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New England News

Democratic Senate Candidates Tackle Issues In Lenox

State Representative Smitty Pignatelli moderated Sunday's forum between (from left to right) Rinaldo Del Gallo, Andrea Harrington and Adam Hinds.
Jim Levulis
/
WAMC
State Representative Smitty Pignatelli moderated Sunday's forum between (from left to right) Rinaldo Del Gallo, Andrea Harrington and Adam Hinds.

The Democratic candidates running for an open western Massachusetts state senate seat met for a forum Sunday in Lenox.Rinaldo Del Gallo, Andrea Harrington and Adam Hinds all delivered similar messages to about 30 people at Lenox Town Hall. Hosted by the Lenox Democratic Committee and the Lenox Chamber of Commerce, the forum largely focused on economic and other major issues. State Representative Smitty Pignatelli moderated. Hinds, executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, says his economic plan includes improving transportation, broadband internet service and workforce development.

“We do actually have things like manufacturing jobs here: in the nature of 6,000,” Hinds said. “We’re not looking for the next GE [General Electric], but we do have some middle-sized companies and we have to make sure that they can thrive though things like the Berkshire Innovation Center and shared resources.”

Harrington, an attorney from Richmond, says she wants to focus on many of the same issues to help business owners such as lowering energy costs through renewable sources and developing more workforce housing.

“I am very interested in allocating more money in the state tourism budget to food tourism,” Harrington said. “I see the connection between our culture and our agriculture and the specialty food industry. Both of these have been bright spots in our economy. I would really love to see more emphasis on food tourism. I think that it’s a way to get more people to come here. I think it’s a way to help our young farmers and specialty good producers. And it’s a quality of life issue.”

Del Gallo, a Pittsfield lawyer, took aim at the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, calling it unsuccessful. The quasi-public agency is tasked with developing the once-thriving General Electric site.

“If you want to get businesses here you have to streamline regulation, not eliminate it, you need to have proper incentives and finally you have to provide business what they need — good educated people and infrastructure,” Del Gallo said. “All economic development is usually centered on those three things.”

A Walmart Supercenter has been proposed for the former GE site. Hinds and Harrington expressed concerns about the proposal, but said in the end it’s a local issue to be permitted by the City of Pittsfield. Del Gallo challenged his opponents on their stances.

“I wouldn’t just write it off as a local issue,” Del Gallo said. “I think it’s a regional issue. I think it’s an issue that the state senator should be involved in. I am absolutely opposed to the Super Walmart."

The candidates were asked about Attorney General Maura Healey’s announced crackdown on what the Democrat calls “copycat” assault weapons. Gun rights groups have called the move a political stunt and some lawmakers are looking to strip the AG’s office of its authority to issue rules and regulations on firearm sales. Hinds, who worked as a UN conflict negotiator in the Middle East, voiced support for Healey’s action.

“I spent time in the Middle East — in Baghdad — being protected by assault rifles,” Hinds said. “Quite honestly, sometimes there were times when I was pretty glad they were there. But those were weapons of war and they have no place on these streets.  That’s exactly the type of weapon that this is focused on.”

Adding that many of her family members hunt, Harrington says Healey’s action is about protecting people. As an attorney, Harrington says she needs to look at the arguments that claim Healey is overstepping her authority.

“But certainly I am in favor of banning assault weapons and weapons that act like assault weapons,” said Harrington.

Del Gallo, who touts himself as a Bernie Sanders progressive, says Healey is simply enforcing the state’s 1998 assault weapons ban.

“From what I’ve read, and I don’t have a final decision, she [Healey] seems to have done a wise thing,” Del Gallo said. “She has not created law. She’s merely enforcing a law that’s on the books.”

The Democrats are facing off in a September 8th primary. Christine Canning is the only Republican running for the senate seat. Retiring Democratic State Senator Ben Downing has represented the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District for a decade. The Democratic candidates are scheduled to debate again Thursday at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield.

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