Speranzo's exit a tough loss

Friday July 8, 2011

Even as they congratulate him on his new job, area lawmakers view Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo’s impending resignation from the Legislature as a serious setback for Pittsfield and Berkshire County.

"This is a blow for the region and further changes the face of the Berkshire delegation," said Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, in a statement. "We are facing many unprecedented challenges these days and it will be hard to make up for the loss of Chris’ experience and knowledge."

On Wednesday, the Governor’s Council narrowly approved Speranzo’s controversial appointment as the next clerk magistrate of Central Berkshire District Court.

Speranzo, who has served on Beacon Hill since 2005, sits on several important committees, including the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting and the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which oversees all of the state’s expenditures.

Pignatelli and Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said they’d do what they can to pick up any slack, but they said it’s unclear who will fill the leadership vacuum left in Speranzo’s wake.

"We’re outnumbered every day we go to work," said Pignatelli. "To lose another seat at the table is very, very serious. If we don’t have a voice, we’ll continue to be ignored."

Pignatelli, who has represented Southern Berkshire County for nine years, is the senior member of the Berkshire delegation, which now includes two other freshman representatives and Downing, who was elected in 2006.

Pignatelli said he has asked House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo to fill Speranzo’s seat on the Ways and Means Committee with another Berkshire County representative.

Western Massachusetts lawmakers also worry about the loss of a voice on the redistricting committee, which is charged with redrawing the state’s legislative districts at a time when Berkshire County is facing the prospect of losing a state representative and Western Massachusetts is threatened by the possibility that its two congressional districts will be merged into one.

"It’s certainly not ideal," said Downing. "But the remaining members of the Berkshire delegation are capable of working that much harder to make sure our voices are heard in the process."

Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, is the Senate chairman of the committee. He said the committee is still holding public hearings and hasn’t yet begun debating how the state’s districts will be redrawn.

"Everybody on the committee advocates for their region first, so obviously, from that point of view, it would be helpful to have Mr. Speranzo replaced with someone from Western Massachusetts," he said.

Again, DeLeo is responsible for filling the vacancy and hasn’t yet commented on who he might appoint to fill Speranzo’s seat on the committee.

Meanwhile, Speranzo’s departure leaves numerous other questions unanswered.

Speranzo still hasn’t formally resigned from the Legislature and it’s still unclear when Speranzo might start work in Central Berkshire District Court.

Speranzo has declined to return messages left with his Pittsfield or Boston offices. On Thursday afternoon, his district office on East Street was empty.

Special elections are called for by the House speaker, and DeLeo hasn’t yet set a date, according to a spokesman.

Last week, the Pittsfield City Council rejected a petition filed by Speranzo, asking that any special election to fill his seat be held in conjunction with the regularly scheduled municipal election.

City Council President Gerald Lee called the proposal impossible.

"We don’t want to disenfranchise any voters," he said. "A combined election would cause mass confusion at the polls."

Several members of the Governor’s Council had suggested that Speranzo should personally pay for the $40,000 expense of holding a special election.

Lee dismissed the suggestion as silly, saying he holds no ill will toward Speranzo.

But Lee wondered who will act as the city’s advocate on Beacon Hill in Speranzo’s absence, noting that several bills are still pending before the Legislature that pertain specifically to Pittsfield.

Both Pignatelli and Downing said they are willing to do what they can to make sure Pittsfield’s interests don’t fall by the wayside during the remainder of the legislative session.

"It’s never a good time to be short-handed," said Pignatelli. "But I’ve offered my office and staff to help step up and fill the void."


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