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In The Arena

Political trick or treat

Could an “October surprise” be in the works in the 2nd Franklin District state representative’s race?

Republican candidate Susannah Whipps Lee has called a press conference for 10 a.m. on Halloween to make an announcement related to her attempt to unseat Democratic incumbent Denise Andrews. So far everyone’s lips are sealed, but word is that the announcement will be one that will “further clarify the differences between the two candidates.”

Tonight, Lee and Andrews will debate the issues one final time in Erving, the only debate scheduled in Franklin County. I had been asked to moderate that forum, but forced to decline because of a previous commitment, but not before Andrews voiced an objection to my participation, preferring instead to have the contest moderated by a representative of the Gardner News.

Andrews did pick up a big endorsement this week from state senator and party stalwart Stan Rosenberg, who called her a “strong Democratic voice for western Massachusetts on Beacon Hill.”

“She knows her mind and speaks it loudly and clearly on behalf of those issues and causes which are important not only to her but also the people she represents,” Rosenberg said.

I have a hard time swallowing that one, especially when you consider Andrews’ votes against EBT reform, stand your ground and in favor of allowing illegal immigrants to be able to purchase car registrations. And then there is the little matter of her decision to dime out one of her constituents, Lee, on what has now been determined to be an unfounded cocaine possession charge, that, at the time the story broke, even Rosenberg found baffling.

“In the 30 years I’ve been in state government, I’ve never heard of anything like this,” Rosenberg told me, moments after admitting that his office had been flooded with calls about the situation.

“I’ve never heard of someone who comes to a legislator to tell them something illegal happened, so it’s a totally unusual case and it goes to the legislator to decide what the best way is to handle it,” Rosenberg said.

And that says a whole lot more to me than any “endorsement” ever will.

Spending outlook

Speaking of Rosenberg, he may actually get a chance to experience something different this coming budget year — putting money back into state programs that have traditionally been slashed during lean budget times.

“For the last half dozen years, we’ve been talking about where we are going to cut, but in the next couple of years, well start talking again about where we can make strategic reinvestments in programs and services that were cut,” Rosenberg said. One of the first areas the Legislature will be looking at is a plan to spend $24 billion over the next 20 years on new roads, bridges, bikeways and various forms of public transit.

Local bias?

I got to scratch one more item off the “bucket list” this week when I appeared on the GCTV public affairs show “Local Bias with Drew Hutchison.”

Drew and I had been talking about my making an appearance, but never got it together until just recently, when we kicked around local politics and elections for a half-hour. What I didn’t realize was the price Hutchison would pay for his decision to book me on the show.

Shortly before the taping began, Hutchison told me that his studio director, Andrew Blais, quit in protest when he found out I would be appearing. That seemed strange to me, since I’ve never even met the guy.

Apparently, my appearance was the last straw for Blais, who had already called out Hutchison for having former Town Councilor Tim Farrell on the show, which, to Hutchison’s credit, had no impact on his programming decision.

‘Friend to Friend’

If you want to check out the show, you can do so via the GCTV.org website.

It’s easy to get jaded, especially during a rough election season, but every once in a while, you stumble across a story that restores your faith in people.

I had a chance recently to interview some of the founding members of a new non-profit organization, “A Friend to Friend,” that held its coming out party this past weekend as part of the “Pumpkinfest” event in downtown Turners Falls.

“We provide quick financial support to families faced with a life-limiting illness by pulling their community of friends and family together using Facebook and other online resources,” volunteer Melissa Nyorchuck said.

The effort began when 18 local people who decided they wanted to find a way to help their neighbors who were in trouble. Among the original members of that network was Robin Whitcomb, a 33-year-old breast cancer survivor who has decided to spend her time between chemotherapy treatments and upcoming surgery working on this cause.

“Our goal is just to help,” Whitcomb said. “This is about helping make people’s lives less stressful during a very stressful time.”

If you’ve got some time or a couple of extra bucks to donate, drop them a line either on Facebook or via their website “afriendtofriend.com. Donations are also being accepted via a special shopping site which has been established on Amazon.com.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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