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Editorial: For experience, knowledge, vote Comerford for Senate


Monday, August 27, 2018

Jo Comerford, who has spent the last two decades in the Pioneer Valley leading initiatives on a host of public policies including criminal justice, health care, education and the environment, is our choice in the Democratic primary for state Senate from the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District.

The four candidates, all from Northampton, have described similar legislative agendas in seeking the seat held by Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst from 1991 until he resigned in May. While we believe that all four have positive qualities to offer in public service, Comerford stands out because of her breadth of experience, leadership qualities and depth of knowledge on issues facing the district and the state.

Comerford is one of three write-in candidates in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary. The others are Steven Connor, the director of Central Hampshire Veterans Services, and Ryan O’Donnell, president of the Northampton City Council. The sole candidate on the ballot is Chelsea Kline, an administrator at Bay Path University in Longmeadow and a founder of Badass Activists of the Pioneer Valley. She challenged Rosenberg before he stepped down after an Ethics Committee report concluded that he had “undermined the integrity of the Senate” by failing to protect it “from his husband, whom he knew was disruptive, volatile and abusive.”

The winner of the Democratic primary has no declared opposition in the Nov. 6 final election. The sprawling district has about 160,000 residents in 24 communities, including Bernardston, Colrain, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Leverett​​​​​​​, Leyden, Montague, New Salem, Northfield, Orange, Shutesbury​​​​​​​, Sunderland, Warwick, Wendell and Whately.

Comerford, 54, who received a master’s degree in social work in 1999 from Hunter College in New York City, began her advocacy work by campaigning for prison reform in New York and Massachusetts. She supports eliminating mandatory minimum sentences she says tie “the hands of judges who are in the best position to formulate appropriate sentences based on the facts of each individual case.”

Since moving to the Pioneer Valley in 1999, Comerford has held leadership positions in nonprofit agencies — including the Center for Human Development, American Friends Service Committee and Food Bank of Western Massachusetts — where she worked with local, state and federal government officials and organized community coalitions addressing issues ranging from opposing the Iraq War to closing the Mount Tom coal-burning power plant.

During her 6½ years as executive director of the National Priorities Project in Northampton, Comerford directed research examining the impact of health care reform. Under her leadership, the organization was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, recognizing its efforts promoting spending to reduce unemployment and improve education, health and a green economy.

Most recently, Comerford spent four years as a campaign director for MoveOn, an online national public policy advocacy group. She led a bipartisan campaign organizing gun safety advocates and 37,000 gun owners who supported requiring background checks for most buyers at gun shows, resulting in an executive order issued by then-president Barack Obama.

Comerford supports universal, affordable pre-kindergarten education, and free public higher education, beginning with community colleges; single-payer health care coverage for preventive and emergency care without co-pays, deductibles or additional insurance costs; and a fee on carbon emissions that would return half the revenue to low- and middle-income families and invest the other half in renewable energy.

Earlier this week, Comerford released a detailed list of priorities for her first term, including a high-speed passenger rail line along Route 2 linking Fitchburg and Greenfield, in addition to an east-west rail line from Boston to Springfield; lifting the cap for elders on earned income tax credits that support low- and moderate-income people; and expanding Agricultural Preservation Restriction grants to protect farmland from development.

We commend all four candidates for a campaign that has focused on the issues, and, in particular, we recognize Kline’s political courage in challenging Rosenberg — a longtime legislator, popular in his district, who had risen to the Senate presidency. We hope that Kline, O’Donnell and Connor all seek opportunities to continue or expand their community service in the valley.

Comerford is the candidate most qualified to have an immediate, positive impact as a legislator because of her wide-ranging experience, understanding of complex issues and success as an advocate and coalition-builder. We urge voters to elect her the next senator from the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District.