The June death of Massachusetts State Representative Gailanne Cariddi has led to a special election in northern Berkshire County tomorrow.
A political upstart and a career politician are vying for the 1st Berkshire House district seat.
John Barrett was North Adams mayor for 26 years. North Adams is the biggest municipality in the district. In October’s Democratic primary, Barrett garnered more than 42 percent of the vote.
The race marks a return to politics for the 70-year-old Democrat, who was ousted from the mayor’s office in 2009 and lost a comeback bid in 2015.
“Well, it’s never something I expected to be doing at this stage of my life,” Barrett says.
Acknowledging the hold Democrats have on area political offices, Republican Christine Canning says she’s counting on unenrolled voters.
Running for state Senate last year, Canning got 30 percent of the vote in losing to Pittsfield Democrat Adams Hinds.
“I am not the underdog,” Canning says.
In October, the candidates traded jabs over their experience.
Canning criticized Barrett for not creating enough high-paying, full-time jobs in the region.
“He’s the longest running mayor in Massachusetts, so if it hasn’t been done by now, it’s not getting done,” Canning says.
Canning also called for better transportation to and from the Massachusetts Turnpike.
“Our people need real jobs. Jobs that are paying. We need to attract business. Transportation is a real issue for people up here in North County. I feel our veterans need enormous support,” Canning says.
Canning hasn’t always toed the party line. She supports single-payer health care, welcomes the economic benefits of recreational marijuana, and doesn’t support discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Republican also is a Second Amendment defender.
Barrett received 2,200 votes in the primary, winning handily in North Adams. But he says he has appeal across the state House district.
“Like Gail Cariddi, I care about all of the towns of 1st Berkshire. Each town is important, not just North Adams,” Canning says.
Speaking last month, Barrett said Canning is ill-prepared to be state representative.
“Chris Canning has showed up now, what, the second week basically in October and for an election that is four weeks away and says she wants to talk about the issues. She hasn’t really been talking about them at all. And she has no idea what went on in North Adams and what we tried to get done and we did do a good job here,” Barrett says. “I don’t make any apologies for that.”
When Barrett became North Adams mayor, he says, Massachusetts’ smallest city had an unemployment rate of 17 percent.
“We brought it down to 4 percent, and we didn’t lose people in the labor market at that time,” Barrett says.
He touts the job-creating initiatives that sparked MASS MoCA and Hardman Industrial Park.
He’s now focused on reforming state education funding and workforce development to help the next generation.
State Senator Adams Hinds says whoever wins should continue Cariddi’s legislative goals. Two of her bills – one establishing a Massachusetts Cultural Corridor between the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown and MASS MoCA, and the other creating a women’s rights history trail – went before the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development last week. Hinds co-chairs the committee.
“This is something that she identified as a clear purpose and so we will certainly be working through it on the Senate side regardless,” Hinds says. “And the winner of the election to replace her will pick it up from the House side.”
There have been no formal debates or forum discussions between the candidates – something Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts political scientist Samantha Pettey says is unusual. Pettey says it probably has to do with North Adams already going to the polls to pick a new mayor Tuesday.
“Actually, it’s probably better for turnout to have the election on the regular Election Day in North Adams anyway since special elections you usually have a lower turnout in general because there is not usually anything going on,” Pettey says.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.