by Gov. Charlie Baker.
"This is a volatile election. I've been through some mayoral elections where it has been pretty testy ... even in my (councilor) at large campaign," Mazzeo said. "There has been a lot of `If you're not on board, you're going to be sorry.'"
Harrington said throughout the campaign she has been subjected to "vicious personal attacks on social media, vandalism of my signs, and blatant lies about my campaign.
"We are going to continue to take the high road, because voters in Berkshire County deserve better than divisive rumor and attack politics taking place," the statement said.
Caccaviello said that from the beginning of the race he's avoided participating in the mudslinging, or even responding to the mud thrown at him.
But in a recent email chain circulated primarily between Harrington supporters, Caccaviello was accused of changing his political affiliation to Republican. He opted to respond by email.
In addition to correcting the record that he hasn't changed his affiliation to Republican, he also commented on allegations that he "negotiated a backroom deal" with the governor to be appointed to the seat.
"This is absolutely not accurate," he said in his own email to those included in the chain. "Governor Baker's appointment of me was based on my nearly 30-year record of public service and accomplishments as a prosecutor. That all took place in the courtroom — not the backroom."
Thus far, the narrative has been that Capeless and Baker put him in his seat, Caccaviello said in a phone interview.
"Now I've negotiated a backroom deal with the governor?" he asked rhetorically. "That's the kind of stuff that's so perplexing to me."
The extended race
In the months leading up to the primary, it looked like whoever won the primary in September would have smooth sailing through the general election as there was nobody else on the ballot.
Caccaviello's write-in campaign has extended the campaign season for both candidates.
Harrington said that while the lengthened campaign may have thrown a wrench in her planned transition into the office, she continues to work as hard as she can to get the vote out through Nov. 6.
"I'm the kind of person who nothing was ever handed to me," she said. "My dad was a carpenter and mom cleaned houses, so I don't expect for anything to come easy."
By this time, Harrington expected to already have a team in place to assist in her transition to the office and publicly announce her first assistant district attorney.
"That's a little on the back burner," she said. "I don't feel like I can do anything formal in those terms. I wanted to be at a point where I can communicate with people in the DA's office."
Caccaviello didn't expect to still be fighting for the seat, but said it was the concerns of people in the community who prompted him to mount a write-in campaign.
Running a campaign while also being district attorney is time-consuming, he said, but he doesn't regret his decision in the slightest.
"They take a lot of time, but they're both things I believe in," he said. "It's definitely a challenge, but I've had challenges all my life, personally and professionally."
His efforts now are on educating voters that a write-in campaign is not something unusual, but rather part of the democratic process.
"It's not creating anything new," he said. "It's probably as democratic as you can get, giving everyone in the county the opportunity to vote."
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle.com, and 413-770-6977.
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