BENNINGTON >> Four candidates will seek two open State Representative seats for Bennington's 2-1 District in Tuesday's primary election.
Incumbents Timothy R. Corcoran II and Rachael Fields are being challenged by Jackie Kelly and Mike Silver. All of the candidates are Democrats. Only two can get the party nomination.
The primary will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 9. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Bennington Fire Station on River Street. Other races on local ballots are uncontested.
Corcoran seeks his eighth term as representative, having first been elected in 2002. The Bennington native went to local schools and then Johnson State College in 1996, where he studied in political science. He's a real estate agent with Hoisington Realty and formerly worked in manufacturing.
Small businesses downtown are struggling and need more foot traffic. Corcoran said there's no "magic wand" that will bring business and jobs. Rather, it's a culmination of efforts. Speaking from his real estate experience, he said there are features people look for when they consider moving to an area. That includes education, recreational opportunities like rivers and the Ninja Path walking trail project, and infrastructure like transportation and cellular communications.
The recent announcement about a proposal for the former Putnam Hotel "speaks volumes" about the town. "It says we're a community that's in this together."
He said his vote in favor of Act 46, the education consolidation bill, was not made lightly and acknowledged that feedback from communities has been mixed. But the state must control rising property taxes and continue to maintain high-quality schools.
"Like any bill there can be tweaks and changes," he said. "People who know me know I'm open minded. If people have better ideas, I'm all for hearing them." Existing programs that help startup companies and entrepreneurs will have to be fostered, he said. And students will have to learn what potential employers need — manufacturing jobs will likely be technology based and not look like what people are used to.
Corcoran has been on the transportation committee since first elected and said he wants infrastructure maintained and expanded. He said a soon-to-be-announced bus service synced with AMTRAK trains, which would travel twice daily from North Bennington to Rensselaer, N.Y., would be one more piece of the economic puzzle.
He said the state's goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 is attainable and he's for renewable energy. But Vermonters should have a strong voice.
"We have to listen to citizens in the communities developers want these projects," he said.
He said he's in favor of universal healthcare, but isn't sure how that would be funded in Vermont.
Fields, 36, was born in Arizona and came with her family to Bennington when she was young, going through the local schools. She is a field representative for Vermont State Employees Association and worked for 10 years as a licensed nursing assistant at the Vermont Veterans' Home. She's a former trustee for the state Employees Association, a former AmeriCorps member who worked with at-risk youth and volunteered with the "Community Built Park" project at Willow Park. She was first elected in 2014
Fields said Bennington's economy has gotten worse in the past decade. The childhood poverty rate has gone up and families are struggling. While some old factories and empty buildings are being reused, others like the former ChemFab/Saint-Gobain site have been found to have left contamination. While not against manufacturing jobs, that's not where she sees economic growth. She wants socially responsible businesses and is in favor of promoting new startups and entrepreneurs.
"We spent a lot of money on large businesses from foreign countries," she said. "We need to put that money locally."
She said the state needs to invest more to make higher education more affordable so Vermonters can get more skills and training. And college graduates should want to put down roots in Bennington, not leave the area for other opportunities.
She voted against Act 46 because it didn't address educational inequalities.
"I've heard about people graduating high school without opportunities to take AP classes. That's not something that should happen in Vermont," she said.
But she said it has gotten Vermonters talking about education. And school districts are talking about how they can improve on what they're doing.
She said was extremely disappointed when Gov. Peter Shumlin did not pursue a single-payer healthcare system. She spoke of legislators' work to expand access to birth control and a study into expanding dental care program Dr. Dinosaur. But many people still can't pay costs of medical bills and prescription drugs. She said more pressure needs to be put on insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.
Fields said she strongly believes that one of greatest problems society faces is climate change and aggressive steps must be taken. But communities must have a voice in conversations around where to site ground-mounted solar.
"You don't necessarily want someone coming from out of state, clear cut forested land and put up panels without having a say and without it benefitting us."
Groups like Turning Point and local treatment centers are a great start to addressing the opioid issue, she said. But like elsewhere in the Northeast, people with addiction still have to wait to receive treatment. More has to be done to curb drug use.
"It's something we will definitely have to invest in," she said.
Kelly, a visual artist and retired educator, is serving her second terms on both the Bennington School Board and Southwest Vermont Regional Career Development Center School Board. In January, she received her second appointment as a trustee to the Vermont Veterans' Home.
Originally from the Bronx, N.Y., she was a reading specialist and technologist for the Department of Defense for 30 years, teaching children of deployed military personnel in Germany and Japan. She also worked as a reading specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, instructing students and teaching GED classes to adults on the Navajo Indian Reservation. She's an artist and has participated in Cultural Bennington, volunteered at Garlic Fest and other events, and is the former president of the Bennington Arts Guild. She previously ran for representative in 2014.
Kelly said she's concerned about healthcare and, while she would like to see universal healthcare, doesn't believe it will happen in the United States. To that end, healthcare needs to be viable for everyone, she said.
Kelly spoke of gaps in high-speed internet and cellular phone coverage. She supports building technological infrastructure for economic growth.
"How can we ask major industry to come in without having adequate 21st century technology?" she asked. "No major company would come here without that. And it would only come to pockets of Vermont where it is adequate."
Kelly noted that legislators' plan under Act 46 was to save money. She agreed with the idea of schools sharing resources and group purchasing of supplies. But she said no research shows any benefits of taking students out of small schools and putting them in bigger ones.
Towns and cities need planning and economic development experts to plan for the future, she said. She spoke of planned neighborhoods in Germany that include housing for multiple income levels. Bennington needs to keep that in mind moving forward.
"You can't have only low income housing in one part of town and expect it to thrive," she said.
Kelly has concerns the visual impact and longevity issues associated with ground-mounted solar arrays.
"The biggest thing I was against was it didn't directly benefit the community," she said. "Without both the environmental and cost effectiveness to our community, I don't think it's a go."
She said alternative solutions are needed to treat addiction and manage pain, and described the current situation as a "pill-to-pill problem." Non-narcotic painkillers and alternative treatments including acupuncture should be prescribed before opioid painkillers, she said. And medically assisted treatment through Suboxone may work for some people, but may not for others.
Silver, 65, was elected as a State Representative in 1974 and served three terms until 1980. He has served on the Bennington Charter Review Committee, on the board of the Woodside Facility in Essex Junction, and Bennington Boy's Program, an alternative education project for young men. The North Bennington resident now works for a credit card processing company. Silver said he decided to run again after being diagnosed with and undergoing treatment for kidney cancer several years ago.
"I'm ready to fight again," he said. "I promised myself if I could live through this I would go back and help the people again," he said. "I'm going to go up there and fight for Bennington and Vermont."
He said one of his accomplishments in office include bringing runaway truck ramps to Route 9 in Woodford and Searsburg in the late 1970s, the first on the east coast. Another was his involvement in the banning of uranium mining -- aerial surveys found "hot spots" with potentially valuable uranium deposits. In 1980, dozens of Town Meetings approved bans.
He ran as a Republican decades ago, but this time, is seeking the Democratic nomination. He said he was liberal on rights and social issues, but fiscally conservative.
To that end, he said the state of 620,000 needs to control its spending. It had a far smaller balanced budget, with a surplus, nearly 40 years ago when it had fewer people, he said.
"We had more jobs and industry back then, and it's gone," he said. "We need to look in our wallet and not fund programs unless extremely needed until we can come fiscally under control."
Silver said Bennington "built a moat around itself" with the bypass. Potential visitors no longer stop downtown and instead take that bypass, officially known as state Route 279.
Bennington must build off its assets like the Bennington Museum, Bennington Monument, outdoor recreation and more, he said. Something like a kiosk at the Welcome Center could re-route travellers back to downtown.
More must be done to retain major local employers like Eveready battery company, he said. And Bennington needs to look at the needs of other companies to find niche employment opportunities.
"Thirty-five years ago, General Electric in SCHN was in full force, and all these ancillary companies relied on them," he said.
He compared the Capital Region of New York, with its nanotechnology companies, as the "Silicon Valley of the Northeast." One idea — an air filter manufacturing company at the former ChemFab/Saint-Gobain site, which would provide components for the high-tech companies clean rooms.
On education, Silver said he, his children and grandchild have received great education at the North Bennington school. Key to a good foundation is experiential, hands-on learning, he said. He said he was for real-world skills such as job interviews and creating a resume.
"Not every child in a curriculum can learn the same way," he said. For that reason, vocational programs should be promoted. He said he'd work with the Department of Education. Silver said he's not sure if Act 46
Silver said he strongly believed in preventive healthcare. Projects like bike paths, which can be funded with grants, promote healthy lifestyles.
Silver said he's a proponent of solar and just signed on to have panels installed on his own home. But ground-mounted installations should be on the outskirts of town, not in backyards.
He outlined a three-pronged approach that could tackle the opioid issue. He said the state could adopt the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act and use it to arrest the out-of-town drug dealers. More clinics and support services would be provided for people addicted to drugs. Police departments would also need more support in the form of more equipment to do their job or community members being more vigilant about what's happening in their communities.
"We need to let dealers know that Bennington, Vt. is not the place to do this," he said.
To view the map of Bennington's 2-1 district, visit: http://legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Documents/SmallMaps/BEN-2-1.pdf
To view other districts, visit: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/reapportionment/HouseDistricts01.cfm
Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.