County Democrats close ‘enthusiasm gap’

 

Berkshire Eagle 09/22/2014, Page A01

Governor’s Race

By Clarence Fanto

Special to The Eagle

PITTSFIELD — The “enthusiasm gap” among leading county Democrats during Martha Coakley’s primary campaign for governor has been closed, according to her key local supporters, as she faces a tight race against Republican Charles Baker in theNov. 4 general election.

State Sen. Benjamin Downing, who chairs Coakley’s statewide coordinating campaign, attributed his own neutrality before the low- turnout Sept. 9 primary to his family’s close personal and professional connections with Coakley and her chief rival, Steven Grossman. Now, Grossman and third- place primary finisher Donald Berwick are campaigning for the Democratic nominee.

Having helped open the Coakley campaign headquarters in the Berkshire Commons on South Street, the Pittsfield Democrat described his role as “making sure we’re running as efficient and effective a campaign as possible.” “ We’re working together seamlessly to contact voters, speaking with one voice to keep Massachusetts moving forward economically,” Downing said.

Forecasting that “ some Democrats will vote for Baker and some Republicans will vote for Coakley,” Downing predicted a successful campaign.

“Unenrolled independent voters will make the decision,” he said. “They’ll look at Martha’s record and vote for her.”

But State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, is more measured in his enthusiasm, though he asserted he will actively campaign for Coakley.

Along with the county’s other three state representatives, Pignatelli had backed Grossman for the nomination.

“I’m definitely supporting her,” he said. “I have not heard from her since the primary. I trust she’ll be calling the delegation and I hope she reaches out.”

“I’m all in, 100 percent behind Martha Coakley and the rest of the ticket,” said state Rep. Tricia Farley- Bouvier, D- Pittsfield. “She has a major responsibility to unite the party behind her, and so we look to her leadership to do that. She reflects my values and my priorities for the commonwealth.”

Farley- Bouvier touted Coakley’s support for childhood education and her regional approach to economic development.

Pignatelli cautioned that “it’s going to be a heavy lift if voter apathy carries over to November. Democrats have a lot of work to do.” He pointed out that 57 percent of the primary voters supported Grossman and Berwick.

“By no means is the Democratic nominee a slam- dunk for Democratic support,” Pignatelli said. “She has her work cut out for her.”

He suggested that Coakley, a Lee native who grew up in North Adams and went to Williams College, “needs to engage” Stephen Kerrigan, the candidate for lieutenant governor, “ much more than I’ve seen because he brings a lot to the table.”

The latest Boston Globe poll released on Fridayshows that while Attorney General Coakley holds a slim 39 percent to 36 percent lead over Baker, her lead is within the survey’s margin of error. Nearly one out of four voters remain undecided and 5 percent are backing three independent candidates.

Seventy percent of unenrolled voters, who form the majority of the state’s electorate, remain undecided, The Globe reported. Likewise, one in four Democrats have yet to make up their minds.

State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, whose district includes North Adams and eight other communities north of Pittsfield, has declared her full support for Coakley.

“I intend to be out there on weekends, knocking on doors with fellow Democrats to get the word out that she’s our candidate,” Cariddi said. “ She has managed the attorney general’s office impeccably, has done a wonderful job, and she’ll bring the same degree of care and dedication to her campaign and to her role as governor.”

Equally committed is state Rep. Paul Mark, DPeru, who vowed “ 100 percent of my effort.” Mark, who represents 16 communities in Berkshire and Franklin counties, opened Coakley’s coordinated campaign office in Greenfield recently and will be canvassing there as well as in central Berkshire.

“It’s going to be a tough race,” he conceded, “but she’ll get it done.”

However, some key Democrats have backed away from Coakley. One of them is Mayor Thomas Koch of Quincy, who endorsed Baker last week, with former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III at his side.

Barrett told The Eagle that he has a long record of bipartisanship in statewide contests, pointing to his support for Republican Gov. William Weld, who served from 1991 to 1997.

Barrett backs Baker, in part because the Republican candidate was helpful to North Adams as Mass MoCA was being developed 20 years ago. Baker was Weld’s secretary of administration and finance and helped secure $18 million in state funding, on top of $35 million during the Dukakis administration, to rehab the former Sprague Electric plant into a contemporary art museum.

The former mayor also described Baker as a strong supporter of workforce education and of boosting state aid to cities and towns to help keep property tax increases in check.

However, Barrett admitted to long-standing differences with Coakley, notably her support of Richard Alcombright, who toppled the mayor’s 26-year reign in 2008.

Alleging that Coakley has “character flaws and misunderstands the problems and needs of cities,” Barrett insisted that he doesn’t look at Baker “as the Republican or Democratic candidate. I think of him as the best, as I did with Weld.”

On the other hand, Downing stated that there have been “no surprising defections” by Democrats to Baker’s side.

“ I don’t think that aspect is a challenge,” he said. “ We’re building strong field offices, based on the campaigns of Gov. Deval Patrick and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.”

Said Downing, “ The key is organize, organize, organize!”

To contact Clarence Fanto: cfanto@yahoo.com or(413) 637-2551. On Twitter: @BE_cfanto