PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Party candidates in the Democratic primary for the 3rd Berkshire District state representative emphasized differences in experience, approach and accessibility over ideological issues at a public debate held Monday night at Berkshire Community College.
Democratic contenders Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Ryan Scago and Peter White outlined their reasons and qualifications for the office of 3rd District, which covers most of Pittsfield. This seat is being filled by special election this year to fill the vacancy left by the July resignation of Christopher N. Speranzo, who left the office after being appointed to the position of clerk-magistrate to the Central Berkshire District Court by the Gov. Deval Patrick.
A tone of close agreement and parallel policies on many issues was felt throughout the debate, which was sponsored by the Pittsfield Gazette, Pittsfield Community Television and Berkshire Community College. Candidates fielded questions from PCTV's David Cachat in a manner that focused on trying to convey a general sense of their stylistic differences, while revealing a few concrete deviations on legislation and general political issues.
Similar positions were expressed on such well-trodden party issues as health care, gay marriage, public library services and funding, and the importance of community colleges and local higher education. Parallels even extended down into the three words the contenders chose to describe their leadership style, with all three choosing "collaborative" and "decisive" as their first two.
Some significant policy differences were nonetheless made apparent. Farley-Bouvier said she favored an increase in the gas tax, while Scago and White opposed it. On the subject of minimum wage, White supported raising it and indexing it to inflation; Farley-Bouvier opposed such a raise at this time, citing impact on small business, but that "looking at indexing it to inflation was a good idea," while Scago voiced support for raising minimum wage as well as a possible increase in personal income tax exemption.
When asked if they supported the Patrick administration's proposal to require all employers to provide at least seven paid sick days per year, Scago and Farley-Bouvier both indicated that while they believe paid sick days should be encouraged, but not universally required by a mandate, while White supports the plan.
"I think that it should be left up to the individual employers, especially in tough economic times," said Scago. "It's something I think that everyone should be entitled to, should have, but I don't think it can come down in the form of a mandate."
"When it comes to our small businesses ... I don't think we can mandate those sick days," said Farley-Bouvier, "It's sort of like a free market, an employee is going to go where the best benefits are. We can't put more burdens on our small businesses."
"It doesn't do us any good if we have sick people going in to work, because that's what's going to happen without it being a provided benefit," said White. "They're going into work sick, they're getting everyone else sick, and it's not good for the business."
When asked what recent State House legislation they would have voted against, White and Scago both cited the removal of health care as an item from the collective bargaining rights for state and municipal employees. Farley-Bouvier said that more than any particular bill, she had issues with the process or way in which legislation was sometimes handled in Boston, such as a lack of transparency with the recent casino bill.
It was on the subject of their qualifications and experience that the candidates demonstrated the widest variety of responses.
Farley-Bouvier repeatedly emphasized her experience in Pittsfield as a parent in addition to her municipal experience, years on the City Council and work as an educator.
Ryan Scago presented his experience working in his family's businesses in a tough economy as well as occupational experience in the district attorney's office, sheriff's department and Connecticut State House. White said that while having only served two years on the City Council, he believes that his years of experience with the Morningside Initiative, working at the Brien Center, and visible accessibility across many city and cultural events have prepared him to serve the most diverse spectrum of constituency.
All candidates were unanimous in their support of the Patriots over the Dolphins in Monday night's NFL game.
The full broadcast of the debate is available through the CityLink section of the PCTV website.
The primary special election to determine the Democratic candidate for the seat will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 20, with Pittsfield polls open from 7 to 8. A second debate for the 3rd Berkshire representative seat will take place at BCC on Oct. 3, in preparation for the final election for this office on Oct. 18.
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