Candidates' forum sparks controversy, draws crowd
Date: 8/25/2010Aug. 25, 2010
By Debbie Gardner
Assistant Managing Editor
SPRINGFIELD -- A charge of exclusion expanded the scope of the 16 Acres Civic Association's candidate's forum at the Greenleaf Community Center on Aug. 17 from individuals running for District Attorney in the primary elections to those also running for a seat in the House of Representatives in both the 9th and 12th Hampden districts and in the Senate for the 1st Hampden-Hampshire district.
According to association member Burt Freedman, the initial plan for the event was to offer the slate of District Attorney (DA) candidates running for the Democratic contender slots in the Sept. 14 primary elections, as well as candidates running for seats whose districts included 16 Acres, an opportunity to present their credentials to the public, with a second forum planned for all candidates prior to the November general election.
These DA candidates, Freedman said, were invited to the event by letter and asked to R.S.V.P.
"They got a letter because we wanted to make sure the primary people showed up," he said.
The event, however, was also publicized through several other media outlets, including The Reminder and the daily newspaper.
That is how Alex Sherman, chairman of the Springfield Republican City Committee, said he learned about the forum. He said he felt the emphasis on the primary candidates -- who in the case of the district attorney's race are all Democrats amounted to a kind of exclusion for candidates from his party.
He blamed City Councilor Clodo Concepcion, who is also president of the 16 Acres Civic Association, for the oversight.
"It would have been nice if he actually invited everyone," Sherman said as he and fellow Republicans held banners for their party's candidates about 100 feet from the doors to the community center the evening of the event. "I checked with candidates on the state, local and federal level and no one knew about it."
Concepcion said he heard about the complaint and opened the forum up to all candidates during an appearance on WHYN-AM radio the morning of the event.
"Anybody running for office is invited," he told Reminder Publications following his radio appearance. "I didn't send out the invitations myself. No one is going to see a letter saying I invited them."
Concepcion emphasized that neither he nor the 16 Acres Civic Association was endorsing any candidate in any race, a point he reiterated at the forum that evening.
Sherman said two local republican candidates, Tom McCarthy, who is running against Democratic incumbent State Sen. Gale Candaras in the 1st Hampden-Hampshire District, and Joshua Carpenter, who is taking on Democratic incumbent Rep. Angelo Puppolo in the 12th Hampden District, were able to attend.* * *
A total of 15 potential and incumbent candidates -- Democrats, Republicans, one Independent and one Libertarian -- participated in the 7 p.m. forum, which drew a crowd of more than 80 people.
"I'm glad to see so many people," Concepcion said as the 10 rows of chairs set up in the Greenleaf gymnasium quickly filled to capacity, forcing him to ask the center's staff to extend one of the bleachers to accommodate the crowd. "You care about your city, you care about your state."
Beginning with the six district attorney candidates -- Democrats Stephen Spelman, Brett Voterro, Michael Kogut, James Goodhines, State Sen. Stephen Buoniconti and Independent Mark Mastroianni -- each attendee was allowed two minutes to present his credentials to the crowd.
All of the DA candidates stressed their records and experience as criminal prosecutors, with Spelman, Vottero, Goodhines and Buoniconti highlighting their work in the DA's office under District Attorney William Bennett. Spelman also talked about his work to "try and bring, in a small way, the rule of law to a society that was under extraordinary stress" during one of his two tours of duty to Iraq with the Army Reserve's military task force under General Petraeus.
"I intend to use the same approach if I'm honored enough to be elected district attorney," Spelman said.
Saying "We've all been prosecutors, we've all dedicated a good portion of our careers to law enforcement and we're all talking about being tough on crime," Kogut stressed that he was the only candidate who lives in the city of Springfield, and the only one with no political or personal allegiance to the district attorney's office. If elected, he promised to stop the practice of allowing assistant DAs to take a leave of absence to run for political office "at the expense of the taxpayers and a criminal justice system that is falling apart." Brett Vottero, an assistant DA under both Matthew Ryan and William Bennett who is now in private practice, said his goal if elected district attorney would be to "focus on violent and repeat offenders" who plague the criminal justice system.
"I'm running because the DA gets to set policy," Vottero said, adding he'd watched current policy become less and less effective during the past 25 years.
James Goodhines, who referred to himself as "the only career prosecutor running for [the DA's] office," and the one who had removed more than "1,000 "drug dealers and guns from the streets of Springfield and Holyoke" said, if elected, he would affect crime by "identifying key offenders and also by identifying those who could be rehabilitated."
Mark Mastroianni, the only candidate running as an Independent, said he chose that affiliation because "dedication to party and political affiliation have nothing to do with the district attorney's office." He stressed his experience both as a public prosecutor and as an attorney in private practice. He said he understood the "need to balance a budget, hire staff, pay for copies -- to be an administrator" something, he said, the District Attorney "needs to be."
"As a defense attorney and a public prosecutor I can bring a unique perspective to the DA's office," Mastroianni said.
Buoniconti, the only candidate who is not a practicing lawyer, presented not only his former service as a public defender, but also his connections in the legislature as strengths he could bring to the DA's office.
"You need someone who can work out there to make the community safe," he said. "We're not doing anything for you right now."
Rep. Sean Curran (D, 9th Hamp. District), the first of the incumbent candidates running for state office, led the legislative component of the forum, using his two minutes to stress his record since 2004. Sen. Gale Candaras (D, 1st Hamp. District), talked about her "body of work, of which I am very, very proud," and the monies she had been able to bring back to Western Massachusetts during her time in the State Senate.
James Walsh, who is running for the Hampden District Senate seat being vacated by Buoniconti, stressed his six-year record as a representative and his commitment to the community.
Christopher Asselin, who with Libertarian candidate Robert Underwood, is in the race for Curran's 9th Hampden District seat, said that he reentered politics following his removal from office on corruption charges "at the urging of friends and members of his parish, St. Mary's." He said though he might have had personal difficulties he was, and always had been, committed to helping people and that was what was driving his bid to be returned to the Legislature.
Republican candidate Robert McGovern, also a candidate for Buoniconti's Senate seat, said an interest in history motivated his desire to run for office.
"Things are screwed up in Boston. I'm running on taxes, education and the economy," he said, adding that taxes and other roadblocks are killing the entrepreneurial spirit in Massachusetts.
Republican candidate Thomas McCarthy, who will run against Candaras in November, talked about the economy, the deficit and the burden taxes have placed on families and small businesses.
"It's time for citizens to stop the mortgaging of their lives, their children's lives and their grandchildren's lives," he said.
Joshua Carpenter, Republican candidate for Angelo Puppolo's Representative seat for the 12th Hampden District, also talked about the impact placed on residents by the state sales and income taxes. He said he was running because "You need a voice on Beacon Hill. I won't vote until I hear from you," he said.
Incumbent 12th Hampden District Rep. Angelo Puppolo was unable to attend the forum. His aide, Cherie Spinks, read a prepared statement in which he thanked his constitutes for the privilege of serving for them in the Legislature.
Following these remarks Concepcion took a total of two questions from the audience, one addressing the DA candidates, another directed to those running for State Senate and House of Representatives.
Each candidate was then allowed an additional two minutes to make closing remarks.