Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Photo by yours truly

File under local politics...every year Hampden Country Sheriff Michael Ashe has a fund-raiser that has evolved into a must event for any political junkie. The good sheriff rents out the picnic grove at Six Flags New England and for $50 people can eat and drink to their heart's content while meetign elected officials and candidates who are doing the same. In a year with a governor's race, shmoozing at the clambake is a must. Last year was a lot of fun with all of the candidates working the crowd.

As usual I was the only reporter who completed more a cursory story on the event. As referenced in my last post, my dissatisfaction with corporately-owned local media is growing.

AGAWAM – Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe’s annual Clambake at the picnic grove at Six Flags Amusement Park remains a singular political event where there is non-stop schmoozing sandwiched between rounds of drinks, baskets of steamers, an occasional hot dog, steaks and barbecue chicken.

Ashe hosted the event on Wednesday and, as usual, the slightly surreal sight of opposing candidates performing intricate dances to meet and greet the same potential voters without having to confront one another provided a certain level of amusement to observers.

For Ed O’Reilly, the clambake was wide-open territory, though. His dance partner was nowhere to be found. The Gloucester resident and attorney is taking on Senator John Kerry in the Democratic primary for the Senate. Kerry seldom appears in Western Massachusetts and O’Reilly said that Kerry not only has a disconnect with Western Massachusetts but with all of the Bay State.

O’Reilly supports an immediate military withdrawal from Iraq. He said he believes there is “no military solution” to the situation and the Administration is “putting the troops in an impossible situation.”

O’Reilly chastised Kerry for not advocating for an end to the war and called his lack of action part of Kerry’s “calculated demeanor.”

He was scornful of Kerry missing a recent controversial vote that continued the potential wiretapping of American citizens and has written Kerry to explain where he was that day. So far, Kerry hasn’t replied.

The candidate, whose campaign manager is from Leverett, has made 10 trips to Western Massachusetts in the last three weeks meeting people and building a grassroots base not unlike what Governor Deval Patrick did as a candidate.

Patrick interrupted his vacation to make a visit to the clambake. He spoke to the press for about five minutes and then waded into the crowd led by Ashe who introduced dozens of people to him.

Patrick is going through various reports to come to a decision about casino gambling in the state. A report by the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth issued Aug. 6 has called for three state-licensed casinos to be built, one of which would be at the intersection of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 291 in Chicopee.
Patrick had told Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette that he would make a decision after the Labor Day holiday and he did tell the media assembled at the clambake a decision would be made shortly.

Patrick repeated what he has said before: he doesn’t discount casino gambling on moral grounds, but the question is complicated with strong arguments on both sides.

The issue of a Western Massachusetts casino proved to be an interesting question to pose to people at the clambake. Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan, a successful opponent of casinos in Springfield, said that he opposes any Western Massachusetts casino, not just a location in Springfield. He said the issue of economic development is outweighed by the social ills a casino could bring to the region.

His opponent, City Councilor Domenic Sarno, said, “If it’s going to come about we need to be at the table negotiating for part of the money.” Sarno said he would support a location that would replicate the Foxwoods casino or what he described as “a casino in the woods.”

Russell Denver, the president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, said the chamber has not made a formal decision to support a casino, but that “if someone wants to invest $100 million and create opportunities, we would treat them like any other business.”

Denver noted there are many details “still much up in the air” over the casino question.

Both State Representative Michael Kane, D-Holyoke, and State Senator Michael Knapik, R-Westfield, are in favor of an expansion of gambling in the state. Kane would only support a destination gambling resort that would be in the same league as the Connecticut casinos. Knapik said the Legislature and the public are “far from where we would vote on one.”

The casino issue was not the only one on which Ryan and Sarno disagreed. Ryan questioned when Sarno would release his plan to remove the trash fee from the budget and replace the $4.3 million it’s expected to generate with another revenue source.

Ryan said the $4.3 million represents the cost of 60 to 70 police officers or the budget for the city’s parks.

Sarno has made rescinding the trash fee a key part of his campaign and has said he is analyzing the city budget to find a way to do away with it.

When asked about the fee, Sarno did not offer any conclusive answers about how he would eliminate it. He said that in a budget of nearly half a billion dollars the $4.3 million, which is under one percent, should be something that could be managed.

He did say that he would like to see a greater emphasis on recycling in the city in order to raise more income and suggested that residents need larger recycling boxes.

The Westfield mayor’s race was also represented at the clambake. Brent Bean and Michael Boulanger both worked the crowd.
Boulanger is the former commander of the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base. He serves as the city’s Emergency Management Director and as a part-time police officer.

His top priorities as mayor would be to work on the city’s infrastructure, public safety and education. He expressed concern not only about the condition of the city’s roads and bridges but also traffic patterns and signals that can create problems for motorists passing through the city.

He is very interested in resolving issues surrounding the proposed bike trail and downtown development and noted how Easthampton’s bike trail has been successfully integrated into that community’s downtown area.

He also said he is interested in seeing industrial development around Barnes Airport rather than the new shopping mall that has been proposed.

Among the other elected officials, candidates and former office holders spotted at the event were former State Senator Linda Melconian, State Representative Angelo Puppolo, D-Wilbraham, State Senator Gale Candaras, D-Springfield, Springfield City Council President Kateri Walsh, Springfield School Committee member Antonette Pepe, Springfield City Council candidate Mo Jones, Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen, and Congressmen Richard Neal and John Olver.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs


Bill Dusty said...

I saw Ashe teeing off at Franconia on Sunday - his group got cuts in front of ours!! ;-)

Mark Martin said...

Did any of these candidates say they'd support a police force that would actually show up and make your neighbors turn down their sonic boom boxes?

SRBissette said...

Great blog this week, Mike!