On Springfield

Let the Debating Begin

First Congressional District candidate Andrea Nuciforo is calling for a series of debates with his opponents—well, at least with one of them.

Earlier this week, Nuciforo, a former state senator and now Middle Berkshire register of deeds, sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Richie Neal challenging him a series of debates around the district, which recently was redrawn to reflect new Census data. Nuciforo, Neal and Bill Shein, a Berkshire County writer and activist, are all vying for the Democratic nomination for that seat. With no candidates from other parties, the Sept. 6 party primary will decide the election.

Nuciforo did not send an invitation to Shein or even mention the third candidate in a press release about the proposed debates. I asked Patrick Tool, Nuciforo’s communications director, if Shein would be invited, too. “We did not specifically invite Shein, but all candidates on the ballot are welcome to participate,” he told me in an email.

Nuciforo is calling for at least four debates, one each in Berkshire, Hampden and Worcester counties and another in the Hampshire/Franklin hilltowns. “Democratic voters in this district deserve to know where the candidates stand on issues such as the economy, campaign finance, financial regulation and women’s health,” Nuciforo wrote to Neal. “By debating these and other issues in locations throughout the district, we will better inform voters and provide an opportunity for public interaction.”

Nuciforo probably wouldn’t mind too much if Shein declined his sort-of invitation to attend the debates. Nuciforo was the first of the three to announce his intention to run for the 1st District seat, going public with his plans in 2009. That was before the redistricting process, when soon-to-retire Rep. John Olver was the incumbent in the 1st and Neal the incumbent in the neighboring 2nd District. When the new district lines were released last fall, Neal’s hometown of Springfield was moved from the 2nd to the 1st, making him the newly drawn district’s de facto incumbent. On the campaign trail, Nuciforo has portrayed himself as a progressive, regular-guy alternative and Neal as the big-money, establishment candidate. But that narrative was shaken up a bit when Shein entered the race, with his calls for hardcore progressive programs such as single-payer healthcare and his questions about the corporate and lobbyist money Nuciforo accepted during his time in the state Senate. In a Neal/Nuciforo debate, the latter can easily claim the most-progressive label; throw Shein in the mix, and things get complicated.

Of course, it’s local media outlets, not campaigns, that typically set up debates, and a number are already in the works—with, presumably, invitations going out to all three candidates. They include a WGBY debate on Aug. 20 and a one at Westfield State University, sponsored by the Westfield News, on Aug. 28 (am I the only dinosaur who still thinks “Westfield State College,” and “Westfield Evening News”?), as well as debates planned by WFCR and Channel 22.

Shein says he’s accepted all the media-debate invitations he’s received and has a suggestion for one forum: “I’m going to propose that Nuciforo, Neal, and I all live together in a beachhouse between now and the primary. We'll broadcast 24/7, a la ‘Big Brother.’ It’ll be like the Lincoln-Douglas debates, only an order of magnitude longer and far, far more boring. Especially when we argue for hours about who keeps leaving his dirty dishes in the sink.”

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