Twelve members and ten guests met at 7 pm via Zoom to hear from four candidates for public office.
Chair Jim Sperelakis opened the meeting at 7:04 pm. Before hearing from the first candidate, he took the opportunity to encourage members to contribute to the Town Committee via Act Blue (link at www.WestNewburyDems.org) or by sending a check made out to West Newbury DTC, to Treasurer Rob Phillips, PO Box 211, West Newbury, MA 01985. He cited the $1,000 award today of the Kathleen Pasquina Civic Engagement Scholarship as an expenditure that has reduced our balance and therefore increased our need for contributions.
Jim thanked David Belsky for his yeoman efforts in organizing the two WNDTC Candidates Nights – April 28 and June 1.
Jim also reported that Adrianne Ramos, candidate for State Rep in the 14th Essex District (which includes West Newbury) was planning to attend tonight’s meeting, but due to feeling ill, had to send her regrets.
Candidate for Attorney General Shannon Liss-Riordan spoke first. She is one of three Democrats running in the primary for this seat. She stated that she is the only practicing attorney running, that she has worked for 20 years representing working people, has won many gender-equality, as well as labor cases for gig, GrubHub and wait staff workers. She emphasized her victories in cases of managers/employers taking tips that should have gone to the workers, and explained that now, nation-wide because of her work, employers know they cannot take those tips. She described herself as an “activist lawyer” and “workers’ champion”. Other issues vital to her are climate change and consumer protection. She and Quentin Palfrey have pledged to not accept PAC monies in this campaign, while the third candidate Andrea Campbell has not made that pledge.
Next to speak was Senator Adam Hines, candidate for Lt. Governor. He now represents the western-most 52 municipalities in MA, which he has done for six years. Prior to serving in the state senate, he worked for 10 years in conflict resolution in the Middle East. His major concerns now are racial equity, voter suppression, potential overturn of Roe vs. Wade, economic inequality, climate, mass transportation, and making housing and childcare more affordable. He described himself as “the education candidate”. Adam is the father of a one-year old, and he stressed how that role has made all future concerns so much more serious for him. He gave two family examples of how education has made economic advancement possible in his family. First his father was a tool and die maker, lost his job when his factory closed, went to college and became a teacher and coach, thereby propelling his family into the middle class. Adam’s wife is a third general Mexican-American whose father was a truck driver. Now, because of education, she is a college professor at Amherst College.
State Senator Diana Di Zoglio is a candidate for Auditor, a job she described as “the state watchdog”, the “quality control officer”, rather than what many people think which is that the job is being an accountant. In fact, the Auditor can file legislation. Diana said that MA rates extremely poorly on government transparency, and that we have no adequate public records law, and that because of this state legislative committee votes are not public information, and she thinks they should be. She described her early years in Methuen and Lawrence as the daughter of a 17 year old single mother. She earned her Associates Degree at a community college because it was affordable, and went on to Wellesley College on a full academic scholarship. To earn her community college tuition she waitressed and cleaned houses, founding her own small house cleaning business. She is bi-lingual (Spanish). Her start in government was as an aide to a state rep, but her first experience on Beacon Hill was replete with sexual harassment. Her complaint was upheld, but she was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) so that she could not speak about her experience. This propelled her to run to be a state rep, with one of her accomplishments in that role being shining a spotlight on such tax-payer funded NDAs and working successfully to have them banned. She is an enthusiastic proponent of civics education in our public schools, and has pledged to investigate no-bid contracts used in state government and to increase government transparency.
Virginia Leigh, candidate for Essex County Sheriff, presented next. She explained how her background as a social worker and with the ACLU meshes with the requirements of the job of sheriff, which is not a law enforcement officer, but rather as the person responsible for the care of prisoners whose normal stay in the Middleton Jail is between seven and 24 months, and for preparing them for a positive life after their release. There are about 1300 prisoners in Essex County and about 600 guards. Right now, the recidivism rate is almost 50% for a return to jail within one year. Most of these prisoners have mental health and/or substance use problems. Her position is that what is needed in a sheriff is a “chief clinician”. Virginia has worked for many years with mentally ill and substance abuse people, both in the US and in Mexico. She is bi-lingual – Spanish and English. The current sheriff, she stated, has not taken steps to make the public safer and in fact has denied proper treatment to prisoners who need it. Over his six years in office, the recidivism rate has remained the same. The question is: How do we want people to leave our jails? To have them better able to function in society, Virginia stated that they need to have regular connection to their families and have programs during their jail time offered that actually have positive results. She would change the rules and not have prisoners charged for phone calls and better vet the programs various vendors offer.
After the candidate talks, the Chair again emphasized the need for donations to the Committee.
Member Jessica Azenaro reported on the Pentucket High School Awards Ceremony that had taken place earlier in the evening and went very well. At the ceremony, Jessica presented the Kathleen Pasquina Scholarship to this year’s winner Alex Pederson.
The Committee hopes that our Democratic state rep candidate Adrianne Ramos from North Andover can meet with us sometime soon.
A motion was made by Pat Skibbee and seconded by Jeanne Pucci to remove two current members from the roster due to their lack of meeting attendance. Per the by-laws, their names were read at the April meeting and the secretary sent them letters but there was no response: Elizabeth Schofield and Maureen Harris. The vote was unanimous. Therefore the complete list of those removed either by death (Joe Heyman), moving out of town (Elena Bachrach, Susan Babb), resignation (Judy Mizner, Dot Cavanagh and Connie Freese) or vote, is eight members. Current members are encourage to invite new members who will be active and enthusiastic!
It was reported that neighboring district State Representative Republican James Kelcourse has been offered and accepted a state job on the parole board by Governor Baker, and therefore that seat will be open. Also, our current state rep Lenny Mirra now has a challenger in the November election.