SHELBURNE FALLS — With just a week to go before the Sept. 8 primary election, Franklin County voters in the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden Senate district got their first chance to hear all three Democratic candidates sound off in a sizzling debate Thursday night.
The three — attorneys Rinaldo Del Gallo of Lenox and Andrea Harrington of Richmond, as well as Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Director Adam Hinds — sparred repeatedly as they took questions about the economy, schools and other topics from a four-member panel and the audience of nearly 100 at the event, co-sponsored by The Recorder at Mohawk Trail Regional High School.
Other co-sponsors included the Ashfield Democratic Committee, WHMP, the League of Women Voters, Frontier Community Access Television and Falls Cable TV.
While the three Berkshire County candidates have appeared in numerous forums and debates, concentrated near the end of the primary campaign, this marked the first time they debated in Franklin County. The 90-minute debate, which was streamed live by Falls Cable TV and Recorder.com, was marked by Harrington’s repeated criticism of Hinds for accepting campaign contributions from donors representing energy corporations, charter schools, hospitals and banks, and Del Gallo’s complaints about the other candidates “flip-flopping” through the campaign.
Del Gallo repeatedly voiced his support for windmills to be built on mountaintops in the Berkshires, declaring that he was the only candidate who was committed to renewable energy solutions.
“Look, I don’t think you two get it,” he said. “I don’t think you understand that global warming is the biggest issue facing mankind … If we’re going to be serious about this problem, we need to make sacrifices, just like a war. We need wind energy here in the Berkshires and in this district.”
Del Gallo also said he supports legalization of recreational marijuana and the presumption of shared custody in divorce cases. But he said that he would follow the will of voters if the marijuana legalization question passes and chided the other two candidates for the “ridiculous position” of not saying they would support the will of voters on all ballot questions.
Responding to criticisms about accepting campaign money from people who favored natural-gas pipeline construction — which he has opposed — Hinds said, “This is what really matters. I have been very deliberate about laying out priorities through this campaign about climate change and renewable energy.”
He called for a proposed Massachusetts Woodlands Partnership for northern Berkshire and western Franklin County, as well as possible development of a wood-pellet plant.
Harrington and Del Gallo both said they did not know enough about the proposal, which has been studied by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
Hinds, who grew up in Shelburne Falls and attended Mohawk, agreed with Harrington against lifting the cap on charter schools.
“Now is the time to redouble our efforts for getting our financing in line for our schools.” If elected, he said his first legislative initiative would be reforming public school financing, especially for rural schools.
Harrington said that allowing an additional 12 charter schools to be opened every year, as a Nov. 8 ballot question calls for, “has a huge potential to completely eviscerate our public school system.”
Her first legislative priority, she said, would be to provide for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable day care to help people to lift themselves out of poverty.
Del Gallo said his top priority would be to enact a $15 across-the-board minimum wage, calling himself the only candidate who would do so immediately.
Each of the candidates said they favor increasing the money available for tax credits for struggling dairy farmers and stressed the importance of making broadband access throughout western Massachusetts a top priority.
“The fact that every town does not have broadband is an outrage,” said Harrington, with Del Gallo saying that he believes “by taxing the wealthy, have the government simply build high-speed internet.”
Each of the candidates said they oppose a proposed road-use tax as unfair to people who live in rural areas, and all called for a more progressive tax structure in the state.
The 52-community district, now represented by Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, includes Chesterfied, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Middlefield, Plainfield, Westhampton, Williamsburg and Worthington.
Republican candidate Christine Canning of Lanesborough faces no primary opposition and will face the winner of Thursday’s Democratic primary in the Nov. 8 election.