Posts Tagged ‘Brittany Danielson’

For treasurer: Treasurer Candidate Campaigns on Economy

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

By Brittany Danielson

PEABODY, Mass. – On an unseasonably warm October afternoon just six days out from the midterm election, Karyn Polito, Republican candidate for state treasurer, emerges from a parked sedan, flashing a wide, white smile while pulling on the jacket of her black pantsuit.

She approaches supporters with hand outstretched and exchanges niceties and comments on the summery day with her hosts.

Over the next two hours she will visit a bank, a barbershop, a small retail store, a restaurant and a liquor store, offering the same message: the harsh economy has Massachusetts’ families and local businesses reining it in, and so should government.

The positive reception she receives from the harried business owners energizes the diminutive Polito. A construction company owner tells her state government needs to cut its spending, just the way he’s been forced to. The liquor store owner worries about the business he is losing to no-tax New Hampshire.

“The people are great. That’s what keeps me going. And tomorrow I’ll get up and do it all over again,” she says.

Polito’s relentless schedule – she’s up a 5 a.m. and doesn’t stop until 10 p.m. – seems to be working. A Boston Globe poll taken last week shows her trailing Democrat Steve Grossman by two points, 39 to 37. Polito, a state representative from Shrewsbury, has been gaining in the polls since late September, when a Boston Globe poll showed Grossman with a 10-point edge.

Polito is also the favored candidate among independents according to a State House News Service Poll, which make up 52 percent of the state’s electorate.

In an interview at her South Boston campaign headquarters last week, Polito said she was inspired to run by the changing political climate symbolized by the election of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in January.

“If there’s any chance for someone like myself who has challenged the culture of corruption on Beacon Hill, it is now,” Polito said. “That’s why I’ve stood up, to attempt an election to a position that I believe will help us make better decisions fiscally to get back on track.”

That’s the message at her first Peabody stop. At the local Chamber of Commerce, President Deanne Healey tells Polito that membership is declining. A local construction company owner and landlord, Dan Terenzoni, sits relating the challenges he’s facing with rising healthcare costs and tenants who don’t pay rent.

“I’m a small outfit here and all it takes is one thing to drag me down,” Terenzoni says. “I’ve cut, now they’ve got to cut.”

Polito is quick to relate.

“I’m in small business myself. I own industrial properties that I tenant and lease and I’ve also had to adjust,” she says. “I’ve done it, but it’s hard.”

Polito, who acknowledges she was somewhat unknown outside her district prior to the Sept. 14th primary, says the polls are tightening because her fiscally conservative message is resonating with voters.

“I can’t sleep, it’s exiting,” she says. “I feel our message is connecting, I feel a lot of momentum, and so that’s what’s moving me through these final days.”

Polito moves her five-foot frame with efficiency, easily keeping pace with her much-taller guides, as she maneuvers along the uneven sidewalks from store to store.

The group ducks into Laura Pereira Malone’s small retail store selling Avon products, handmade crafts, and baby gifts. The two talk about doing business in a downturn economy.

Pereira Malone says despite slow business she won’t take on loans to stay afloat.

“You’re doing everything right.” Polito says. “My grandfather came here 100 years ago. The same values that made him successful can make us successful: pay your bills on time, invest wisely, don’t take on a lot of debt.”

Polito constantly hammers that message in her campaign and in the Legislature. She gained headlines with her attempt to block a $400 million supplementary spending bill during informal sessions when most legislators were not present to vote. For Polito, it was an example of the dysfunction caused by one-party rule on Beacon Hill.

“It’s not that I could have held up the bill, because I’m only one member in that regard, and it would have required me basically to not take a bathroom break to object at every minute of the session,” she said. “But it does show you that the rules are what they are and that they are abusing the rules and the process.”

Around the corner at McNamara’s Liquors, Polito is greeted by the gregarious owner, George Skalkos. He already knows Polito from her appearance on a Greek radio program. Polito is married to a Greek American lawyer, Stephen Rodalakis, and has tapped the Greek community for support.

“You married a Greek!” he shouts in a thick accent, pulling her in for a one-armed hug. “Why are you smiling?”

A campaign staffer gestures to a sign, “Yes! Put it right there in the window because we are for Karyn Polito!” says Skalkos.

“Are we going to make a difference? Are we going to do what we say?” Skalkos says, channeling the energy of a preacher.

“Absolutely! And they’re afraid on Beacon Hill that I’ll be elected,” Polito says.

“Ah, they’re afraid because you’re too good looking,” Skalkos replies, and Polito’s entourage erupts in laughter.

Polito asks Skalkos about the alcohol tax, which is up for repeal should Question 1 pass on Tuesday. He tells her it has had a negative impact on his business. Being close to the border, he says, customers will wait for the weekend to buy in bulk in New Hampshire.

“In the middle of this economic crisis,” Skalkos asks, “what gives them the right to pass the bill without consulting the people?”

“Doesn’t he put it so well?” Polito says.

Appeals court backs Framingham Police in trucker case

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Posted Oct 15, 2010

Framingham authorities are hailing a recent state Appeals Court ruling that upheld their actions against an unlicensed truck driver as a common sense look at the law.

Framingham attorney Frank Doran, however, said last week’s ruling against his client adds up to a “reduced level of expectation of privacy” whenever drivers get behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle.

The decision involved a March 10, 2009, case in which Framingham Police Officer Keith Strange, a certified truck inspector, stopped Wayne D. Leboeuf, 33, of Uxbridge on Concord Street to conduct a safety inspection of his dump truck.

According to court records, Strange found that Leboeuf’s commercial driver’s license had been revoked, and police charged him with driving with a suspended license, his second offense.

Leboeuf appealed his conviction, saying the traffic stop was a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unwarranted search. But the court ruled that federal regulations of the trucking industry allow for random safety inspections.

Brian Simoneau, an attorney who is an assistant to Framingham Police Chief Steven Carl, said that there are legitimate safety concerns surrounding the trucking industry, and the inspections are part of keeping the roadways safe.

“If you think of a passenger car involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer, chances are the tractor-trailer is going to win, just by virtue of the size and the physics involved,” Simoneau said. “The federal government has established standards to ensure that the trucking industry is as safe as possible.”

The inspections involve not only an inspection of the vehicle’s systems, but also verification that the driver is qualified to drive a commercial vehicle. That requires examining the driver’s logbook, medical card and driver’s license, Simoneau said.

Attorney Peter Elikann, a criminal defense expert with the Massachusetts Bar Association, said the ruling could open up the possibility for abuse.

“If you’re allowed to stop vehicles for no reason at all, occasionally law enforcement might stop vehicles just as a pretext, because they suspect some kind of crime,” Elikann said. “In American law it’s never ideal when citizens can just be stopped for random checks and inspections when there is really no suspicion of any wrongdoing at all.”

But Simoneau said the safety inspections are routine proceedings meant to protect the public interest, and do not infringe on privacy rights.

“Not every inspection done by a police officer, and not every action taken by the government rises to the level of a search and seizure. Some of these things are administrative in nature and that’s what this was,” Simoneau said.

Doran said his client will not appeal the ruling.

Is Chapter 40B worth it? A look at ballot Question 2

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Posted Oct 07, 2010

BOSTON —Advocates on both sides of ballot Question 2 agree that Massachusetts needs more affordable housing. What they disagree about is whether a 40-year-old law meant to bring more units has delivered on its promise.

On Nov. 2, voters will be asked to repeal the state’s affordable housing law, known as Chapter 40B.

“It simply hasn’t produced the level of affordability to make it worth the grief to our cities and towns,” said John Belskis, chairman of the Coalition to Repeal 40B, the group responsible for the ballot initiative.

But state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said the law is a necessary tool for expanding affordable housing.

“Many communities are motivated to build more because of this law,” he said. “A lot of the affordable housing in MetroWest exists because of Chapter 40B.”

Controversial from its inception, Chapter 40B allows developers to sidestep local planning and zoning commission approval in cities and towns where less than 10 percent of housing meets the state’s affordability formula.

Aaron Goldstein, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Association, said 58,000 housing units have been created in the state under the law since 1972, with 30,000 meeting the affordability criteria.

But opponents cite instances where developers have taken advantage of the law. A review of several Chapter 40B projects by State Inspector General Gregory Sullivan discovered abuses by developers who downplayed their profits. Developers are supposed to give profits over 20 percent of the costs to municipalities.

Belskis cited such abuses, claiming that 40B profits are often not properly scrutinized by state agencies. He also said that despite the law, Massachusetts ranks 47th among the states when it comes to affordable housing.

“What are 46 other states doing to build affordable housing that they seem to do better than Massachusetts?” he asked.

Eldridge, who sits on the Joint Committee of Housing, said he agrees the law has its flaws. He has introduced bills to reform the law that would help towns reach their 10 percent quota by counting mobile homes as well as giving double credit for units that are owned by their occupants, that provide greater environmental protections, and that give towns more oversight to properly audit 40B developers.

He said amending the law is a better alternative to repealing it because it has helped to build housing that would not have otherwise been built for low- to moderate-income workers.

Other affordable housing laws that Question 2 proponents cite as alternatives to 40B, such as 40R, which provides incentives for building multi-family units on small lots, are not often used, he said.

The town of Framingham currently has 2,901 units deemed affordable. It now exceeds the state quota for affordable housing at 10.9 percent, said Steve Wallace of the Framingham Department of Community and Economic Development.

A new 40B apartment complex now under development pushed Framingham past the 10 percent threshold. Shillman House on Edmands Road will have 150 market-rate and affordable units. While only 25 percent are affordable, the state will count all the units toward the quota, Wallace said.

Francy Ronayne, a spokeswoman for the No on 2 Campaign, said the state will face dire economic consequences if the law is repealed.

Citing a University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute Study, Ronayne said 40B is predicted to create $10 billion in economic activity and 50,000 jobs over the next 10 years.

“Given the economic situation that the commonwealth finds itself in, repealing 40B would be grossly irresponsible,” Ronayne said.

Sheila Pransky, executive director of Needham Opportunities Inc., said many of the concerns over loopholes and excess profits tied to 40B have been addressed in recent years. She said a repeal would leave the state with no tools to address affordable housing needs for working families.

“The law itself has done a tremendous amount of good for communities like ours,” Pransky said.

Opponents and proponents of Chapter 40B will speak during a public forum tonight at the Wayland Senior Center at 7 p.m. The forum is sponsored in part by the Wayland Housing Partnership, the Wayland Housing Authority and the League of Women Voters.

Local police ready for texting-while-driving ban

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Posted Sep 30, 2010

MetroWest drivers should know they aren’t the only ones steeling themselves for the new ban on texting from behind the wheel. Local police have also been preparing to enforce the law, which goes into effect today.

Framingham Deputy Police Chief Craig Davis says his officers are being trained to understand the law and its consequences: fines for adults and added penalties for teens.

Enforcement for younger drivers will be easier. The law bans all cell phone use, including calling and texting, for those 18 and younger. It gets more complicated for older drivers. They can talk on their phones as long as one hand is on the wheel. But texting is prohibited.

The tricky call for officers will be to determine whether the adult is dialing a number or typing a text.

Davis said his officers will use a “common sense” approach to determine the difference.

“They’ll observe how much time is being used manipulating the device, and how much attention is being distracted from the road,” he said. “It’s a judgment call based on an observable act.”

Under the new Safe Driving Law in place today, drivers will face a $100 fine for a first offense of texting and up to $500 for repeat offenses. They can be cited for sending or reading a text message while on the road or even when stopped in traffic.

Repeat offenders will be required to take a safety course.

Teenage drivers caught using a cell phone for any reason will face a $100 fine plus a 60-day license suspension and be required to take a court-assigned driver-education course. The fines increase for subsequent violations.

All drivers should also know the new law is a primary offense, which means police will not need another reason to pull a driver over, as with the seat belt law. But texting while driving won’t be considered a moving violation and won’t be subject to an insurance surcharge.

Spotting violators won’t be hard for officers, Davis said. Drivers distracted by talking, texting or browsing on their phones often drive erratically, giving the impression they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he said.

“It usually surfaces in citations for unsafe operation, failure to stay within marked lanes or stop for traffic signals,” Davis said.

Davis said he’s hopeful the law will have its desired effect.

“Anything that prevents distraction will help,” he said.

Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and a former Shrewsbury chief, said that although the intent of the law is good, there could be challenges in observing and citing the offense, as well as presenting circumstantial evidence in court.

Sampson said the major benefit from the law comes from the educational outreach effort by law enforcement, communities and families talking to inexperienced drivers about the dangers of texting while driving.

Bill Anderson, who runs Anderson’s Driving School in Framingham, applauded the new law but said even adults could benefit from a total ban on cell phone use. He said cell phones impair peripheral vision and decrease concentration, a dangerous combination that can seriously imperil drivers.

“Driving with cell phones is almost as bad as drinking and driving, and even a hands-free device can cause problems,” Anderson said. “There are about 200 different traffic situations per mile and 200 decisions to make per mile. Driving is a full-time job. You can’t do it part time.”

According to the U.S. Transportation Department, Massachusetts is the latest of 30 states to implement a texting ban. Of those states, 12 have introduced their texting while driving laws this year in an effort to crack down on higher incidences of crashes related to distracted driving.

A new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute looked at texting laws in four states and found that crashes actually increased slightly in three of those states. The researchers suggested crashes may be on the rise because of non-compliance and because drivers are trying to hide their texting.

Other data supports the assertion that texting while driving is a dangerous practice. A 2009 study by the University of Utah found that drivers in a simulator were six times more likely to be involved in an accident while texting.

Ballot Question 1: Alcohol sales tax needed or redundant?

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Posted Sep 26, 2010

BOSTON — Advocates for the sales tax on alcohol, including MetroWest organizations that provide substance abuse treatment, are getting help from four nationally known Boston comedians who have lent their talents to a rally to defeat Question 1, which would repeal the state sales tax on alcohol.

The “No Special Tax Breaks for Alcohol” campaign has enlisted headliners including Jimmy Tingle, Steve Sweeney, Lenny Clarke and Johnny Pizzi to mobilize opposition to the November ballot referendum.

The four made their case at a Thursday night rally before an estimated 300 people at Florian Hall in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood that also heard from legislators and advocates from across the state.

Rally organizers said revenue generated by the alcohol tax is crucial to maintaining services for those seeking to end addiction. They also warned that eliminating the alcohol tax would worsen the state budget crisis and “decimate” recovery services in the state.

“If this thing goes through, the recovery community is going to be out $100 million,” said comedian Steve Sweeney, himself a recovering alcoholic. “That’s a lot of doughnuts at the AA meetings.”

Tingle, Sweeney, Clarke and Pizzi entertained the audience with topics including parenting, marriage, addiction and recovery.

The evening was an attempt to add a little levity to a subject that was at times cast in the starkest of terms.

“If we don’t pay for these services, people die,” said Rep. Liz Malia, D- Jamaica Plain, chairwoman of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Committee, told the crowd. “It’s very simple math. We’re not asking for a lot. We’re taxing something that needs to pay for itself in terms of the damage it does to individuals and communities.”

“No Special Tax Breaks for Alcohol” is supported by over 90 nonprofit organizations that serve people in Massachusetts in need of addiction services. These organizations argue that alcohol does not deserve a tax exemption because it is not a necessity such as food, clothing or prescription medication.

Chuck Faris, CEO of Spectrum Health Services in Framingham, attended the event and said that over the past year, revenue from the alcohol tax has gone into the General Fund, preventing cuts to the services his organization provides.

He said over $100 million in revenue from the tax would go directly toward funding substance abuse services for the coming year.

“We’re hoping the voters see this for what it is – a dedicated tax with the best intentions,” Faris said. “This state has always been a leader in drug and alcohol prevention and treatment. What we don’t want to do is take steps backwards.”

Jerry Desilets, the director of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, said that thousands of people seek treatment for substance abuse in MetroWest annually, particularly in Framingham, Marlborough and Milford.

Many thousands more are affected by the harmful results of family breakups, lost jobs, drunken driving, and physical and mental health problems associated with alcohol addiction, he said.

But proponents of Question 1 say the alcohol tax is unfair because consumers are taxed twice on alcohol purchases. Excise taxes, which are based on volume, are charged to the wholesaler. The cost of these taxes is rolled into the retail price of the alcohol. Consumers then pay again at the register.

Ron Maloney, vice president of the Massachusetts Package Store Association and owner of Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, said his sales have been affected by the new tax, although perhaps not as much as vendors on the border between Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“People have realized that they’re paying a double tax, and they’re not happy about it. Forty to nearly 50 percent of what you pay for a bottle of alcohol is tax,” Maloney said. “I remember some guys throwing some tea into the harbor over just such an issue.”

But according the state Department of Revenue, revenue from excise tax collected in fiscal ’10, when the new tax went into effect, declined by only 1 percent from the previous year.

“The numbers don’t support the assertion that there’s been an impact,” said Robert Bliss, spokesman for the Department of Revenue.

The alcohol sales tax was imposed in May 2009 when the Legislature voted to end its prior exemption. In 2009, five other states, including Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina, also passed laws to tax alcohol sales. Only Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon do not tax retail alcohol sales.

MetroWest jobless rate lower than state

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Posted Sep 22, 2010

The MetroWest job market is faring better than the rest of the state, according to new job numbers released by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

August unemployment rates for Framingham and the surrounding region were at 6.5 percent, down from 7.2 percent last month, significantly lower than the state and national average. Statewide, unemployment rates dropped from 9.1 percent in July to 8.3 percent in August. The national unemployment rate stood at 9.6 percent.

According to Rena Kottcamp, of the state Division of Unemployment Assistance, the area added a total of 1,900 jobs in several sectors over the past year, including professional, science and business, education and health care, and hospitality and leisure. Job numbers remained flat in retail and information, while trade, transportation and utilities, construction, and finance suffered moderate job losses.

The unemployment rate for the region has been declining since it spiked at 8.1 percent in January.

“I think we are seeing signs of a recovery,” said Bonnie Biocchi, executive director of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce. “We can feel reasonably confident that people are going to start hiring again.”

Biocchi attributes MetroWest’s resiliency to the variety of industries and employers and to a highly skilled, well-trained workforce. With many medium- to large-sized companies centered around the biotech, life sciences, high-tech, and retail industries, the area has a diverse job market that has helped it fare better than other regions of the state, she said.

“We have several niches in MetroWest and a more robust job market,” Biocchi said.

Meanwhile, Cambridge-based Genzyme Corporation announced last week that it will cut 1,000 jobs from its global workforce over the next 15 months, but gave no word on where the cuts will be made. However, the biotech company will add 500 to 600 new manufacturing jobs in Massachusetts, and many of those jobs will staff its newly expanded Framingham campus, said Genzyme spokesman Erin Emlock. Genzyme currently employs 4,500 people in Massachusetts.

State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, listed a number of legislative accomplishments that have directly benefited MetroWest over the past two years. Citing the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative, stimulus funds and bond bills for roads and bridges, and the Economic Development and Reform Bill, she said legislation has been put into effect to help MetroWest, and the state, emerge faster from the recession.

“I’m excited to see the numbers going in the right direction,” Spilka said. “It was a conscious effort, and this is a result of a lot of initiatives coming together. Hopefully it will lead to the unemployment rate continuing to go down.”

Spilka said, however, that more efforts are needed to get the economy back on track.

An initiative to mandate more affordable health care choices for small businesses, recently passed by the Legislature, will allow small businesses to save money and to hire more employees. In October, the Economic Development and Reform Bill will be implemented to free up money for banks to make small business loans, further decreasing unemployment numbers, Spilka said.

Biocchi agreed that health care costs as well as the expense of workers compensation insurance are factors that can hinder growth. She said government should look at which programs and regulations are in place that promote the growth of business and which impede growth.

However, Biocchi said one of the most important factors in emerging from recession is confidence.

“Once the business community starts to gain the confidence that the recovery is real, they’ll start to invest and hire again,” she said.

Polito, Connaughton have high hopes for November

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Originally Published Sept. 16, 2010

With primary victories on Tuesday, two Republican women from MetroWest have a chance to win key positions in state government come Nov. 2.

Mary Z. Connaughton of Framingham, a former Turnpike Authority board member, will face former Labor Secretary Suzanne Bump in her bid to succeed retiring Auditor Joe DeNucci. That campaign will, for the first time in the state’s history, feature two women going head to head for a state constitutional office.

Karyn Polito, a state representative from Shrewsbury, meanwhile, will battle former national Democratic Party chairman and businessman Steve Grossman to become state treasurer.

“It’s so wonderful to have such strong women at the top of the ticket for constitutional office,” said Jennifer Nassour, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party. “We’re very excited to work with both Mary and Karyn. We have an awesome opportunity to pick up both seats. They are supported by their party and we will make sure they win those seats.”

Connaughton, who won the Republican primary in a landslide – bringing in 87 percent of the vote against Kamal Jain – attributes her success in the primary to her professional qualifications, said campaign spokesman Mike Flynn. She is a certified public accountant who has worked in the private sector as an auditor – a message that Flynn says goes a long way with the voters.

“It’s about professional qualifications. Mary’s not a career politician,” said Flynn. “We’re looking forward to having an objective, issue-oriented campaign. This isn’t political for Mary.”

Connaughton earned herself a reputation as a “thorn in the side” of the Patrick administration while serving on the board of the Turnpike Authority, where she was often a lone holdout against toll increases.

“Anytime someone can get that kind of a label, that’s a good thing. It means she has the ability to hold government accountable,” said Flynn. “Mary is really excited to bring the watchdog that people deserve to have to Beacon Hill.”

Polito, who has served five terms in the House, has similar watchdog aspirations should she be elected treasurer.

“Karyn is as dynamic as Mary. She’s a fiscal conservative who’s not afraid to take on the political machine,” Nassour said.

She kicked off the next stage of her campaign yesterday by releasing her first television ad, which touts her plan to eliminate pensions for politicians serving in the Legislature. She also came out swinging at opponent Steve Grossman.

Polito said the campaign for the treasurer’s office presents a clear difference between the two candidates.

“My opponent is deeply mired in party politics. He’s advocated for higher taxes and liberal spending. I’m an independent-minded Republican with a solid record of challenging the status quo. My opponent thinks the status quo is working. I do not, and I think we need a new approach on Beacon Hill,” she said.

In a statement posted on her campaign website yesterday, Polito said Grossman promises to be a social activist in the treasurer’s office.

Grossman said the “social activist” label is Polito’s idea.

“I promise to take an activist approach to the office, to use the full potential of the office, always protecting the public’s money, in a way that invites the citizens in. I’m happy to be that kind of activist,” he said. “I’m proud to be the only candidate for treasurer whose entire career, based on 35 years in business, has been about creating jobs.”

As they hit the campaign trail, both Polito and Connaughton are sticking with the message that independent financial oversight is lacking on Beacon Hill.

Nassour said that with these two Republican candidates in the race, that message will be heard come Nov. 2.

“As exciting as it is to have two women in the campaign, what it really comes down to is who will Beacon Hill fear the most,” Nassour said.