Sunday, October 31, 2010


In Northampton

All of Hamp is rejoicing over the return of the landmark clock on the corner of Main and King, which was broken all summer long.

A spasm of ego or a pathetic plea?

This might be a good night to watch The Shining or A Clockwork Orange.

The view out the bus window last night heading into Hamp.

Pumpkins on a bench.

Nick outside Feeding Tube Records.

The ghost of music past.

Not everyone gets into the Halloween spirit!

The infamous Danger Bird in Northampton last week.

Flag Over Westfield by A. Mateus

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stein at UMass

Green Party candidate for Governor Dr. Jill Stein brought her longshot campaign for Massachusetts Governor to the University of Massachusetts this afternoon. There was a decent turnout.

Stein gave an informative, if somewhat wonkish speech, but it is her lack of political polish that is part of her appeal. She accused her opponents of being sell-outs to special interests, but was harshest towards incumbent Deval Patrick, whom she accused of "corporate misdeeds" when he worked in the private sector. The truth is Stein really is a breath of intellectual fresh air in an otherwise dull field. The shame is that on most issues she is virtually a socialist. However she is very libertarian on the legalization of marijuana, and it was her lines in support of legal weed that drew the loudest applause from the mostly student audience.

Among those in attendance was Amherst/Granby State Rep. candidate Dan Melick (left). He has caused a stir in his campaign by calling for the legalization of all drugs.

Not surprisingly the pro-pot angle brought out longtime legalization advocate Terry Franklin.

Following the speech counter-culture comedian Norman Bie did his latest incarnation of his longstanding routine "Deviations From the Norm."

Meanwhile in Tom Wesley's race to replace Richie Neal in Congress he received a major boost this week from an appearance in Palmer with his former GOP primary rival Dr. Jay Fleitman. Now the Republicans are formally united coming into the home stretch.

Meanwhile this highly unflattering video of Congressman Neal has been making the rounds.

A McCarthy for Senate sign in front of the Gateway Hardware in the Pine Point section of Springfield.

That's no surprise, since Gateway is owned by the candidate himself Tom McCarthy, shown here hard at work in his store the other day.

A big tempest in a teapot arose this week in Springfield over the illegal placing of a Democrat Party campaign sign on the pillars of City Hall.

Although the sign was quickly taken down after complaints came pouring in, it was never determined who exactly had delivered the banner to City Hall or ordered it put up. Although some argued that the controversy helped to publicize the event, others suggested that the Democrats had damaged their cause by appearing arrogant, as if City Hall was the personal property of the Democrat Party. Others expressed anger that city workers were being used to promote Democrat Party events. This partisan favoritism reminded me of a similar controversy that occurred years ago.

In Springfield during the Albano era, the candidates who were loyal to the city's corrupt Democrat Party political machine were allowed to use the inside of City Hall to hold campaign announcements and press conferences. Obviously this gave the machine-backed candidates an advantage in how they appeared on TV and in photographs, as they were able to impress voters by making it appear as if they were already operating out of City Hall. However, when critics of the local machine tried to use the same City Hall settings for their campaign affairs, they were told it was not allowed!

Enter into the picture Brenda Branchini (above) a local hairdresser who decided in 1997 to run for office and wanted to use City Hall for her formal campaign announcement. Branchini was a colorful character, whose now defunct Court Square hair shop was notorious for offering, for an extra fee, the option of having your hair cut by females in very skimpy lingerie. Sadly, that sexy side of her business overshadowed the other aspects of her candidacy, in which she had numerous commonsense libertarian views. In many ways she ran exactly the kind of issues based campaign one always hoped to see in Springfield during those days of political stagnation and corruption but seldom did.

As a public figure Brenda Branchini came across as bold, sassy, unbossed and unbought. In protest of her exclusion from City Hall she led a motley parade down Main Street that included homeless people, dogs and cats, sex workers and radicals of all stripes who went dancing along with flutes, whistles and horns while waving signs demanding to be allowed to hold a rally inside City Hall just like those candidates blessed by the political establishment. Branchini and her supporters were turned away by City Hall security, but the protest parade managed to attract media attention. Once it became public that City Hall was being used to stage campaign rallies for privileged insiders that were forbidden to other candidates, the policy was finally changed to close City Hall to all partisan political activity.

Or so it seemed until this week. Hey Brenda, maybe it's time to come out of political retirement and lead another parade!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Simon Powell (1998 - 2010)

I'm sorry to report that Simon Powell, a Springfield mayoral candidate who received hundreds of write-in votes in his 1999 challenge to the re-election of former Mayor Michael Albano, has died. Born in 1998, he was 84 in dog years.

How did a dog come to run for Mayor of Springfield? It's hard to recapture the context of the times in which the Simon for Mayor campaign took place. Today, it is widely recognized that Springfield's tragic decline from one of the Northeast's most respected medium-sized cities to a fiscal and political basketcase was in large part due to a corrupt Democrat Party machine that bled the city dry. However in 1999 that was not so widely understood, and political gangsters like Albano, his thug lieutenant Anthony Ardolino, the Asselin family, Frankie Keough and a host of lesser sleazoids were all at the height of their power.

In those days it could be difficult and even dangerous to oppose them. Ask the Valley Advocate about how they found themselves banned from City Hall. Ask Dan Yorke about how he lost his radio station because of pressure put on his advertisers. Ask former City Councilor Mitch Ogulewicz about the time his employer received orders to pressure him how to vote. Ask Simon's human companions Bob and Karen how it felt to be publicly ridiculed as "trailer trash." Ask me how it felt to be called "a crazy radical."

Oh wait, that last smear was probably justified. Eventually we would all be fully vindicated by a wave of FBI raids, but in 1999 there was no one willing to risk the consequences of running against Albano; and with good reason, since the Springfield political machine had a well-earned reputation for being mean, vindictive and completely ruthless in dealing with their enemies. It was for that reason that the idea of running Simon came up, because it would be hard for the powers-that-be to retaliate against an animal. I mean what were they gonna do? Revoke his dog license?

The Powell's planned a big rally, which was held at their 16 Acres home about a week before the election, to kick off Simon's write-in campaign. All the local political dissidents were invited, and the event is now legendary as the most surreal political farce of modern Valley politics. However it wasn't widely covered at the time, although I wrote about the event afterward in the Baystate Objectivist as follows:

I personally attended the Simon for Mayor rally as the informal master of ceremonies, for which I arrived elegantly attired in a suit and tie I usually reserve for Halloween, as we all stood in line and proudly shook the paw of the mayoral contender.

I also spoke in Simon's behalf as he barked out his campaign promises of a return to good government, an end to corruption, the liberation of the county dog pound, repealing the leash law and imposing a tax on cats. Afterwards we all enjoyed a dog's lunch, until the rally had to disperse amidst never substantiated rumors that the candidate had run off with a bitch in heat named Monica.

Amazingly Mayor Albano did respond to our rally, declaring the next morning on Bax and O'Brien that if dogs could vote they would support him over Simon in gratitude to Albano for the planned new Thomas J. O'Connor Animal Shelter.

Despite Simon's dogged campaigning, many voters felt that a canine mayor was redundant, Springfield having already gone to the dogs years ago. Although every dog has it's day, Election Day was not to be Simon's as the dog eat dog tactics of the Albano camp successfully smeared Simon as a real son of a bitch. Yet even in defeat, Simon the Mayoral Pooch was still able to garner over 600 write-in votes.

In the darkest hours of Springfield's decline, when the forces of corruption were at their peak, local historians will long remember that it was Simon Powell who carried the banner of good government when no human standard-bearer could be found.


Neal critics takin' it to the streets.

The ruins of Cray Soda Company in Holyoke.

I like this quote in the window of a Northampton mystical shop. I think it corrects a common misconception.

You often hear people saying that they "need to find themselves." Nonsense, there is no self to find, only self-creating choices to make. As Ayn Rand once put it, "We are beings with self-made souls." So go out and start creating yourself by living your personal vision of what you've always wanted to be.

A few pumpkins on the steps in Northampton.

Multicultural pumpkins on the steps in Northampton.

Economic development Northampton style.

Amherst Reflections by Mary E. Carey.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Valley Congressional Poll Results

Congress-critters Neal and Olver.

The prestigious New York Times has released their official appraisal of where the re-election races of Pioneer Valley Congressmen Richard Neal and John Olver stand as of October 15. While Republicans in much of the country are enjoying unprecedented high poll numbers, the Times reports that according to their appraisal, coming into the home stretch both Neal and Olver are poised for landslide re-election victories.

Saying that "based on polling, expert forecasts, fundraising, past election returns and other indicators" in the closely watched 2nd Congressional District, where the entrenched Neal is being challenged by businessman Tom Wesley, the Times says that Neal is leading with 71% of the vote with Wesley trailing 44 points behind with only 27%. On the basis of those numbers, the Times declares that they are 100% certain that Neal will be re-elected.

The Times regards the Olver effort, where he faces local Tea Party favorite Bill Gunn, to be more competitive, but just barely. Dismissing leftist third party candidate Michael Engel as entirely irrelevant, the Times declares that Olver is leading with 66% of the vote to Gunn's nearly 32%. This leads them to conclude that there is a 99.9% chance that Olver will be re-elected, not quite the 100% certainty the Times has about Neal, but still pretty discouraging to those hoping for change.

Challengers Tom Wesley and Bill Gunn.

But is it really so hopeless? I think the Times is mistaken in totally dismissing the role of Engel's leftist third party challenge in the Olver race. If Engel pulls a significant number of disillusioned Obama liberals away from Olver, Gunn's chances may prove better than forecast. And the experts have been underestimating Tom Wesley from day one, when everyone said that Wesley's GOP primary challenger, Dr. Jay Fleitman would win the GOP nomination easily.

In any case it will be the voters of the First and Second District who will make the final determination on November 2nd of who will represent them in Congress - not the New York Times.

To read the full NYT Neal-Wesley appraisal click here.
To read the full NYT Olver-Gunn appraisal click here.

Luke Arrivel was playing at the Haymarket in Northampton this past weekend.

A Deadhead in the UMass library.

I saw this red-tailed hawk in a tree outside Bartlett Hall at UMass this afternoon.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Neal's Confusion

It's been so many years since entrenched south-Valley Congressman Richard Neal has had to campaign for re-election, that it appears as though he can't even recognize major landmarks from own district. At least that is the impression given by a campaign flyer mailed to Springfield voters this week. Neal's opponent Thomas A. Wesley had this to say in a press release about Neal's confusion over local geography:


HOPEDALE—Tom Wesley today questioned Richard Neal’s commitment to the 2nd District as a result of some glaring errors in a direct mail piece Neal's campaign recently sent to voters. The oversized postcard, with the title “Effective and Accessible for Springfield,” featured six different categories: jobs, technology, transportation, economic development, redevelopment, and healthcare.

The first sign that Congressman Neal is out of touch with the Second District is the picture accompanying the “Transportation” blurb. He refers to a federal investment in I-91 and I-291 “to make local highways safer and less congested" but it features a picture of I-91 in Hartford, CT!

Under “Healthcare,” Neal highlights the $150,000 that was earmarked for Mercy Medical Center in Springfield. And, while that figure may be correct, the structure in the picture is about 1,200 miles south of Springfield. Instead of the Mercy Medical Center, the Neal campaign features a picture of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida!

Richard Neal has been in Congress for 22 years. That is a lot of time away from the Second District. His campaign brochure that is paid for by his own political operation demonstrates how far he has in fact drifted away from us. He cannot even identify his hometown hospital.

While he may not have personally designed the mail piece, he signed off on it. Too often, I speak with voters who have never met, or even seen, Congressman Neal in their town. He has failed to return their calls and their letters. He has failed to listen to their concerns. He has failed to be their congressman.

Looks like Neal needs to do a little riding around the district to refresh his memory before he prepares his next campaign mailing! So where does the Neal/Wesley race stand now? My spies haven't sent me any inside polling data yet, but for what it's worth the war over who has the most Facebook fans is currently being won by Neal, with 1,782 to Wesley's 759.

Northampton had a Columbus Day parade this week.

These guys dressed as Revolutionary War soldiers attended the ceremony held after the parade at Pulaski Park.

Naturally all the local pols were there, including Northampton Mayor M. Clare Higgins (far left).

An old vinyl Monkees record discovered at a tag sale for one dollar.

A Republican in a wheelchair entered a restaurant one afternoon and asked the waitress for a cup of coffee. The Republican looked across the restaurant and asked, "Is that Jesus sitting over there?" The waitress nodded "yes," so the Republican requested that she give Jesus a cup of coffee, on him.

The next patron to come in was a Libertarian with a hunched back. He shuffled over to a booth, painfully sat down, and asked the waitress
for a cup of hot tea. He also glanced across the restaurant and asked, "Is that Jesus over there?" The waitress nodded, so the Libertarian asked her to give Jesus a cup of hot tea, "My treat."

The third patron to come into the restaurant was a Democrat on crutches. He hobbled over to a booth, sat down and hollered, "Hey there, honey! How's about gettin' me a cold glass of Miller Light?" He, too, looked across the restaurant and asked, "Is that God's boy over there?" The waitress once more nodded, so the Democrat directed her to give Jesus a cold glass of beer. "On my bill," he said.

As Jesus got up to leave, he passed by the Republican, touched him and said, "For your kindness, you are healed." The Republican felt the strength come back into his legs, got up, and danced a jig out the door.

Jesus also passed by the Libertarian, touched him and said, "For your kindness, you are healed." The Libertarian felt his back straightening, raised his hands, praised the Lord and did a series of back flips out the door.

When Jesus walked towards the Democrat, the man jumped up and yelled, "Don't touch me - I'm collecting disability!"

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Cannabis Candidates

Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for Governor

You don't have to be a stoner to recognize the destructive effects that the criminalization of marijuana has had on our culture and civil liberties. Fortunately, full legalization of the mild intoxicant is within reach this year as California votes on an initiative entitled Proposition 19 that will make it as legal to buy pot as it is to buy beer.

Actually such an act would amount to the legalization of marijuana nationwide. Since of course there would be no guards at the California border to prevent legal marijuana products from leaving the state, the entire country would soon be flooded with marijuana legally purchased in California, making the restrictions still in place in other states impossible to enforce.

Meanwhile, longtime Valley cannabis activist Terry Franklin (below) has compiled a list of pro-legalization candidates in Massachusetts:

California, with its Proposition 19, is the place to vote this year; but for us voters in the Northeast, I've put together this list of candidates in our own area who support marijuana legalization.

Not everyone is a single issue voter, but please keep this issue in mind when making your decision. Most of these people are "3rd party" candidates -- Libertarians have been on board for decades -- and it's heartening to see a number of Greens joining them this year. Even without winning, minor party candidates can have an effect: One or both of the major parties see themselves losing voters, and will try to shift their platform in an effort to get them back in the next election.

I tried to make the list as comprehensive as possible. However, there is no doubt I have missed someone -- especially in the more local races. Carefully evaluate the positions of all the candidates on your ballot before going to the polls on Election Day. Even if someone has not come out for legalization, they may have a position on a lesser issue such as medical, decrim, or hemp which is better than their opponent.


Governor........(G) Jill Stein
Congress........(I) Mike Engel........1st C.D.
Congress........(D) Barney Frank......4th C.D.
Congress........(R) Sean Bielat.......also in the 4th
State Sen.......(D) Cythia Creem......Newton area
State Sen.......(R) Craig Spadafora...Melrose area
State Rep.......(I) Daniel Melick.....Amherst & Granby
State Rep.......(I) Jonathan Loya.....Hopkinton area
State Rep.......(I) Ron Madnick.......Worcester area
State Rep.......(G) Scott Laugenaur...Pittsfield area
State Rep.......(I) Jim Pillsbury.....Framingham area
State Rep.......(I) Bob Underwood.....Springfield area

In addition, 73 towns in MA have non-binding, but important, advisory questions, "PPQs," on the ballot, concerning either legalization or medical marijuana.

In other political news, the Richard Neal re-election congressional race against Tom Wesley (above left with Holyoke's Chief Scott) is quickly evolving into the premiere political battle of the southern Valley. Take a look at Wesley's latest and most devastating political ad yet:

In another important development in that race, Wesley has announced the co-chairs of the Valley section of his campaign with the surprise appointment of former Springfield City Councilor Barbara Garde (below right).

From a Wesley campaign press release:

Former Springfield city councilor Barbara Garde and Virginia Neill, a widely respected small business owner and community leader, will serve as co-chairs of the campaign. Both leaders will focus much of their efforts towards supporting the Wesley organization’s rapid growth in the western portion of the 2nd District.

“As our national and local economy continues to struggle, it’s incumbent upon us all to re-think and challenge the status quo, operate-as-usual, mindset. I believe strongly that Tom Wesley provides a clear and very reasonable alternative to Congressman Neal’s 22 year record. It’s why I have not only endorsed Tom’s candidacy, but have committed myself to see to it that I do everything possible to see him elected this November,” Barbara Garde, a former Democrat, said.

Garde once served as a co-chair for Domenic Sarno’s mayoral campaign in Springfield and was positioned to serve in the same position for Richard Neal’s congressional bid in 1988. Since Neal faced no challenge that year, the co-chair position was not necessary. She currently serves as the Vice President of Marketing for Springfield-based AmBCare Ambulance Service.

I last saw Garde in person back in June of 2007. I took her photo and filed this report:

Tuesday I was in Springfield all day, starting in the morning with the Springfield Control Board meeting at City Hall and at night at the official kickoff rally for the Karen Powell for City Council campaign. In between I sort of schlepped around my old stomping grounds of ol' Pine Point, going to lunch at Tony's Pizza on Boston Road. There I ran into former City Councilor Barbara Garde. She told me that she's been drinking heavily since she left office.

Just kidding. Actually she said she's enjoying life after politics very much.

Is it any wonder why local politicians dislike me so much? Yet way back in 1993 I wrote these words of praise about Garde in a "report card" I made up for The Baystate Objectivist, complete with nicknames, of the Springfield City Council, or "clowncil" as we called it in those days.

Guardian Garde - With only one year on the Council behind her, it isn't clear exactly where on the political spectrum to place Barbara Garde. Yet if there is one characteristic passing consistently through the ideological mish-mash it is Garde's fierce independence. A potential swing vote on many issues, Garde is courted by all political factions with equal fervor. But it's probably a waste of time trying to call this Councilor's tune. When it comes to matters of principle, this lady don't dance.

And she still doesn't, with Garde once again showing great courage in leading other disillusioned Democrats to join her in backing Wesley.

This week at UMass a table was set up in the Campus Center to support Charlie Baker for Governor.

In Northampton this morning supporters of incumbent Deval Patrick were campaigning.

In what appears to be shaping up as a strong Republican year, not all Democrats are proudly running on the party label. However Amherst's State Rep. Ellen Story is an exception.

A cynical bumpersticker on a car parked on an Amherst street.

Portrait of a hipster at the Mystery Train in Amherst by Alice Ware.

Here's a Jeff Ziff video from the recent Skid Row concert in downtown Springfield.

Soaked Springfield by A. Mateus