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Jo Comerford, campaign director for MoveOn, seeks state Senate seat

  • Jo Comerford announces her candidacy for State Senate on the Greenfield Common Tuesday. May 22, 2018. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Jo Comerford announces her candidacy for State Senate on the Greenfield Common and live on FaceBook. May 22, 2018. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • Jo Comerford, in black, talks with people on the Greenfield Common, Tuesday, as she announced her candidacy for state Senate. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Jo Comerford announces her candidacy for State Senate on the Greenfield Common Tuesday. May 22, 2018. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...



@BeraDunau
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — After 20 years of advocating for issues ranging from mental health to the environment to education, Jo Comerford is looking to take everything she has learned and put it to work for the residents of the Hampshire Franklin and Worcester District in the Massachusetts state Senate.

“I know how government works,” Comerford said. “Now I want to go inside.”

Comerford, 54, of Northampton, who works as a campaign director for the progressive advocacy organization MoveOn.org, announced her candidacy for the district on the Town Common in Greenfield Tuesday morning, before heading down to campaign in Amherst and Northampton.

Comerford said she chose to launch her run in Greenfield to symbolize her intention to be senator for the entire region.

Comerford is the fourth write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination for the seat left vacant after the resignation of Sen. Stan Rosenberg, its longtime representative.

Rosenberg, D-Amherst, resigned earlier this month after the Senate Ethics Committee determined that he had failed to protect the Senate from the behavior of his now-estranged husband, Bryon Hefner.

Rosenberg resigned from the Senate after the filing deadline to get on the ballot for this year’s primary election. Chelsea Kline, an educator, women’s rights advocate and Northampton Democrat, is the only candidate who will appear on the primary ballot on Sept. 4. An effort by Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz to extend the deadline was rejected by the state.

Attorney David J. Murphy of Newton, Northampton City Council President Ryan O’Donnell and Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services Director Steven Connor of Northampton have also announced they are running as write-in candidates. No candidate is currently running from any other party.

Comerford’s background

Comerford has lived in the Valley for about 20 years. During this time, she has worked for a number of community and advocacy organizations, including the Center for Human Development, the American Friends Service Committee and The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

“I’ve worked with people up and down our Valley,” Comerford said.

She was also the executive director of the National Priorities Project, a research organization that shows how the federal budget affects people on both state and local levels. Under Comerford’s leadership, the National Priorities Project was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

This is Comerford’s first run for elected office, but she said she has always dreamed about serving in such a capacity.

“This moment in western Massachusetts and in the district called me forward,” she said.

Comerford cited the loss of veteran representation for the region in the Statehouse as one of the reasons why she chose to run.

In addition to Rosenberg’s resignation, 1st Hampshire District Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, died in February. Additionally, 3rd Hampshire District Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, and 1st Franklin Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said they won’t seek re-election.

Public education is high on Comerford’s list of legislative priorities.

“I am a fierce advocate of public education,” she said, saying that she would address the state’s funding mechanism for public schools, as well as the impact of charter schools on local governments.

Promoting renewable energy is another priority for her, Comerford said.

“I really back it also as an economic engine,” she said.

Backing rail transport, championing small farms and businesses, supporting the Safe Communities Act, bringing resources to the district to fight the opioid crisis and fighting to end chronic homelessness are other important issues for Comerford. She also said she would immediately endorse a single-payer health care bill if elected to the Senate.

Comerford said that she comes from a family that has dedicated itself to public service, noting that her father was a public school teacher, her mother was a public school teacher and librarian, her sister is a public school librarian and one of her cousins works as a Northampton firefighter.

“I come from a stock of people who have served,” said Comerford, noting that she has “seen the public sector work for people.”

Ann Hennessey, Comerford’s wife, is also a public school teacher. Hennessey represents Ward 5 on the Northampton School Committee and the couple have two elementary school-aged children.

Comerford is leaving her job at MoveOn.org, so she can run for Senate full time.

“I don’t want to hold anything back from this district,” she said.

Two of her supporters are Ward 2 City Councilor Dennis Bidwell and Northampton School Committee member-at-large Molly Burnham.

Comerford said she plans to personally knock on “hundreds and hundreds of doors.”

“I want to be accessible to people.” Comerford said.

While she said that her first instinct would be to respect the result of the Democratic primary and not run as a write-in in the general election, should she lose, Comerford said that she hadn’t really thought about the matter.

“I’m just focused on Sept. 4,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com