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In The Arena

In the Arena: Ham-handed protest

An otherwise conciliatory primary race in the 2nd Franklin District took a somewhat ugly turn this week, thanks to what appears to be a case of mistaken political identity.

A half-dozen protesters gathered outside Athol Town Hall ostensibly to protest Republican candidate Susannah Whipps Lee, whom the protesters claim violated their First Amendment Rights related to an alleged effort to remove a photograph on social media. The contention was that Lee complained to the “Tank the Gas Tax” committee about a photo of the group’s “blue pig mascot” that is intended to symbolize state government waste. Someone apparently placed a blue pig sign in front of town hall to indicate there is also waste in local government, a direct shot at Lee, who is an Athol selectman.

It looks like they got the wrong Lee, however, because it wasn’t long after the protest began that fellow selectboard member Lee Chauvette, a Democrat and ardent Whipps Lee supporter, took to social media to point out that he, not his colleague, was the one who protested the use of the logo to the committee.

“I complained because I felt the use of that mascot was not accurate,” Chauvette said. “As one who recently spent months helping draft this year’s budget, I can state with distinct fact that there is no waste there.”

Whipps Lee was clearly miffed by the protest, but the big question is whether there was any connection between this protest and the campaign of Karen Anderson, Lee’s primary opponent, who admitted to knowing about the event, but denied any direct connection.

“I heard about it the night before on social media,” Anderson said. “Athol residents have a right to protest against what they feel is wrong, but NO (campaign) T-shirts of mine were worn. This was a First Amendment protest.”

I’m guessing that’s going to be of little comfort to her opponent, who is likely to have some extra motivation heading into the campaign’s final week.

Run for lieutenant governor

I think most political polls are generally absurd, but the one released this week on the race for lieutenant governor was especially so.

According to the Suffolk University/Boston Herald survey, the Democratic tilt for Second Banana is essentially tied, with Steve Kerrigan, Leland Cheung and Mike Lake all polling at 9 percent, with 70 percent of voters still undecided.

Talk about a margin of error.

Kerrigan made a stop last week in Greenfield accompanied, at various times, by Franklin County’s political “big three” — Register of Probate John Merrigan, Franklin County Sheriff Chris Donelan and Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan.

“I’ve spent my entire life in public service,” Kerrigan, a former aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy, said. “I think the commonwealth needs a lieutenant governor who understands government at all levels and can help get things done.”

Kerrigan is not running with any of the three Democratic gubernatorial contenders and he was not shy about pushing one of the hot button issues to western Mass. voters — how to make sure we still get our fair share of state resources once Deval Patrick leaves office in January.

“I’m the only candidate running who lives west of Route 128, so I understand the issues you are facing,” Kerrigan said. “We need to make sure that the resource allocations are fair, and that you get reimbursement rates that are sufficient to meet your needs.”

Hopefully, his boss ends up feeling the same way, assuming Kerrigan is the one left standing at the end.

‘Cops and Coffee’

There are a lot of things which are disgusting about what is happening in Ferguson, Mo., but I’m especially appalled at the way some people are using this incident to demonize anyone who wears a police uniform.

And it’s somewhat ironic that said public relations beat down is happening at the same time Greenfield Police are doing everything it can to connect with the community, an effort continuing 8 a.m. Saturday at Denny’s Pantry with the latest installment of the department’s “Cops and Coffee” outreach series.

“These have been great events, and they seem to be growing in numbers each time out,” Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. said this week. “Some people come with concern, and some with ideas, and others just to tell us that they appreciate what we are doing, which is always nice to hear.”

Afterward, members of the Greenfield Police Association will be at Staples from 10 to 11 handing out free school supplies to kindergarten through first-graders.

“This is the first year we’ve done this, and we’re going to do our best to accommodate everyone,” Haigh said. “The association really does like to give back to programs in Greenfield, and this is one way to do that.”

Chris Collins is news director/managing editor of WHAI FM and Bear Country 95.3. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder and a Greenfield native.

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