Martha Coakley Stumps in North Adams

Greeting Hometown Gal at Cup and Saucer

By: - Nov 23, 2009

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"I'm proud to say that I believe I will be a good U.S. Senator because I grew up in North Adams."

It's what the packed supporters at Cup and Saucer in downtown North Adams came to hear from Martha Coakley, their homegrown candidate, and current Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

They had arrived by the announced time of 7:30 A.M. to await Coakley who swung by around eight, spoke for about ten minutes, took no questions, pressed the flesh, sprinted to an awaiting car, and was off to an 8:40 appointment with a local radio station. She was scheduled to appear in Pittsfield, where she was born on July 14, 1953, for a 10:30 meet and greet.

The candidate, who lives in Medford, was home for the Holidays. She has turned the seasonal travel into a working vacation by stumping about Western Massachusetts and the Berkshires.

Currently, she is the odds on favorite to win the primary for the seat of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. According to a poll commissioned by the Boston Globe, as of today with a fortnight to go, she has the support of 43 percent of likely voters in the December 6 primary election. Congressman Michael E. Capuano currently trails with 22 percent of potential voters. She also leads in fundraising despite endorsements for Capuano by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the wife of Governor Deval Patrick.

Mayor elect, Dick Alcombright, was on hand to return the favor to Coakley for her crucial endorsement. During the tough contest in North Adams there were last minute automated phone calls to local voters from Coakley. The partisan editor of the North Adams Transcript, Glen Drohan, a consistent supporter of the long term incumbent, John Barrett III, did not run Coakley's endorsement in the daily paper.

It was a significant political gesture on the part of Coakley as the local media, The Transcript and the Berkshire Eagle, endorsed Barrett; as did the majority of politicians in the Commonwealth.

Those gathered in the local coffee shop appreciated her support of Alcombright and now endorse Coakley. During Alcombright's election night victory party there was a stack of Coakley lawn signs that he urged his supporters to take home and display.

Many in the room have known Coakley for years and greeted her as one of their own. She slowly made her way through the crowd pausing to pose with friends and neighbors.

Just a year after she was born the family moved to North Adams. She attended St. Joseph's School and graduated from Drury High in 1971. As a native of hard scrabble North Adams she was unique in attending prestigious Williams College just up the line. After graduating cum laude from Williams, in 1975, she earned a J.D. from Boston University School of Law in 1979. Before serving as Attorney General she was District Attorney of Middlesex County from 1999 to 2007.

Should she win the Senate seat, which appears likely, it is speculated that there are other ambitions for her political career.

As a Roman Catholic it is significant that she told the North Adams audience "The defense of marriage act is just wrong. We shouldn't be telling the people of Massachusetts how to run our families."

On other issues she briefly commented on supporting the "public option" in the Senate's health care reform legislation. There was not enough time to elaborate on environmental issues and clean, cost-effective energy "It's not just a 30 or 60 second sound bite." On the current state of war on two fronts she stated "We need to make sure that when we are sending our men and women overseas we have a clear mission."

After Coakley was locked and loaded for her next appointment the crowd at Cup and Saucer dissipated quickly.  But the hard core political insiders lingered to kibitz. There was a line for bagels and coffee, as we deconstructed the event, and caught up on local political developments.

During the American Revolution Sam Adams' saloon in Dock Square, Boston was a noted watering hole and meeting place for radicals and dissidents. Locally, Cup and Saucer, which stuck its neck out to support Alcombright, suits that purpose.

Dick Alcombright lingered on taking phone calls while standing next to a trash can on Main Street. We asked if he didn't have something else to do. He is busy organizing the transition team when he takes office in January. Already he is initiating some of his campaign points like putting up a web site to field ideas and suggestions from constituents.

It was an idea strongly supported by incoming City Councilor David Bond. He campaigned on an issue of redesigning the City's website and making it more user friendly. Particularly as a resource to guide potential entrepreneurs through the red tape of permits. Alcombright ran on the notion of making the city more accessible and supportive of local business.

Although he is busy house painting Bond sat for an update of his vision for the future of the city. Everyone feels we are at the beginning of a new era of change and development. I asked for his views on the issue of a creative economy.

As we were getting into that Keith Bona walked in. He had just succeeded in a squeaker recount. Initially, David Lamarre  beat him by two votes for the ninth seat on the Council. As a result of the recount that was reversed and Bona won by just two votes.

While pleased to find a seat on the Council, Bona, like Alcombright with whom we discussed the issue just moments before, expressed nothing but praise for Lamarre. They noted his support for the arts and hoped that he will remain involved with city politics.

Tami Daniels, the editor of the on line, joined in the conversation. She had expressed to me her frustration that Coakley didn't take any questions. There were about a dozen that she had prepared. But she was pleased to catch up with Keith and get his comments after such a tight race.

I asked him about the remarks by Drohan in the Transcript that described him as a "quitter."  Bona explained that after eight years and four terms in office he had resigned. "It was time for fresh blood on the Council. I did not quit mid term." He added that while off the council he was the president of the Elks which is active in local charities. Bona decided to run this time to be there for Alcombright at least during his first term. In the  recent election his own race took back seat to supporting Alcombright.

With the change from Barrett to Alcombright I asked about the shift of perception for the creative economy and, in particular, the relationship between the administration and Mass MoCA?. Barrett had a powerful position on the board of the museum. But he applied little pressure on the museum to be more accountable and responsible to the City of North Adams.

Bona commented that it is "likely" that he will be the Council Liaison to Mass MoCA. He is the only council member with direct ties to the arts which represent a growing constituency in the city. Barrett declared that he was "betrayed" by the artists whom he claimed to have brought to the city.

However that may be the Barrett administration did little or nothing to draw upon and involve that expanding creative community. That is likely to change. But Bona was quick to state that he does not see that Mass MoCA is "doing anything wrong." It is more a matter of getting everyone on the same page of the game plan.

He described how during the Barrett administration, for many locals the only mayor they have ever known, a lot of council members and committees just gave up out of frustration when their ideas and initiatives  were ignored or vetoed. The new council will address reforming and revitalizing those mandates. It is anticipated that there will be a lot of new seats at the table and an expanded participation of the creative community.

It is anticipated that Alcombright will hit the ground running when he takes office in January. But we asked Bona if it is realistic to expect that much will be accomplished in a two year term? He stated hoping that Alcombright will remain in office for the four to eight years needed to make a difference. Which he sees happening unless "Dick screws up."

A lot of the success of the mayor will come from working with the council. Two of the top vote getters, Gail Cariddi and Marie Harpin, were staunch Barrett supporters.

While Barrett stated that he kept down taxes by limiting the city payroll there are crucial jobs to fill with potential long term impact on the city. As a lame duck mayor, with some 26 years of favors to acknowledge, there is speculation about those vacancies and the qualifications of potential appointees.

It sure will be interesting. Stay tuned.

Tammi Daniel coverage in

Link to North Adams Transcript coverage