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Kennedy Visits Pittsfield Encampment For Unhoused City Residents In Senate Campaign Swing

A white man in a mask and a button-down shirt speaks with a black man in a white t-shirt in an emcampment of tents and tarps.
Josh Landes
Congressman Joe Kennedy (R) visits an encampment inside Springside Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on an August 3rd, 2020 campaign stop.

Congressman Joe Kennedy campaigned in Pittsfield, Massachusetts this morning in his Democratic primary battle against incumbent Senator Ed Markey.

Kennedy delivered supplies to unhoused city residents currently living in an encampment at Springside Park. Kennedy was joined by backers like Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington, State Senator Adam Hinds, and city councilors Dina Guiel Lampiasi, Yuki Cohen, and Pete White.

“I think there’s a fundamental difference in the way that I would approach this job than the way Senator Markey does, and that’s why you’ve got to be here, you’ve got to be listening to people, you’ve got to be present, and then you’ve got to fight like hell for people,” said the congressman.

Kennedy, who has been criticized for his efforts to unseat a fellow Democrat during a hotly contested national election, said his campaign’s response to COVID-19 underscores his differences with Markey.

“I suspended my campaign," said the candidate. "I went and tried to raise money for local organizations, folks like Meals on Wheels and the United Way, to try to deliver meals and make sure people had access to PPE, rather than fundraising for a political campaign, which is what Senator Markey did.”

Markey – identified by the Boston Globe as the member of the state’s congressional delegation who spends the least amount of time in Massachusetts – visited Pittsfield for his own campaign rally on Friday.

“Obviously the country’s been devastated by COVID, and not just the short-term response, but highlighting these long-term inequities that made us so vulnerable to this, to the pandemic," said Kennedy. "But I think what that really highlights is that the best of intentions of Washington aren’t enough. That you see politicians that will say yes, we need to tackle homelessness, but unless you’re talking to folks on the ground – here, present, listening to people – you don’t come up with an actual proposal and a plan that actually meets people where they are and can address the problem.”

Ward 1 City Councilor Helen Moon – a Markey supporter – represents the Springside neighborhood. Noting that a number of community stakeholders are working on housing for those living in the park, she criticized Kennedy’s decision to document his visit to the encampment.

“Seeing those photos of Joe Kennedy with a cameraperson going around to speak to the individuals that are living in the park – it feels like exploitation, and really of the most vulnerable in our community," Moon told WAMC. "And so I find it incredibly disappointing, and also a bit disgusting actually.”

One of the 50-some Pittsfielders currently living in the park – James Ford – tells WAMC he didn’t know who Kennedy was before meeting him at the campaign event Monday morning.

“It’s a good thing I guess – it’s all right with me," said Ford. "I’m actually honored because they came all the way over here to see me and them and everybody in the park.”

Ford has been at the park since the city’s emergency shelter at the former St. Joseph High School building closed on July 13th.

“He told me to call him and he gave me his card and he’s going to help me get my GED,” Ford told WAMC.

SaDowell Hudson – who also was staying at the ServiceNet-run emergency shelter until its closure – also spoke with Kennedy.

“I feel that somebody’s listening to us, because ServiceNet is not trying to offer us nothing," he said. "The only thing they want to do is make us come in at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We’re grown people. How are we going to run a shelter from 6 to 4? I’m not no kid. So I feel that we got the message out to Mr. Kennedy, and I hope he can do something. He said we would do something about it and help me and my fiancée with some legal issue. So I’m very grateful.”

A July 16th article published by Sludge noted Kennedy – who has received almost $100,000 from the hedge fund industry this election cycle – hadn’t backed the Carried Interest Fairness Act. The bill that has come before Congress in 2012, 2015, 2017, and 2019 would tax carried interest earned by hedge fund and private equity fund managers from investors’ assets. Kennedy called it an “absurd criticism.”

“I ran for office in my first campaign about ending the carried interest loophole," the congressman told WAMC. "It was a policy platform – I’m on the bill that they mention there. I have talked about it literally repeatedly over the course of the past however many years – eight years in Congress. And of course, I have long been a proponent of a far more progressive tax code so that the wealthy that are doing very well – and the carried interest loophole is a big part of that – pay their fair share.”

Kennedy cosponsored the Carried Interest Fairness Act of 2019 on July 21st. Markey first cosponsored the act in the Senate in 2015 and again in 2020.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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