Students carry day at caucus

Several decades ago, James MacGregor Burns, professor of history emeritus at the College and a town Democrat, participated in the establishment of the town caucus system in Massachusetts. Through the Democratic caucus, here in Williamstown and in other towns and cities throughout Massachusetts, registered Democrats elect delegates who will represent their respective town at the state Democratic convention.

In order to be considered for the democratic nomination, a candidate must obtain fifteen percent of the state’s popular vote. At the state Democratic convention, the delegates vote for the candidate of their choice. The individual who receives the majority of the delegates’ vote receives the endorsement of the state Democratic convention.

Reich is competing against Thomas Birmingham, president of the state senate; Shannon O’Brien, state treasurer; Warren Tolman, democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1998; and Steven Grossman, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. One of the five Democrats will challenge Jane Swift, the incumbent Republican governor, in the 2002 gubernatorial race.

Williamstown’s Democratic Committee held its town caucus on Feb. 5. At the caucus, five delegates were selected and vowed their support for Robert Reich. The delegates chosen included Healy Thompson ’03, Carlos Silva ’04, Mark Reinhardt, associate professor of political science, Sarah Gardner, member of the town’s Planning Board and Thomas Gais. These delegates will represent Williamstown at the state democratic convention, which is scheduled for May 31 through June 1 in Worcester.

This year, the Democratic caucus generated an unusually large turnout and was held at the Williams Inn instead of the Town Municipal Building. Approximately 200 townspeople participated in the caucus. The increase in participants resulted from a campus-wide effort, sponsored by Williams students and faculty and Reich’s campaign.

Keith Ericson ’04, the Reich campaign’s student coordinator at the College, along with Thompson and Reinhardt, led a campus-wide movement to gather support for Reich and his delegates, while encouraging student involvement in the town’s Democratic Party and its local political affairs.

“Our efforts were met with a lot of enthusiasm by the campus,” said Ericson. “Many people volunteered to table in Baxter, and we registered one hundred people to vote in Williamstown. We went door to door, we [placed posters] all over campus, conducted an e-mail campaign and followed up our efforts with a phone drive. Over seventy Williams students attended the caucus.”

Ultimately, “[We hope to] get Reich on the Democratic primary ballot, have him win the party’s nomination, and then [have] Reich [elected] as Governor of Massachusetts,” said Ericson. Reinhardt expressed the same sentiments, but also added that he was happy to help students get involved with the election process.

Burns and Lee Harrison, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, expressed excitement about high voter attendance at the caucus. Harrison added that in the past, as Chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, he has had a difficult time encouraging members of the College community to get involved in the town’s Democratic Party, but was thrilled to see this year’s large student turnout.

Sherwood Guernsey, a delegate and supporter of Shannon O’Brien, was not selected to attend the State Democratic Convention. However, Guernsey was still positive about the caucus: “I am very pleased with the large turn out; it is a testament to the democratic party process that allows for this grassroots process, like this, to happen,” Guernsey said.

Reinhardt also conveyed the same reaction to the democratic convention as Burns, Harrison and Sherwood. Reinhardt believes, however, that the students of Williams “played a significant but not determining role in the results of the caucus.” He mentioned that the non-student turnout of voters was also high.

Reich’s campaign for governor has generated mixed responses from students and townspeople.

“[Reich] is an exciting progressive candidate committed to bringing about a fair and just [state]…He supports clean elections, universal health care, gay rights and economic equality,” Ericson said.

Reinhardt added that the state of Massachusetts is a mess. He considers Reich to be the democratic candidate with the right principles and analytic skills necessary to get Massachusetts on the right track for future economic success.

On the other end of the spectrum, Tom Bleezarde, a Swift supporter and resident of Williamstown, commented, “I think it is a travesty. He was a lightweight when he was in the Clinton cabinet in my opinion, and he has never held elective office. He stands as much chance of being effective in the mires of Boston and Massachusetts politics as a snow ball does of lasting 15 minutes in hell.”

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