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Sheriff Ashe's Clambake draws political big wigs

Date: 8/20/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — For candidates, the 35th annual Sheriff Michael Ashe Clambake is a place to start a campaign, solicit support for a current campaign and to be seen by the 1,500 or so political junkies who attended.

The change of venue from Six Flags in Agawam to the Springfield Elks Lodge didn't seem to change the nature of the event nor the schmoozing that was only interrupted by breaks to eat and drink.

Ashe explained to Reminder Publications the event grew out of a weekly social event the sheriff's staff conducted with area attorneys, a tradition from previous sheriffs. He said that he didn't continue it initially and came up with the idea of an annual clambake instead.

Eventually, he opened the event, which raises campaign contributions, up to the public. He views it as part of his community outreach that is part of his corrections philosophy.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, State Treasurer Steven Grossman and Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren were the big guns at the clambake. Grossman and Murray have both been rumored to have their eye on running for governor during the next election and both gave similar answers to the question of their political future.

Murray admitted he is "thinking about it." His principal focus is on "trying to do my job." Next year would be the time he makes a decision to seek higher office.

Grossman said, "Right now I'm doing my job, which I'm 19 month into. The people want you to do the job they elected you for." He added that next year he would take a "serious look, no doubt" at the possibility.

Warren took about an hour working the crowd at the clambake. Many of her appearances in Western Massachusetts have been fairly quick, but here, introduced by Congressman Richard Neal, she took her time meeting and greeting.

A recent television ad called for an increase in improvements to American infrastructure as a way to improve employment and to make the nation more competitive for businesses. In the ad, she compared how much China is spending on its infrastructure as opposed to current commitments here. The message has been interpreted by some of her critics as saying this country should be like China, a Communist dictatorship.

When this reporter asked about the criticism, Warren said, "All I can do is get there and try to tell the truth. China is a warning. China is investing 9 percent of its GDP [Gross Domestic Product] in roads and bridges, sewers, water, power, state of the art communications and that gives China's businesses a comparative advantage for decades to come. We need to pay attention to that.

"When [Sen.] Scott Brown says, 'Oh no, let the roads and bridges crumble around us,' that's not business friendly, that doesn't help us build a future here in America and I think that's what this race should be about the whole vision of how we build a future in America. Is it all about tax cuts at the top and crumbling roads for everyone else? Is it about making the investments that give us a real future?" she continued.

Brown did not attend the clambake, although his wife, Boston television reporter Gale Huff, attended in the morning.

Part of the clambake's charm is its dual nature a party where elected officials take a break and an opportunity for candidates to talk to a captive audience of the politically active.

Mayors Richard Cohen, Alex Morse, Domenic Sarno and Michael Bissonnette, of Agawam, Holyoke, Springfield and Chicopee respectively, were not up for re-election, but attended the clambake to show their support for the sheriff and to enjoy themselves.

On the other hand, Linda Stec DiSanti, who is running for Hampden County Clerk of Courts, was methodically going from table to table. DiSanti cited her experience in both law and business as the qualifications she needs to effectively be the next Clerk of Courts.

Gerry Roy, a city councilor from Chicopee who is running for Governor's Council, said his independence is his principal strength. Although running as a Democrat, Roy said that unlike his opponent Attorney Kevin Sullivan, he has no family or friends in politics. He also lacks the political connections of former Springfield Mayor Michael Albano, the other Democrat running in the primary.

He said he is a not an "activist" who doesn't "owe anybody." Although some people have criticized the Governor's Council, which has the responsibility of confirming judicial appointments, as antiquated, Roy said that a return to independence would make the body stronger.

If there is one local elected position that has been causing some speculation it has been Ashe's own job. Ashe admitted he has thought about retirement, but at age 72, he said, "I've been blessed with my health. I still feel I'm at the top of my game."