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Voters have stark choice in 8th district Governor’s Council race

Michael Albano has spent much of his professional life in politics. Michael Franco is looking to break into politics after several unsuccessful attempts at elected office.

They are the two candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot vying to succeed Greenfield lawyer Thomas Merrigan as the 8th district representative to the Governor’s Council. The district includes all of Berkshire County, portions of Franklin and Hampden counties and all of Hampshire County except Ware.

The eight-member council decides on the governor’s appointments of judges, clerk magistrates and justices of the peace, as well as members of certain state boards including the parole board and appellate tax board. The Governor’s Council also considers requests for pardons and commutations. The post is a part-time position that pays $26,025 annually.

Albano, a Democrat, and Franco, a Republican, offer voters a stark contrast.

Albano, 61, is a former four-term mayor of Springfield who now lives in Longmeadow. He says he will use support for gay marriage, abortion rights and affirmative action as a litmus test for deciding on judicial appointments.

“I make no apology for that. We’re not going back,” Albano said. “I fought hard for those civil rights throughout my career and I am going to safeguard them as a member of the Governor’s Council.”

Franco, 49, of Holyoke has been active as an organizer in the local tea party movement. A veterans agent in Holyoke, Franco is making is fourth run for governor’s council after losing in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

“My litmus test is that the judge or magistrate will follow the law and the constitution,” Franco said. “The judges should try their best, each and every day, to follow that statute.”

Franco accuses Albano of “judicial activism,” saying “Governor’s Council members should not be trying to shape policy. That’s for the Legislature to do.”

Albano said he is guilty as charged, at least when it comes to the case of the Probate Court. He listed cases of child custody as example of needed reform, arguing that they should begin with the presumption of shared custody.

“I absolutely will look for activist judges because the system in my view has not met the needs of families who go before the Probate Court,” Albano said.

Corruption probe

Franco has aggressively attacked Albano’s tenure as mayor in Springfield, referring to him as the “kickback kid.”

The FBI investigated alleged corruption in Springfield City Hall beginning in 2001 while Albano was mayor. While Albano was never implicated, more than a dozen city employees were convicted of crimes ranging from insurance fraud to embezzlement of municipal funds. Among them was Albano’s chief of staff, Anthony Ardolino.

“Here you have people around Michael Albano, his right-hand man, who went down with a federal conviction. And Michael Albano is going to vote up or down on nominees from the governor for important positions in the state, including judges and magistrates,” Franco said. “It raises questions about his ability to make the right choices.”

Albano brushed aside those charges, calling himself “the most vetted candidate in the history of the commonwealth, bar none.”

According to Albano, the FBI probe was launched in retribution for his stance as a member of the state Parole Board in 1983 when he voted to recommend overturning the sentences of three of the four men convicted in a Boston Mafia killing.

The four convictions were overturned and the men found innocent. In 2007, a U.S. District Court in Boston awarded two of the men $102 million after testimony that the FBI concealed evidence that would have exonerated them in order to protect an informant. Albano testified in that case.

Albano has refrained from attacking Franco. “If you can’t win on your own ideas, you shouldn’t be running,” he said.

Judges a priority

Albano said he has been traveling throughout western Massachusetts to determine its judicial needs. There are seven open judgeships in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties, including one in Northampton, he said. Filling those would be his top priority on the council, he said.

Franco has built his campaign around his proposal of judicial “recertification.” Judges would be approved by the Governor’s Council for an initial six-year term, and then be subject to voters determining whether they should continue for another term, under his plan.

Franco’s proposal calls for judges to be placed on the ballot in the jurisdiction where they serve. A judge on the Eastern Hampshire District Court bench, for instance, would run in Amherst, Belchertown, Hadley, Granby, Pelham, South Hadley and Ware.

If a judge is voted out of office, the Governor’s Council would again fill the vacancy, starting the process anew, under Franco’s plan.

Merrigan, who has been a governor’s councilor six years, announced in March that he would not seek reelection.

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