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Sept. 9 primary looms large over candidates

Date: 8/21/2014

SPRINGFIELD  – There was a date that loomed over this year’s edition of Sheriff Michael Ashe’s annual clambake – perhaps the most singular political event in Western Massachusetts – and that was Sept. 9.

For many of the candidates attending the event, the primary election on Sept. 9 will finish their campaigns as Mike Lake, a Democrat running for lieutenant governor, said, “The window is short.”

Lake explained that many people don’t pay too much attention to the election until after Labor Day, which would mean the most intensive efforts some candidates will make are within one week.

Lake is not aligned to any of the Democratic candidates for governor and noted that Donald Berwick is known for his advocacy of single payer health insurance, Martha Coakley for her stands on mental health issues and Stephen Grossman for his economic achievements.

Saying he could work with any of them, Lake added, “Put them all together and you have me.”

As lieutenant governor, Lake said he would like to be the liaison from the gubernatorial administration to the cities and towns of the Commonwealth.

Although conventional political wisdom would indicate that Charlie Baker, the leading Republican candidate for governor, wouldn’t have much to worry about – he is facing Mark Fisher in the primary – he said he is “really focused” on the primary election.

Baker said that as he has been crisscrossing the state and voters he has met have expressed concerns about “pocketbook stuff” such as taxes and state spending. He emphasized he is the only gubernatorial candidate who would “serve as a check on the Legislature.”

The Sept. 9 election will choose a new district attorney (DA) for Hampden County. This reporter saw two of the four Democrats who are running for the office and both stated they believed their campaigns are gaining traction.

Hal Etkin said that his weekly release of an initiative he would undertake if elected shows that he can keep a promise to voters. He said he would not accept the $23,000 raise the position has received and use that money to form a scholarship fund.

Anthony Gulluni said he is “very optimistic” about his chances of being the new district attorney and noted a string of recent endorsements including one from former DA William Bennett. He said there would be additional endorsements announced.

“We’re really surging,” he said.

The primary will also determine the Democratic candidate for state treasurer and two of those candidates were working the crowd while this reporter was present.

Deb Goldberg spoke of the roots to Western Massachusetts, as her parents managed Stop & Shop and Bradlees stores in the region. She said she would seek to start a college saving plan for Bay State residents and work with nonprofit organizations to widen free tax preparation services to residents.

Goldberg would also like to found a bank owned by the state that would provide funding for capital projects.

Tom Conroy, a former state representative is also running for treasurer, and he was being escorted through the clambake by state Rep. John Scibak, who enthusiastically endorsed him. Conway said he would expand the program started by Grossman, the current treasurer, of depositing state funds in local banks for economic development loans. Currently there are 53 banks participating with $53 million deposited. Conway would like to increase that to more that 100 banks with deposits of $1 billion.

He sees this as a move to build more jobs and said, “The best social safety net is a good job.”

The race to replace Gale Candaras in the state Senate was represented by three of the five people running to face Republican Debra Boronski in November. James “Chip” Harrington said he believes his campaign is “hitting its stride at exactly the right moment.”

He believes his experience – small business owner, part-time police officer and member of the Ludlow Select Board – is resonating with voters and he noted he is the only candidate in the race who has pledged to only accept campaign contributions from the Pioneer Valley.

Aaron Saunders, another candidate for state senate thinks his message about experience is gaining headway with the electorate. Saunders served as chief of staff for Candaras and said his background is “unique” in the race.

Eric Lesser, the third candidate encountered at the clambake, said his message of making sure “Western Massachusetts isn’t being left behind” is being heard. Lesser said his campaign has included grassroots strategies and said, “We‘re doing what we have to do [to meet voters].”

"I’m confident people are ready for something new,” he added.