The odds are not one to deter Andrea Nuciforo. In 1996 he was disfavored to win the Democratic nomination for Berkshire County’s senate district. Jane Swift had left the Senate seat open to challenge, ironically enough, John Olver. A clown car of candidates stormed both the Democratic and Republcian primaries. The frontrunner on the Democratic side was a Mayor of Pittsfield, Ed Reilly, who had cornered much of the support of Berkshire County’s establishment.
Despite the odds, Nuciforo came out on top, although according to the Hampshire Gazette, not until after that mayor dropped out. He defeated the Republican Paul Babeu, who notably afterward quit politics in Massachusetts and moved to try it out Arizona.
To defeat incumbent Congressman Richard Neal for the Democratic nomination in the reconfigured 1st Congressional District, Nuciforo may need similar luck. Nuciforo, the Middle Berkshire Registrar of Deeds and ex-state senator is locked in a testy race with Neal and Alford activist Bill Shein for Thursday September 6 primary. With no Republicans or independents filed for this race, the primary winner will likely win the seat.
Nuciforo hopes to be that representative and Berkshire County’s first resident congressman in over twenty years. Born and bred in Pittsfield, Nuciforo has a lengthy background in politics. Politics ran though the blood of both sides of his large family. Notably, Nuciforo‘s father held the same state senate seat in the 1960‘s.
Nuciforo went on to get a degrees from UMass and Boston University Law School. He clerked for former US District Court Judge Frank Freedman and then moved onto practice law at a large firm in Boston before returning home to Pittsfield to run for state senate.
Redistricting removed the eastern fringes of Neal’s 2nd district as well as Northampton while adding the western end of Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin county and all of Berkshire county. While considerably cleaner than the current district, it also had the potential to draw from the well of the politically active Berkshires.
It did and actually, Nuciforo had been running since before the new district was revealed last year. Congressman John Olver, who currently represents the Berkshires, retired shortly before the maps were unveiled and Nuciforo quickly shifted his attention from Olver to Neal.
And that attention has been, at times relentless. Nuciforo has attacked Neal for contributions from the financial services industry and votes, mostly those in the 1990’s, that Nuciforo charges were anti-consumer.
By way of contrast, Nuciforo points to his own work on mortgages and auto insurance as Senate Chairman of the Financial Services Committee on Beacon Hill. However, as the linked Masslive article and Shein note, Nuciforo also received sizable contributions from financial services industry during this time.
During an interview at the Springfield Columbus Avenue Starbucks, Nuciforo offered his criticism of Neal and the need for, in his estimate, a more progressive champion for the First Congressional District. He laid out Neal for votes on the financial sector, women’s rights, and trade.
Nuciforo argued that Neal’s campaign contributions from the financial sector and other special interests led Neal to cast votes that weakened regulation of financial markets. In particular, Nuciforo singled out the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, a bill passed by the 2000 lame-duck Congress. Its language has been blamed by some for permitting the derivatives that wreaked havoc on the economy in 2008.
Although Neal did vote for many of these bills, Neal also voted for Sarbanes-Oxley, a corporate accounting law, and Dodd-Frank, the financial reform passed in the wake of the 2008 fiscal crisis. Nuciforo acknowledged this, but said Dodd-Frank could have been stronger. Neal also voted for an earlier, stronger version of Dodd-Frank that would later be watered down considerably at the demand of Republican Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Neal voted against a 2005 bankruptcy law that was criticized for unfairly locking people out of bankruptcy, too.
Nuciforo also hit Neal for his support of trade agreements with Korea, Panama and China. He argued that these votes for trade agreements had exacerbated the decline of industry in Springfield and Chicopee as well as in his own hometown of Pittsfield. He also rejected the notion that the executive branch is to blame for not enforcing the treaties’ protections for workers and the environment.
Nuciforo put a particular emphasis on Neal’s vote for China’s most favored nation status for trade. His campaign produced a series of votes that they argued showed Neal’s support for China. There was not enough time to parse the context of each of these votes before publication time. However, the Neal campaign did respond noting that Neal has also supported President Obama’s recent complaints against China for unfair trade practices.
A member of the Democratic State Committee, who asked to not be named so as not to wade into a primary directly, went further. The member disputed the notion that Neal has monolithically supported trade agreements noting Neal gave the thumbs down to a Colombian free trade agreement. The “no” vote was attributed to Colombia’s internal issues. Describing Neal’s case-by-case view on trade agreements, the member said, “Some are good, some are bad, some are necessary.”
Nuciforo also hit Neal on women’s rights and in particular abortion. Nuciforo tried to tie Neal to Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin because both voted for the Stupak amendment. The amendment, named for then-Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, a well-known pro-life Democrat, would have banned any federal funding for most abortions under the health care. As the Senate version of the Affordable Care Act was used as a vehicle for passage instead of the House bill, the Stupak amendment was not passed into law. However, to secure support for passage, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that would restrict such funding as a matter of federal policy. States are free to do as they wish with their own money. Massachusetts’s health care law actually did include abortion coverage and Connecticut recently deemed access to abortion an essential service of health insurance, however Connecticut’s decision is not without potential legal complications.
However, tying Neal to Akin, who became famous after recent inflammatory and ignorant comments about rape, is a miss. Neal supports maintaining Roe v. Wade, but has opposed using taxpaying money for abortion. This contrasts with the relationship between Akin and Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan who sponsored a bill with Akin to actually establish personhood for fertilized eggs and shares an almost universally anti-choice record with the Missouri Congressman.
Nuciforo also said he would vote to repeal the Hyde Amendment, a standing yet annually renewed law that prohibits federal funding for abortion, particularly under Medicaid and other federal health programs.
The Neal campaign declined to comment directly on abortion, but the same state committee member felt Nuciforo’s comments were misplaced. The member pointed out President Obama acceded to the intent of the Stupak amendment as did the full House which voted to pass its original bill despite its inclusion. Several vocal abortion rights advocates in the House, like Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who has a 100% rating from NARAL, voted to approve the final bill.
Nuciforo says that he left the State Senate and moved over the Clerk’s office because he did not believe in holding a political post forever. While incumbency has posed problems in Greater Springfield before, it is hard to say if that includes federal representation. It is hard to gauge whether or not Nuciforo’s pitch is working. By far Neal signs in and around Springfield outnumber Nuciforo’s signs.
Neal for his part has picked up endorsements from Olver and Nuciforo’s successor in the Senate, Ben Downing.
With such support both at home and in the Berkshires, the task of beating Neal is a huge hurdle for Nuciforo to overcome. The campaign has also run into trouble on more than one occasion. But the former state senator is undeterred. Although Nuciforo had little say about Shein, the Alford activist, he did not express surprise at the latter’s entry into the race. “Anyone is entitled to run,” but he added he was “not surprised Neal would pick up another opponent given his record.” Or at least how some have interpreted that record.