Historic Tuesday primary awaits voters 

  • Voting stickers are displayed Sept. 8 at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst during the state primary election. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 9/1/2018 12:46:22 AM

NORTHAMPTON — When voters in the Pioneer Valley head to the polls in Tuesday’s primary election, they’ll be taking part in a historic electoral moment that, regardless of who wins, will sweep a new generation of lawmakers into office.

Seats are up for grabs for state representative in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Hampshire districts and the 1st Franklin District, and for state Senate in the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District and the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District. There is also a hotly contested race between a 30-year incumbent and progressive challenger for U.S. congress, and a chance for Amherst voters to narrow down the candidates for its first-ever Town Council. 

“No one can remember how long it has been for the Valley to have this many vacancies,” retiring state Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, said. “Basically the entire delegation is turning over.”

Scibak and state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, are retiring from their seats in the 2nd Hampshire and 1st Franklin districts, respectively, and Peter Kocot, a longtime incumbent in the 1st Hampshire seat, died in February.  State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, an independent from Amherst, decided not to run for the 3rd Hampshire seat, which he filled after the 2016 retirement of state Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst.

In addition to the state representative races, former state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, stepped down from his seat the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District late last year. Incumbent state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, faces a challenge from Thomas P. Wickham of Lee.

“I don’t remember a time when we had four open seats for state representative and we also had the (Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District) senate seat unexpectedly vacant,” Story said. “It’s extraordinary.”

On the federal level, in the 1st Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, is facing a competitive challenge from Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a Springfield lawyer, setting up a showdown between competing visions for the future of the Democratic party.

The candidates in all the races are a mix of political newcomers and former elected officials, and in the races for statewide office about half the candidates are women, creating the potential that the male-dominated Hampshire County delegation could soon become led by women. That fact mirrors a nationwide trend, with record numbers of women running for office.

“It’s unusual because for years I was the only woman from western Massachusetts,” Story said. With any luck, she added, there will soon be a women-led delegation from the region.

With the election on the day after Labor Day, there has been some concern about turnout. However, Secretary of State William Galvin told the Gazette Friday that he expects turnout in Hampshire County to be high. Donald Peltier, of South Hadley, is the only Republican candidate that has emerged to challenge any Democratic primary winner. He will be on the ballot in the November election in the 2nd Hampshire District. 

“There is so much intense interest in these overlapping contests,” he said, adding that he's seen an uptick in requests for absentee ballots in the region. While normally a good indicator for voter turnout, however, Galvin said many people may have taken out absentee ballots because of the fact that there are three write-in candidates in the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in the state Senate.

“That’s probably going to slow down the tabulation,” Galvin said, suggesting the results could come in later than normal.

There has been some confusion surrounding the ballot in 10 of the smaller communities in the Senate district, where there won't be a designated space for a write-in vote. But campaigns have been working to educate voters how to write in a candidate in those towns, and the state's standard for counting a write-in vote is voter intent, meaning a vote will be counted if a voter’s intent can be reasonably determined. Many towns will also have additional instructions for filing a write-in vote.

Scibak said that normally, the last weekend before a vote would be the most important, when campaigns are frantically going door-to-door and putting in their final efforts. But, with so many voters likely heading out of town for Labor Day weekend, these final days will be less important than in previous elections, he said. The polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Senate races

After form Senate President Rosenberg stepped down from his seat earlier this year, four candidates have put there names in the race for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District. Only one, however will be on the ballot. 

The candidates, all from Northampton, are educator and women’s rights advocate Chelsea Kline, and three write-in candidates: Jo Comerford, a former MoveOn.org campaign director; Northampton City Council President Ryan O’Donnell; and Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services Director Steven Connor.

The district encompasses 24 communities, including Northampton, Amherst, Hadley, Hatfield, Pelham and South Hadley in Hampshire County.

In the Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden District first-term incumbent Adam G. Hinds of Pittsfield faces a challenge from Thomas P. Wickham of Lee.  The district covers 52 communities, including Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Middlefield, Plainfield, Westhampton, Williamsburg and Worthington. 

1st Hampshire District

The race to fill the seat held by Kocot pits his longtime district director Diana Szynal, 51, of Hatfield, against Lindsay Sabadosa, 37, of Northampton, a self-employed translator and women’s rights advocate who helped found the Pioneer Valley Women’s March.

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

2nd Hampshire District

For voters in Easthampton, Hadley, South Hadley, and in Granby’s Precint 2, the choice for Democrats in the 2nd Hampshire District are among Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Daniel Carey, 33, of Easthampton, Baystate Health senior business analyst John Hine, 65, of South Hadley, and assistant program direction for the Collaborative for Educational Services Marie McCourt, 45, of Granby.

Scibak has not endorsed any candidate in the race. He said all of the three had served in elected office, giving them the experience needed as a lawmaker.

“I think that the race for my seat, all three candidates are equal, all three candidates are competent, and any one of the three can do the job,” he said.

3rd Hampshire District

Two Amherst Democrats with similar policy ideas are vying for the nomination in the 3rd Hampshire District: Mindy Domb, 59, the executive director of Amherst Survival Center since 2013, and Eric Nakajima, 51, who is chairman of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee and works professionally as a consultant.

The 3rd Hampshire District covers Amherst, Pelham, and Precinct 1 in Granby. 

1st Franklin District 

Seven Democrats are running to fill the seat being vacated by Kulik, who has held the seat for 25 years and is retiring at the end of his current term. They are Kate Albright-Hanna of Huntington, Natalie Blais of Sunderland, Christine Doktor of Cummington, Jonathan Edwards of Whately, Casey Pease of Worthington, Nathaniel Waring of Sunderland and Francia Wisnewski of Montague.

The 19-town district includes Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Middlefield, Plainfield, Worthington and Williamsburg in Hampshire County, along with Deerfield, Leverett, Shutesbury, Sunderland and Whately in Franklin County.

With so many candidates vying for the seat, observers have said that the race will come down to the campaigns’ ground game heading into this final weekend.

“Somebody could win that conceivable with under 20 percent percent of the vote,” Scibak said. “That’s where the groundwork… really is significant.”

1st Congressional District

The race in the 1st Congressional District between U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and challenger Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a family and civil rights attorney from Springfield, is one that political observers say mirrors a nationwide battle within the party over issues, messaging, identity and how campaigns are run. 

The 1st Congressional District includes all of Berkshire County and parts of Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester counties, including the Hampshire County communities of Easthampton, Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Granby, Huntington, Middlefield, Plainfield, South Hadley, Southampton, Westhampton, Williamsburg and Worthington.

Amherst Town Council

With the approval of a historic charter changing Amherst’s government from representative Town Meeting to a 13-member council, candidates are gearing up for a preliminary election that will slightly narrow the field.

The preliminary election will narrow the field of 33 candidates whose names appear on the ballots in five districts to 26 finalists who will be able to continue their campaigns at the general election Nov. 6. Seven candidates running for an at-large seat will be narrowed down to six on Tuesday.

After the general election in November, there will be three members selected for at-large seats, and 10 members from five different districts.

Bera Dunau, Luis Fieldman, Richie Davis and Scott Merzbach contributed reporting to this story.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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