Sheriff, Governor's Council, state House candidates sound off in public forum






  • A standing-room-only crowd applauds after candidates for the 8th District Governor’s Council seat spoke during a forum Monday at Amherst Town Hall.

Published: 8/9/2016 12:46:44 AM

AMHERST — A packed room of roughly 100 locals in Town Hall heard candidates for Hampshire County sheriff, state representative and Governor’s Council sound off during a forum Monday evening, a month ahead of the Sept. 8 primary.

El Sol Latino newspaper editor Manuel Frau-Ramos and radio station WHMP’s “Black in the Valley” hosts Carlie Tartakov and Jacqueline Smith-Crooks moderated the community-organized forum and read aloud questions previously written on note cards by attendees.

Candidates for Governor’s Council were the first to field questions. But before they got rolling, a moderator posed a question to the audience: Who actually knows the purpose of the Governor’s Council?

Amid some speculative chatter, folks in the crowd looked generally puzzled.

“As of three days ago, yeah,” one man shouted.

“A little bit,” another replied.

The principal function of the Governor’s Council is to vote on state judiciary nominees. Altogether, the council comprises eight councilors representing the eight districts. Mike Albano is the current district councilor but is not seeking re-election in light of his bid for Hampden County sheriff.

Mary Hurley, once a district court judge and former Springfield mayor, and Jeffrey Morneau, who’s president of the Hampden County Bar, made a case for why they were the right fit for the job.

“I have a passion for public service. I have a passion for criminal justice, and this is a job for me to fill that need,” Hurley said. “(This position is) an important function that doesn’t get enough attention.”

Morneau drew on his experience as an attorney practicing mostly civil and consumer protection law in Springfield.

“I’m running for this elected office because I know how important judges are to this community. They can make the difference between good and bad,” he said. “You have to have a check and balance on the governor, otherwise it all becomes politics.”

Sheriff’s candidates

Four hopefuls are competing for the spot that will be vacated by Robert Garvey when he retires after 30-plus years. The sheriff is head of the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction, and the job carries a six-year term.

Three of the candidates, all Democrats, attended Monday’s forum. Lone Republican candidate David F. Isakson was not present.

The candidates, Patrick J. Cahillane, of Northampton, Kavern Lewis, of Amherst, and Melissa Perry, also of Northampton, addressed their priorities if elected to the top county law enforcement post.

Cahillane, who is the current assistant superintendent and special sheriff, emphasized his goal of securing strong funding for the jail’s Bridge to the Future House — a pre-release, 16-bed facility that incorporates mandatory work-release for eligible inmates. He also stressed the importance of diversifying communication channels among employees.

“I have made this my career,” he said. “I believe in the system we have created at 205 Rocky Hill Road.”

Perry, who is director of behavioral health nursing at Holyoke Medical Center and is also a registered nurse, talked about the need to continue to address drug and mental health services in the jail.

“I’m very solid, I’m very interpersonal, and I’ve advocated for mental heath along the way,” she said, citing a statistic that 70 percent of the current inmate population receives mental heath and/or substance abuse services. “That, along with my leadership skills, would be a huge asset to the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction.”

Lewis, who is a substitute teacher in the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, said he would be the first openly gay sheriff to serve Hampshire County. Lewis also touted the importance of providing for persons in the criminal justice system with mental illness — by saying they shouldn’t be incarcerated.

“When it comes to mental health, I don’t think they should be in our jails, period,” he said. “That’s something that I’m going to take care of once I get in office.”

The next forum for the Democratic sheriff candidates is Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. at First Churches of Northampton.

Six House candidates

Six candidates are running to replace Democratic Rep. Ellen Story, who has held her seat since 1992 and is not seeking re-election.

All Democrats, they are Solomon Goldstein-Rose, a former member of the Amherst School Committee and recent Brown University graduate; Sarah la Cour, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District; Amherst School Committee member Vira Douangmany Cage; Bonnie MacCracken, a property title examiner; Eric Nakajima, former executive director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute; and Lawrence O’Brien, a social studies teacher at Belchertown High School and former Amherst School Committee member.

The 3rd Hampshire District includes Amherst, Pelham and Precinct 1 of Granby. The candidates, by and large, agreed on the prioritization of funding for public education, improving awareness of civil rights issues and bolstering the local economy.

Monday’s forum was organized by the Amherst Area NAACP; Coming Together: Understanding Racism, Working for Justice, Building Connection; Citizens for Racial Amity Now as well as Undoing Racism Organizing Collective.

Contact Michael Majchrowicz at or 413-585-5234.​

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