Two more potential contenders for a western Massachusetts senate seat have emerged.
Another Democrat and the first Republican candidate appear to be eyeing a bid for the senate seat held by Ben Downing. The Pittsfield Democrat announced in January that he was retiring after 10 years. Pittsfield attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo has taken out nominating papers, but is holding back on a full-out campaign citing the potential costs of running. Seeking the Democratic nomination, Del Gallo says he is for a $15 minimum wage, universal pre-K and single-payer healthcare along with tuition-free state and debt-free college.
“Berkshire County is a very, very progressive community by in large,” Del Gallo said. “They need a progressive leader. I am that Bernie Sanders progressive. That’s why, if I run, that’s why I’d be in the race.”
Del Gallo has been vocal on a number of environmental issues in the area, including leading the charge for a Styrofoam ban in Pittsfield. He says combating economic despair in the region is his number one issue.
“In terms of economic development, for a very long time now I’ve been talking about trying to make the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority something that works with tax incentives and to streamline regulations, not eliminate regulation, but at least streamline it so people aren’t trying to get permits forever,” he said. “If you look at Ft. Devens or Albany — the nano-technology area — it’s worked. It’s not a new idea at all. It’s a time-tested idea, but we haven’t tried it here.”
Christine Canning of Lanesborough is reportedly the first Republican to take out nominating papers for the seat. She could not be reached in time for broadcast.
On the major regional issues — all three Democrats are opposed to the proposed Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline that would cut through the region.
Meanwhile, some in the northern Berkshires have continued to call for the restoration of a full-service hospital two years after North Adams Regional Hospital closed. Harrington, an attorney from Richmond, says she does not know if a full-service hospital is viable in the region, but adds that if it is, it should be pursued. Still, Harrington says she understands the concerns, such as the lack of a maternity center.
“In my conversations with Representative [Gailanne] Cariddi, she was interested in exploring having a birthing center in North County which might make sense and it would give people more options as far as where to go to have a baby,” said Harrington.
Hinds, who heads the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, says the region has a rare opportunity to rebuild its healthcare system from the ground up. He says the main focus is the area’s acute health challenges.
“We’re seven or eight primary care physicians short of what a population of this size and need should have,” Hinds said. “Berkshire Health Systems and Community Health [Programs] have worked to fill that gap. Let’s look at what are the major reasons that people are visiting hospitals in the first place. That often relates to conditions related to smoking, pre-diabetes, hypertension and falls among our older population. We’ve been working with the health systems to put together a community health worker program that gets ahead of some of these big issues.”
Del Gallo says he is concerned there may not be enough healthcare options in the northern Berkshires.
With declining enrollments, Harrington says regionalizing administrative positions in K-12 schools is key to the future of the area’s educational system.
“But we do need to look at the number of schools that have,” Harrington said. “In Berkshire County, we need to take a Berkshire County-wide approach, to planning for how many schools that we really need given the number of students that we have. But, I don’t want to lose sight of the importance of kids receiving individualized attention.”
For his part, Hinds says in the short-term, state funding formulas and reimbursements for public schools need to be reworked. The former United Nations conflict mediator says he supports the ongoing work of the Berkshire County Education Task Force.
“It’s a quality of education question,” Hinds said. “Do we make sure that we protect some of the identity that we have around schools? If we’re going to increase our efficiencies, at what cost? In terms of how long a child would have to stay on a bus for example. That’s the starting point.”
Harrington, Hinds and Del Gallo would face off in a September primary.