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In The Arena

Lofty plans brought down

Money grounds Downing’s Senate run

Western Massachusetts’ best chance to see one of its own elected to the U.S. Senate has come to an abrupt end.

Berkshire-Franklin state Sen. Ben Downing this past week ended his fledgling effort to win the Democratic nomination to replace John F. Kerry, secretary of state- nominee, in the United States Senate.

“I got a really good response,” Downing said of his inclusion onto the short list of potential Democratic candidates. “But if you are going to get into a campaign of this magnitude, you need to see a path both to victory, and how to put each part of the campaign together.”

For Downing, the part to victory was clouded by the three things you need to win a statewide campaign — money, money and more money.

“The financial component of it was daunting, especially with an incumbent congressman in the race with a $3 million war chest,” Downing said.

That congressman, Ed Markey, looks like a shoo-in to win the nomination, especially since all indications are that the party big-wigs in D.C. are plowing the road to ensure a clear path to the general election. But while the boys inside the beltway may favor Markey, Downing believes some state party folks may want to take a second look.

“There’s a divide there,” Downing said. “I think state and local Democrats are open to a primary. I never once heard any state people express a desire for other candidates like me to step aside in favor of another candidate.”

Downing has not endorsed Markey or any other candidate, but he does plan to work to ensure that the Democrats are ready for what could be another bruising statewide fight against former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and the Republicans.

“My focus moving forward will be to make our nominee is ready from day one of the general election to run the type of campaign you need to run if you want to be successful statewide,” Downing said. “And that is a grass-roots campaign that speaks not only to the base, but to a broader constituency.”

Downtown parking kiosks?

Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin may be starting to feel the oats of unchallenged incumbency, given his apparent willingness to step directly one of the third rails of Greenfield politics — downtown parking.

In an appearance on WHAI’s “Valley Morning Show with Jay Fidanza,” Martin suggested that it may be time for the town to consider doing away with downtown parking meters and replace them with a kiosk system similar to the one the town installed in lots around town.

“The reason I brought it up was because I was downtown recently, and it was so inconvenient to climb up over the snow banks to feed the meter,” Martin said. “We had discussed it in the early planning of the kiosks, and it was just a thought to bring it back for discussion.”

Martin said the change is not something he is “pursuing aggressively” and would only happen with the blessing of the various parking-related boards and committees, and, possibly, a nonbinding townwide referendum. He has so far received two calls since the appearance, both of which were “decidedly negative” about the kiosk initiative.

Paving the way

Speaking of traffic issues, the $1 billion transportation infrastructure initiative announced this week by the Patrick administration I’m sure caught the eye of a number of local officials, especially those in towns set to be hammered by yet another series of budget-balancing mid-year state aid cuts.

One guy who has seen both sides of that coin, both as a highway boss and later as a selectman, is Greenfield’s Bill Allen, who phoned me to thank me for at least trying to understand the shell game our friends in Boston have been playing with the Chapter 90 fund, money that is supposed to be used for statewide road and bridge repairs, but has been consistently raided over the years and funneled to boondoggles like the “Big Dig.”

“They do that every chance they get,” Allen said. “And then they talk about raising the gas tax, but what people don’t know is that the law says that 15 percent of that tax is supposed to come back to towns as direct local aid. We should have gotten about $100 million from that.”

Allen also says that Chapter 81 requires that the commonwealth hold annual hearings in each county in Massachusetts to allow for public input on transportation issues, and “the last one we saw was sometime in the early 1990s, and all they said when they came in was ‘we’re not going to talk about this, and we won’t address that.’ It was a big waste of time.”

“I just think it’s important for people to understand these things, because this is our money they are playing with,” Allen said.

And they are going to have a lot more of it to play with once Gov. Patrick and fellow Democrats get the tax increases we know are coming, but are powerless to stop.

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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