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O’Donnell, Connor launch write-in campaigns for state Senate

  • Northampton City Council President Ryan O'Donnell  JERREY ROBERTS

  • File photo  File photo 

  • STEVEN CONNOR STEVEN CONNOR

  • Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, speaks Nov. 29, 2017 to the editorial board at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton.

  • Chelsea Kline, Democratic candidate for state Senate, drops off nomination papers last month in Hatfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston



@BeraDunau
Tuesday, May 08, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Last week’s resignation of Sen. Stanley Rosenberg has already rearranged the political landscape in Hampshire County, and now it is reshaping the election for the 1st Hampshire District.

Two of the four candidates for the 1st Hampshire House seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Peter Kocot, Ryan O’Donnell and Steven Connor, are now looking to take over Rosenberg’s Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District seat.

O’Donnell, 38, the Northampton City Council president, and Connor, the Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services director, launched write-in campaigns Monday for the Senate seat.

“My fundamental motivation remains unchanged. I want to serve as a legislator to fight for the progressive ideals that matter to our communities, and create a more just, prosperous and equal society,” O’Donnell said in a statement.

Connor, 58, said in a release that he had chosen to run for state representative to advocate for veterans, children, and people with disabilities.

“With Senator Rosenberg’s resignation, there is an opportunity to bring this advocacy to all the communities where I have lived and have worked in during my career as a veteran service officer and as an advocate for adults, children, and their families who live with significant challenges,” Connor stated.

Rosenberg, D-Amherst, resigned last week 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.

Narkewicz said Monday he spoke with Senate President Harriette Chandler, who affirmed that the deadline would not be extended.

In a statement, Narkewicz said he remained “troubled by the timing of events on Beacon Hill that have left our district with an uncontested ballot.”

The lack of competition in the Senate race was a point O’Donnell made when announcing his candidacy.

House campaign

The 1st Hampshire District consists of Northampton, Westhampton, Southampton and Hatfield in Hampshire County, and Montgomery in Hampden County.

With Connor and O’Donnell now campaigning for the Senate, Diana Szynal, Kocot’s longtime district director; and Lindsay Sabadosa, the director of the Pioneer Valley Women’s March, are the two candidates running for the 1st Hampshire District. Both are running in the Democratic primary.

“I commend Ryan O’Donnell for announcing that he will be running for Senate. My campaign will not change as I am running as a trusted voice with 16 years of experience and dedication to the District,” Szynal said in a statement released to the Gazette.

Sabadosa, likewise, said she would not consider running for Senate.

“Absolutely not,” Sabadosa said. “I am thrilled to be running for the state representative race.”

“It really doesn’t change anything for me,” she said.

Szynal would not say at this time whom she would back in the Senate race, while Sabadosa said she is backing Kline.

Open to challenges

Asked about O’Donnell’s entry into the Senate race, Kline noted that she originally entered the primary expecting to face off against Rosenberg.

“I am open to all of the challenges,” she said.

Kline said she has lived in the district since 2001, raised one of her three children with the help of food stamps here, and is a homeowner.

“This is my place, these are my people,” she said.

Asked about her legislative priorities, fully funding public schools, single-payer health care, advocating for a green economy and free public higher education were some that she gave.

“I want to strengthen western Massachusetts overall,” said Kline.

Although this is the first time she is running for elected office, Kline said that she leads multiple academic programs.

Kline works as an academic program director at the American Women’s College at Bay Path University, where she also teaches. She is on the board of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and is also a member of the Hampshire-Franklin Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

Contested election

“I represent Northampton and I grew up in Amherst,” O’Donnell said when asked why he chose to switch races, also noting his connections in Franklin County.

He also said it was not acceptable for the Senate seat to be filled without a contested election.

“People want this to be a contested election,” he said. “That I know for sure.”

He also said that the democratic risk of not holding an election is greater than the political issues surrounding running a write-in campaign.

“People are going to say what they’re going to say,” said O’Donnell, when asked about potential accusations of opportunism for switching races.

However, he said he doubts that even those who do not like him would question his commitment to progressive policy, or the experience he’s gained as a city councilor.

On the challenges of running a write-in campaign, O’Donnell said it made it all the more important to engage on a grassroots level with every community in the district, which is how he also said that he would work as a senator.

“You have to really represent people at the community level,” he said.

He also talked about the need to fight for single-payer health care, civil rights and changing the way public education is funded. He also favorably noted Rosenberg’s accomplishments.

Connor did not return a phone call for comment by deadline. However, his announcement letter sheds a light on his priorities, as it specifically cites state education funding, improving sexual assault reporting and support services, moving forward with clean energy initiatives, and safeguarding access to health care.

Connor also offered praise for Rosenberg.

“His support for people living on the margins has been strong and consistent, and it is this support that I intend to sustain,” he said.

Other possible candidates

In terms of other possible entrants, Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Natalie Blais, who is a candidate for the 1st Franklin District in the Massachusetts House, said she was approached over the weekend by a number of people about running for the Senate seat. However, although she said she was humbled by the asks, she said she is staying in her current race.

The same looks to be the case for Solomon Goldstein-Rose, I-Amherst, who is running for re-election to the 3rd Hampshire District in the Massachusetts House.

Goldstein-Rose said he is not considering running for the Senate at the moment, although he would if a strong enough candidate did not emerge. However, he said he had yet to examine either Kline’s or O’Donnell’s candidacies closely. Connor had not announced when Goldstein-Rose was interviewed.

Goldstein-Rose also noted the big shoes that whoever won the election would be filling.

“We’re losing an amazing representative in Stan (Rosenberg),” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.