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County's Democratic Party Without Headquarters As Election Day Inches Closer

Lucas Willard

With Election Day inching closer, Democrats living farthest from the state capital of Boston are without a party office. That could present a challenge for a group that has strengthened its roots over the past few years.The county’s Democratic wing, the Berkshire Brigades, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this September, but its headquarters at 55 North Street in Pittsfield is no more. Richard Stanley owns the building in which the Brigades, with the support of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, leased space.

“When I became aware that there was something afoot was when Berkshire Brigades did not renew its lease in spite of the fact that they loved being there,” Stanley said.  “I couldn’t quite get a straight answer from the folks that occupied the space. They basically said they’re not at liberty to discuss it.”

The Brigades moved into the space above the Beacon Cinema, which served as a joint campaign office and local headquarters in April 2013 during the run-up to June’s special election that saw Democrat Ed Markey take the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by fellow Democrat John Kerry.

Allegrone Construction finished renovating the building nearly five years ago. Stanley says after doing some digging he found out a local union representative put pressure on the state Democratic Party not to help pay for a new lease because the union took issue with the construction company. A May 2008 Berkshire Eagle article noted the president of the Berkshire Building Trades Council opposed Stanley’s choice of Allegrone for the project. Several calls to the union president and Allegrone Construction went unreturned. Stanley, who describes himself as a union supporter, says the union punished him by eliminating a renter in his building.

“It’s really petty politics at its worst,” said Stanley.

A yoga studio now occupies the space. The Berkshire Brigades meet where they did before they moved to North St.: in the office of founder and attorney Sherwood Guernsey, according to Brigades chair Sheila Murray. She says the North St. office, which she called a pilot, helped put the local party on the statewide map. But the slew of party candidates for statewide office this year — three each in the governor and lieutenant governor races — alone, have tightened the state party’s checkbook. The Brigades split the lease and office expenses with the state party, about $2,000 a month, according to Murray.

“They signed the lease and that’s the only way we would’ve been able to do it,” Murray said. “They weren’t going to be able to sign a lease because they were going to be setting up all these other offices.”

Matt Fenlon is executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

“The office was a coordinated campaign office,” Fenlon said. “When the lease expired, we’re now working with Senator [Ed] Markey to identify new coordinated campaign locations across the state. Considering Pittsfield and the Berkshires, State Senator Ben Downing is our coordinated campaign chair; obviously the Berkshires are going to be a focus for the Democratic Party winning in November.”

Fenlon says more candidate and party campaign offices will open over the next few months. State primaries are September 9th.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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