In The Arena

Looking forward

A host of interesting stories to watch in 2013

It’s almost time to close the books on what was a very eventful political year, but before we put the bubbly on ice and break out the streamers, it’s time to take a moment to ponder some of the carry-over stories to watch in 2013.

Greenfield town council president

David Singer’s tenure as council boss ends this June, and focus will soon shift to who will replace him. Ordinarily, this would be a relatively easy question, as the unofficial council rules of succession would mandate that the post go to the current Vice-President Mark Wisnewski — and it still might. But At-Large Councilor Dalton Athey III’s presence may just change that, assuming he decides he wants the job.

While Wisnewski spent much of the last several months on an ultimately unsuccessful bid to split the town’s tax rate, Athey has been pretty effectively positioning himself as the council’s fiscal conscience and voice of reason. Some may argue that has more to do with softening the ground for another mayoral run, but with members of the body clamoring to become a more equal partner in town government, Athey’s experience, combined with his willingness to challenge the status quo, may put him in a good position to make such a challenge for the council presidency should he decide to do so.

Carter time in Ashfield

After years of resisting, Ashfield Finance Committee member Tom Carter has once again agreed to return to the board of selectmen to take over the seat vacated by the resignation of Doug Field, where he quite possibly will be forced to play referee between fellow board members and political rivals Ron Coler and Paulette Leukhardt.

Carter was nominated for the vacant seat at a recent town caucus, effectively ending the candidacies of former board members Bill Perlman and Dave DeHerdt, former political rivals who are on opposite sides of a growing factional split in Ashfield which has been in place since the controversial departure of former Police Chief John Svoboda. Carter has a good deal of support on both sides of that breach, which is why he ended up being the consensus choice. But he also the ability to call BS on a situation and drop the hammer when things begin to spin out of control, and that is exactly the kind of person Ashfield needs on that board right now.

When superintendents attack

It’s rare to see school superintendents and school committee members, let alone administrators, do open battle in the press, but we’ve seen a couple of examples of that this year in the Greenfield and Gill-Montague districts, the fallout from which could carry over into the new year.

Greenfield School Superintendent Susan Hollins got the ball rolling recently, when, during a recent MassLive article on the Greenfield Virtual School, she characterized certain members of the school committee as being “negative,” an obvious swipe at board member Maryelen Calderwood, who has been an open critic of the virtual school and the district’s continued pursuit of it in the face of mounting data that indicates that it may be the highly effective educational tool its supporters believe it to be.

With the district preparing to negotiate a new agreement with provider K-12 this year, it will be interesting to see if anyone else on that committee has the temerity to start asking the same questions that have landed Calderwood in Hollins’ dog house.

Meanwhile, across the river, Gill-Montague interim superintendent Mark Prince is getting some heat, both for refusing to openly negotiate with the district’s ad hoc “technology committee” over the budget, and most recently, a testy, post-Sandy Hook e-mail exchange with the high school’s principal over issues with the building’s security conditions. Prince has also been called out by some members of the school committee for not inviting the entire board to a recent meeting with the state education commissioner.

It remains to be seen whether these border skirmishes will cause any long-standing problems between Hollins and Prince and their respective committees, but it will certainly make those meetings a heck of a lot more interesting to watch than they have been.

Senator Ben?

Berkshire-Franklin Sen. Ben Downing’s chances of succeeding John Kerry in the U.S. Senate just got a little better with Edward Kennedy Junior’s departure from the race this week, but he still is going to have to go through three pretty strong eastern Mass. Congressmen if he wants to move from Pittsfield to Washington later this year.

And even if Downing is able to get past Ed Markey, Mike Capuano and Steven Lynch, he will have to deal with Republican and soon-to-be former Senator Scott Brown, who, according to the latest polls, still has a 58 percent approval rating among likely voters, with a special election likely to happen sometime in June. And given the amount of money spent in the last two Senate elections, there are still real questions as to whether Downing can raise the scratch necessary to be competitive.

“That’s going to be a big issue, and I asked him recently if he could raise $10 million and whether he had a plan for doing it and he said yes,” State Sen. Stan Rosenberg said. “So he is going into this eyes wide open.”

Rosenberg also thinks there may be other ways for Downing to play the money game in this race.

“There have been some successful Senate campaigns in other states where candidates have limited spending and made it part of their campaign,” Rosenberg said. “I’m not saying he is doing that or plans to do that, but the point is that we are used to big money campaigns right now, but that isn’t the only way to win.”

Let’s hope we get the chance to see that theory put to the test in what is already shaping up to be a pretty fun 2013.

Happy New Year.

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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