State Senate debate will be missing candidate O’Donnell

  • Northampton City Council President Ryan O'Donnell, one of four candidates for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in the Massachusetts state Senate, talks in Pulaski Park on Monday. staff photo

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2018 10:28:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Leverett Alliance and Leverett Democratic Town Committee will be hosting a forum for the four candidates running in the Democratic primary for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in the Massachusetts state Senate on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Mount Toby Friends Meeting House. However one candidate, Northampton City Council President Ryan O’Donnell, will not be in attendance.

O’Donnell said that he isn’t attending the meeting because it conflicts with a Northampton City Council meeting.

“That comes first,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell is running as a write-in candidate against Chelsea Kline, an educator and women’s rights advocate who will be the only candidate on the ballot, as well as write-in candidates Steven Connor, the director of Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services, and Jo Comerford, a former campaign director at All candidates are from Northampton, and the primary will take place on Sept. 4.

O’Donnell said that he informed Leverett Democrat Town Committee Chair Barbara Tiner about the conflict between the council meeting and the debate in June, but that it was decided that the date would not be changed. He was, however, offered the opportunity to send a surrogate.

“I want to be very cautious not to question anyone’s motivations,” said O’Donnell, and he said that he didn’t want to see the forum canceled.

However, he did say that he questioned the decision to hold the forum. “We shouldn’t have empty chairs at debates,” O’Donnell said.

As for skipping the City Council, that wasn’t something O’Donnell seemed comfortable with. “I don’t think that’d be appropriate,” said O’Donnell. “People would be rightly upset with me”

He also said that he didn’t plan on sending a surrogate to the debate. “I think it would be strange,” he said.

O’Donnell’s campaign sent out a statement on Thursday explaining why he would be absent from the meeting.

“It’s not like I’m on vacation,” he said.

Asked about the scheduling of the event, Tiner had a simple explanation.

“We picked a date and sent it out,” Tiner said. “It was one that worked for the majority of people hosting it (the debate) and the majority of candidates.”

Tiner also said that the date was not able to be changed, and she was sorry that it did not work for O’Donnell.

“I think this is a smart thing for him to do,” she said, in terms of publicly explaining why he wouldn’t be there.

Tiner also confirmed that she has endorsed O’Donnell.

Asked about O’Donnell’s absence from the debate, Connor noted that he has also had to balance his responsibilities as a veterans’ services director with being a candidate and that he’s been fortunate enough to be able to shuffle his work responsibilities around.

“I think that’s a personal decision that he has to make,” said Connor, on the possibility of O’Donnell choosing to skip the council meeting for the debate.

Connor said that if he had an appointment with a veteran in need that conflicted with a debate, he would pick the veteran.

Comerford said that she is sorry that O’Donnell will not be attending the forum.

“I would prefer of course to have everybody’s voice at the debate,” Comerford said. “I will miss having Ryan at the debate”

She also said that O’Donnell choosing the council meeting over the debate was his choice.

Kline also weighed in on the situation.

“I believe in the politics of inclusion: that our society does better when everyone has a seat at the table. I don’t think anyone should be left out of the political process and that includes any of my opponents,” she said, via text.

She also said that she didn’t feel that it was fair to participate in a debate without everyone there, and that she wished alternate dates had been presented, although she also acknowledged the work that volunteers do to put together events like the Leverett debate.

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