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GOP House Candidate Claims Democrats, Police Silenced Her At Forum

Candidates_1stBerk.jpg
WAMC
The Democratic canidates for 1st Berkshire District before the primary election, from left to right, are Stephanie Bosley, John Barrett, Kevin Towle, and Lisa Blackmer. The only Republican candidate is Christine Canning, centered.

The only Republican running in the special State Representative election in Berkshire County claims she was silenced at a Democratic candidate forum in Lanesborough Monday night. 

The Lanesborough Democratic Town Committee held a forum for voters to meet the candidates vying to replace State Representative Gailanne Cariddi, who died in June. The Democrat represented the 1st Berkshire House District.

North Adams City Councilor Lisa Blackmer, Stephanie Bosley, daughter of former State Representative Daniel Bosley, former North Adams Mayor John Barrett and Kevin Towle, who worked as Cariddi’s legislative aide, all showed up to make their pitch.

Republican Christine Canning turned up, too.

“I felt stifled,” Canning says, “like my First Amendment right.”

Canning says in August she saw a flyer for the forum and asked the Democratic Town Committee if she could participate – like she did at other candidate forums in Adams and New Ashford.

Lanesborough Democratic Town Committee Chair Martha Freedman approved.

“We felt that our Democratic Town Committees that this it was important that this be a way to have questions asked of our candidates,” Freedman says.

A week later, Freedman rescinded the offer, saying it was for Democrats only, and that Canning could sit in the audience with the rest of the residents.

“Christine Canning is running as a Republican and this was a Democratic event sponsored by the Democratic Town Committees of Lanesborough and Williamstown. It would be for the Democratic candidates that are running in the Democratic primary on October 10th and then she will be able to have debates with whoever wins that primary,” Freedman says.

“But when I was denied after getting an invitation simply because I was Republican,” Canning says, “You know what? Here is the best way to put it in an analogy: Do you remember the story of Cinderella – when she worked all day and thought she could go to the ball. And she comes down in that dress, and right before she is out that door, she is stripped of her sash and everything is just thrown on the ground, that is exactly how I felt. I felt like Cinderella.”

Canning claimed she had a legal right to be on the panel because the event was held at town hall – a public building. Freedman had told Canning in an email obtained by WAMC that the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Elections Division and the Berkshire Brigades – the county’s Democratic Party – suggested otherwise.

The state office told WAMC and Canning it does not regulate political activity in public buildings or define public forums.

Also, Freedman points to information from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, stating Republicans can also request the use of government buildings for their events.

“Equal access but no, not a legal right,” Freedman says.

At Monday night’s forum, Canning claims a police officer was stationed to prevent her from speaking up.

“I said, ‘Why are you here? Is it because of me?’” Canning says. “He looked me straight in the eye and said ‘Yes, they brought me here for you and you only. They thought you’d cause trouble.’”

Lanesborough Police say Officer Jason Costa is unavailable for comment, but Police Chief Tim Sorrell says a police presence at a public event is a routine precaution. 

“I don’t know what he might have allegedly done, to be honest with you. I mean, he could have said it in jest: ‘Yes, I am here for you,’” Sorrell says. “We were made aware that she might, she would be showing up and that she was allowed to be there but that she would not be able to sit on the panel in case she tried to push that. But that was it. We were only there to help out the moderator or if there was a disturbance of some kind.” 

State Representative Paul Mark, a Peru Democrat, was the moderator. Mark says in his experience, it is unusual for Democrats and Republicans to appear together before a primary.

“Yeah, I have never heard of the other party coming and speaking at an event of a different party for candidates in a primary,” Mark says.

Canning says she will file complaints with state election entities.

“I feel in one way that it may have been a setup,” Canning says. “On the other hand, all I wanted was transparency. I think also I am disillusioned. I feel like the democratic process, it was thwarted, let down, dissatisfied. Personally, I am disappointed and saddened that this ever came to what it did.”

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