Fresh off her first debate in Massachusetts gubernatorial race, Attorney General Maura Healey spent Thursday afternoon in the Pioneer Valley, where supporters and elected officials hoped to show her a region they said needed her support if she claimed the states highest office.
At businesses in Northampton, in research hubs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and in a meet and greet with voters in Amherst Center, Western Massachusetts locals and officials stressed the importance of funneling state resources into the region which some said can be forgotten with the states power center located on its eastern coast.
We have to make sure we get our fair share of state dollars, our fair share of policies that work for rural Massachusetts, and our fair share in growth opportunities, Northampton state Sen. Jo Comerford said Thursday afternoon. By visiting the Pioneer Valley, Comerford said Healey was demonstrating that she can break the [Interstate] 495 Curtain and see our people, learn from our people, talk to our people.
Were the ugly stepchild out here in Western Mass., assessed Kevin Pelosky, a Healey supporter holding a campaign sign on behalf of the AFSCME Local 2948 union in downtown Amherst. Everything is out east with all the money and politics. So we hope we get some good representation out here in Western Mass.
Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey walks through downtown Northampton with Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and City Councilor Garrick Perry. (Will Katcher/MassLive).
Healey, the Democratic nominee for governor, has consistently led in polls against Republican Geoff Diehl, a former state representative. They will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.Read more: At first debate between Diehl, Healey, cost of living and Donald Trump take center stage
Healey visited four businesses in central Northampton early Thursday afternoon on an hourlong walking tour, starting first at India House, which recently celebrated its 37th anniversary.
Amit Kanoujia, whose parents Omi and Alka started the restaurant on State Street, said the business could benefit from state financial support on projects such as setting up outdoor dining areas. He said cultural events such as Taste of Northampton, a downtown celebration of the citys restaurants and breweries, also drew customers and lifted the restaurant. The Taste was bolstered by a roughly $50,000 grant from the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council.
Kanoujia said he hoped a Healey administration would lend support not just to new business owners, but to established shops and restaurants still facing a harrowing landscape. India House, like many restaurants, is struggling to find a full staff.
A high tide is going to raise all of us, he told Healey.
Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey visits with the owners of Northampton restaurant India House. Left to right: Omi Kanoujia, Healey, Alka Kanoujia, and Amit Kanoujia. (Will Katcher/MassLive).
Healey said she understood that Western Massachusetts has not felt that it has been as invested in or prioritized as much as Greater Boston.
She noted her support of a proposed east-west train rail that could ease cross-state travel and said that if elected, the region would be represented on state boards and commissions and invested in by the state with funds for regional transit, jobs training and economic development.
Leaving India House, the attorney general accompanied by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, city councilors and other local officials strolled through downtown Northampton on a tour that included stops at three other city businesses.
At Strada Shoes on Main Street where Healey bought a pair of sneakers owner Anna Bowen said she had received grants that boosted her online store and allowed her to market it.
State grants and funds have provided a vital boost to Northampton, Amherst and other communities in Western Massachusetts. Downtown Northampton was recently designated a Vacant Storefront District by the states Economic Assistance Coordinating Council, allowing two new businesses each year to apply for tax credits that could total $20,000 if they take over empty spaces.
Katie Rennie (left), owner of 25 Central, a Northampton clothing shop, with Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra and Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey. (Will Katcher/MassLive).
Amy Cahillane, director of the Downtown Northampton Association, said she felt like a proud mom seeing Northampton business owners show the leading gubernatorial candidate their shops, galleries and restaurants.
I think we have a pretty special community, but were hurting and we have vacant storefronts, Cahillane said. We need more state aid and in this period of time after COVID, when a lot of it is drying up, I dont want our small businesses to be forgotten about, or our arts community, because without them downtown Northampton is not what it should be or could be.
During a later campaign stop at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Healey told reporters she got a sense of the resilience that Northampton business owners showed in surviving the pandemic.
It was really wonderful to see the entrepreneurs and those who are running these small businesses that really are the fabric of a community, she said.
At UMass, Healey toured the schools Transportation Center a hub of transportation research and education and visited the womens basketball teams practice.
On display for Healey at UMass was the plethora of advanced technology that allows the school to conduct high-level research. She saw a $250,000 Lidar machine that spends part of the year being used in the Arctic, but that the state Department of Transportation also uses to analyze roads and travel. By scanning the three-dimensional layout around it, the device can show, for example, if a sidewalk is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Healey, other elected officials and students and staff in the Transportation Center used it to take a 3-D group picture.
Attorney General Maura Healey and students and staff at the UMass Transportation Center eye a $250,000 Lidar camera used by the center for research. (Will Katcher/MassLive).
A three-dimensional Lidar scan of Attorney General Maura Healey and students and staff at the UMass Transportation Center. (Will Katcher/MassLive).
In the schools Human Performance Lab, which focuses on driver behavior and safety, Healey hopped into a driving simulator a stationary car surrounded by screens that researchers can use to simulate different driving environments and see how drivers react to them.
In the UMass Transportation Center, Healey hopped behind the wheel of a test car that researchers can use to simulate any kind of driving environment all without leaving their lab pic.twitter.com/049xiqTxWs— Will Katcher (@will_katcher) October 13, 2022
Her final stop at UMass came with the womens basketball team defending Atlantic 10 conference champions where she spoke with the players on topics ranging from her days on the Harvard basketball team to the importance of Title IX before facing off with sharpshooting guard Sydney Taylor in a friendly game of Horse. Taylor won.