State Rep. Farley-Bouvier floated idea of single challenger to incumbent DA

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PITTSFIELD — As trial balloons go, this one didn't lift off.

But a state representative asked the two women running for Berkshire district attorney if they would consider talks that could result in only one of them challenging the incumbent, winnowing the field to a single "progressive" alternative.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, said she met separately last month with both Andrea Harrington and Judith Knight for wide-ranging conversations about politics, campaigns and elective office.

The fact that a conversation was even considered brought a sharp rebuke from the sitting district attorney.

The two women and Paul J. Caccaviello are on the Sept. 4 Democratic primary ballot. The winner goes on to an expected win in the November general election, unless a successful Republican write-in candidate emerges.

In those sessions, Farley-Bouvier said she brought up the question of whether the two women's candidacies will have the effect of splitting the vote among those who want change in the office — in effect aiding the incumbent.

Caccaviello, a former 14-year first assistant district attorney, was named to the post this winter by Gov. Charlie Baker, after David F. Capeless decided not to seek re-election.

"I did make a suggestion that we might get these campaigns together to see if there could be a conversation," Farley-Bouvier said, when asked Monday about her role in the meetings.

The lawmaker said she did not have a particular candidate in mind — Harrington or Knight — who might agree to drop out of the race. And she said her overture about having the campaigns discuss the question was not sweetened by any promise of work in the other's administration, if elected.

"They both had a clear response that it was not of interest to them," Farley-Bouvier said. "That was the end of it. A big thing is being made out of a thing that was very small."

When sitting for about an hour with Knight in Pittsfield, Farley-Bouvier said the topic of possibly meeting with the other campaign was broached briefly.

"It was an extraordinarily small part of that conversation," she said.

`Ludicrous' suggestion

Knight confirmed that she met with Farley-Bouvier, joined by a member of Knight's campaign.

She said Farley-Bouvier asked her if she would be open to discussing the question, which she took to be about narrowing the field.

Knight was not.

"The idea that I would step out of the campaign or work in Ms. Harrington's office is ludicrous to me — a nonstarter," she said. "If Andrea Harrington wanted to drop out, fine, but I didn't want to do that."

She added, "I'm a candidate. If you want progressive change, I'm the candidate."

Harrington also confirmed Monday that she too met with Farley-Bouvier, after getting an invitation. She said the lawmaker wasn't the only one involved with county politics to raise the question of whether dual challenges to a sitting district attorney would split any anti-incumbent vote.

Harrington said she had also met earlier with Knight, one of her two current rivals.

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"At that point, it was having a progressive candidate, period," Harrington said. "Tricia is not the only person who has offered to have a conversation."

Like Knight, Harrington said she declined to explore the idea of having one of the two challengers step aside.

"I just put my head down and work as hard as I can," she said of her campaign.

At no point in her campaign, Harrington said, has she talked about making a position available in her office, should she be the victor in November.

"I have not discussed jobs with anybody," she said.

Wanting a `progressive'

Farley-Bouvier declined to say whether she is opposed to seeing Caccaviello retain his seat, which he assumed March 15 after working in the district attorney's office for 28 years.

Caccaviello was recommended for the post by Capeless. His appointment by Baker gave him the advantage of running as an incumbent.

"I'm looking for a progressive district attorney," Farley-Bouvier said. "I am for the full implementation of criminal justice reform."

Asked whether she expects Caccaviello to back reforms, Farley-Bouvier said, "It's too short to have a record on that."

Caccaviello, meantime, challenges the notion that he isn't reform-minded.

And he sharply questioned whether an elected official should be a party to any conversation that might reduce voter choices.

"I think it's more than a bit stunning that this actually happened," he said of Farley-Bouvier's idea, expressed in meetings with Knight and Harrington, of discussing a change in the field. "It seems more than a little inappropriate, in an attempt to influence the outcome of an election. It's obviously an attempt to win the election by getting the two to merge."

Caccaviello said Monday he would be happy to speak with Farley-Bouvier about steps he said he has taken to put into practice the criminal justice reforms the Legislature approved this year.

"It's the law," he said of the reforms. "I've already done things that the crime reform package dictates."

Since taking office, Caccaviello said, he has run a training on implicit bias for staff in his office. He said he has spoken in support of "diversion" programs, which seek alternatives to incarceration.

"I never talked to Tricia about any of my platforms," Caccaviello said. "I'd welcome an opportunity to speak with her about my ideas and vision and qualifications."

The candidates for district attorney next meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday for a forum at the Becket Town Hall.

People registered as Democrats or unenrolled can vote in the Sept. 4 primary. Wednesday is the deadline for any registered Republicans who wish to participate in the primary to change their party affiliation to Democratic or unenrolled.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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