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Berkshire legislators mull the departure of Rep. Pignatelli, longest-tenured member of the state delegation

 Ed Markey May 2023.jpg
Josh Landes
State Representative Smitty Pignatelli, on the left, alongside Senator Ed Markey at the Berkshire Family YMCA at Pittsfield, Massachusetts on May 22rd, 2023.

Berkshire County legislators are reacting to news that the delegation’s dean will not seek re-election this year.

State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of the 3rd Berkshire district announced this week that after 11 two-year terms, this will be his final year in office. Speaking to WAMC Wednesday, the Democrat says he’s already heard from possible candidates to fill the seat.

“Housing insecurity is a real serious problem, our lack of legitimate public transit is a problem here, and trying to fill the economic void of the unfilled jobs all throughout the Berkshires has to be a priority, making sure whoever it is stays focused on those issues,” said Pignatelli.

The departure has major implications for Berkshire County.

“Last session, we lost one of the one of the seats, so we went from five to four, and now we're losing 22 years of experience in a district that is one of the largest in the entire state, if not the largest geographically," said State Senator Paul Mark of the Berkshire, Hampden, Franklin and Hampshire district- One of four Democrats who represent the westernmost county of Massachusetts on Beacon Hill. “It's a grueling task to campaign for a job like this in one of these districts, and by right it ought to be, because the job that whoever ends up serving as the next representative for the 3rd Berkshire district is going to have is a job that is going to consume their lives.”

With Pignatelli facing little to no opposition for much of his electoral career, there are no immediate names on the list to replace him.

“I would look at members of the select boards in these towns or school committee, or quite frankly, anyone who has been involved and engaged in in in that district," said State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of the 2nd Berkshire District, who serves Pittsfield, the Berkshires’ urban hub and largest community. “We're a really small delegation of four total – three in the house and our senator – and we rely heavily on each other. Each of us is strong, and so welcoming in a new member is going to be a process for us, but we've welcomed in new members before. I certainly was welcomed into the into the delegation, and so that would be the challenge ahead of us.”

Farley-Bouvier says Pignatelli’s successor will step into a role with immediate challenges, both logistically and politically.

“The commute is a very big burden to take on for anyone, and then all it needs for that," she said. "And then, of course, the 3rd Berkshire district is actually the biggest rep district in the state, and so then getting around to all those towns is a big challenge. And then when you're here at the statehouse, we are such a small delegation, and to be able to really advocate for what is deservedly ours in a budget, in our advocacy work, in policy, is something difficult to do when there's so few of us compared to the Boston delegation, for example.”

Each of the Berkshires’ three districts has its own needs.

“The rep in that district is different, for example, from a rep from Pittsfield, in that we have full-time government here in Pittsfield with a full-time mayor and city council and departments, and so the rep in Pittsfield doesn't take on the same role of convener as the rep in South Berkshire," Farley-Bouvier explained. "[Smitty] has really taken those things on, and so the next rep is going to have to step into those shoes to be able to bring those talents together where appropriate.”

Berkshire County’s other State Representative is John Barrett of the 1st District.

Echoing the departing Pignatelli, Farley-Bouvier says that whoever takes the 3rd Berkshire seat next year must take up the work in key, long-sought legislative priorities.

“Western Mass rail is going to be something really important for us to continue to work together on and that's something for the whole delegation," she told WAMC.

The Democratic primary is September 3rd, with the general following on November 5th.

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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