A political upstart and a career politician are trading jabs ahead of the special election for the northern Berkshire County state House seat.
Republican Christine Canning acknowledges the hold Democrats have on area political offices. She ran for state Senate last year, losing to Pittsfield Democrat Adams Hinds.
But the 48-year-old Canning, of Lanesborough, says toeing the party line won’t win the 1st Berkshire District state House seat.
“Party is really not that important,” Canning says. “At this point, that ship sailed for Northern County.”
The seat was left vacant after the June death of State Representative Gailanne Cariddi. The Democrat was in her fourth term.
Canning says she’d continue many of Cariddi’s efforts. She supports single-payer health care, welcomes the economic benefits of recreational marijuana, and doesn’t support discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Republican also is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment.
Her opponent is Democrat John Barrett, the former 26-year mayor of North Adams.
“He’s the longest running mayor in Massachusetts, so if it hasn’t been done by now, it’s not getting done,” Canning says.
The race marks a return to politics for the 70-year-old Barrett. He is focused on reforming state education funding, hoping to strengthen the next generation.
Canning, who has spent much of her career in education regionally and overseas, has an eye on job growth.
“My opponent at the time when Sprague Electric closed, which was the number one employer of northern Berkshire, his solution at the closing of Sprague was to bring in Walmart,” Canning says, “which we all know those jobs are part-time, low-paying, benefit-free in many instances. Our people need real jobs – jobs that are paying. We need to attract real business.”
Barrett agrees workforce development is vital to the future of the region, but says that’s nothing new to him.
“I think what Chris Canning doesn’t understand that there is a bigger picture out there,” Barrett says. “Does she drive by Hardman Industrial Park and see the businesses that are down there now, you know, literally employing hundreds of people? Those came in during my administration.”
When Barrett assumed the office of mayor, he says Massachusetts’ smallest city had an unemployment rate of 17 percent.
“We brought it down to 4 percent, and we didn’t lose people in the labor market at that time,” Barrett says.
Barrett touts his role in attracting state dollars under three different governors from both parties to get MASS MoCA — now an economic driver in the region — off the ground.
“You know he claims that he brings in MASS MoCA but the reality as it is how many people from North County actually have jobs there?” Canning says.
A Williams College study in 2015 found MASS MoCA employees 150 full and part-time workers at the height of the summer season.
Canning says Barrett had his chance to make a difference.
“Why up to this point they have never had transportation up to North Adams from the [Massachusetts Turnpike]. Transportation is a real issue for people up here in North County,” Canning says.
Barrett says transportation is complicated in rural northern Berkshire County, but expanding rail service from Pittsfield to Boston is a must. North Adams is about 20 miles north of the Berkshires’ biggest city.
“Chris Canning has showed up now, what, the second week basically in October and for an election that is four weeks away and says she wants to talk about the issues. She hasn’t really been talking about them at all. And she has no idea what went on in North Adams and what we tried to get done and we did do a good job here,” Barrett says. “I don’t make any apologies for that.”
Canning says she has readied lawn signs and events in the final month of campaigning. She says she’s not the underdog.
“Here he has been a big fish in a small pond and there he would be a little fish in a big pond and if he plays that nonsense with people down there, we are in trouble,” Canning says.
There have been no debates or forum discussions between the candidates. The election is November 7th.