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NAACP Cancels Sheriff, DA Debate
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
03:31PM / Monday, August 29, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The candidates have one more debate before next week's primary election. 
It was supposed to be two, but a Berkshire NAACP forum planned for Monday has been canceled when half the invited candidates weren't able to attend. 
The organizers said they were disappointed that Timothy Shugrue and Thomas Bowler could not fit it into their schedules.
"I just feel that everybody makes a choice. It was their choice to debate with us," chapter President Dennis Powell said. "We've always had debates and they've always been very bipartisan and important, we think, to the community, but they chose to debate with whom they wanted to and I guess we will just weren't on their radar."
Shugrue, the district attorney hopeful, said he was surprised when the debate was announced canceled on a Facebook post Thursday. 
"Tim is disappointed by this cancellation and hopes that the organization will be able to go forward with the event on Monday evening. He wants another opportunity to show why he's the better candidate for criminal justice reform," his campaign said in a statement on Friday. 
Powell said his agreement to attend the debate was past the response deadline.
Both Shugrue and Bowler had indicated difficulty in participating in Monday's debate because of previously scheduled events. The forum had been originally set for Aug. 17 but later changed. 
Powell made it clear that the Facebook post cancellation was not an endorsement of any candidate — both DA incumbent Andrea Harrington and sheriff candidate Alf Barbalunga were committed — but a statement of facts.
"The NAACP, Berkshire County Branch will not be hosting our sheriff/district attorney debate as planned on Monday, August 29th. The branch had offered the candidates' campaigns different date options, but none appeared to work with Berkshire District Attorney Candidate Tim Shugrue and Berkshire Sheriff Candidate Thomas Bowler's schedules," the post read.
This was going to be the second set of conversations hosted by the NAACP. All four candidates participated in two separate forums held by the organization in the last month.
There was also a debate held by iBerkshires and PCTV, a forum last Thursday in North Adams hosted by the Berkshire Democratic Brigades, and a forum last week held by Multicultural BRIDGE, which was attended by Harrington and Alf Barbalunga. On Tuesday, the district attorney candidates will meet again at a debate sponsored by the Brigades at The Mount in Lenox at 1 p.m.
Both sheriff candidates and Shugrue, alone, participated in debates held by a local blogger who has been criticized for crudely attacking community members and candidates on his website. Harrington refused to participate on principle.
"We are disappointed that these two candidates have been able to attend other events and speaking engagements, especially with partisan individuals who our organization finds problematic, but could not make our debate work with their schedules.
"We feel our nonpartisanism and long-standing and respected name, NAACP, carries respect in the political arena, on both a local and national level. While all the candidates have publicly spoken about equity and unfair practices towards marginalized groups, only two Berkshire Sheriff Candidate Alf Barbalunga and Berkshire District Attorney Candidate Andrea Harrington were able to make the dates we offered work. And to us, this speaks volumes."
Shugrue's campaign, when asked to comment, said racial justice and inclusivity are his top priorities and that he is "deeply, personally committed" to addressing those issues as district attorney. 
The candidate had been unable to attend on the original date of Aug. 17, had asked if it could be rescheduled but was not informed of the Aug. 29 date until it was publicized, the campaign said, and that if only one candidate showed, NAACP would host an "empty chair" event. Shugrue said he agreed to attend on Aug. 25.
Bowler's representative said the candidate simply had a personal conflict and was unable to attend the dates, one conflict being a Massachusetts Sheriff's Association meeting in Springfield.
"From my perspective, when you're in office, you're supposed to be representing all the people," NAACP Executive Committee member Shirley Edgerton said.
"So that means if you're representing all the people, then you have to be open for the hard questions, for the soft questions.  People need to know what you're thinking, especially when there have been some questions about people's belief systems.  I see it as a responsibility if you're going to be a leader in a community and particularly a politician and in key positions that impact all people's lives, that is your responsibility to answer to the people, to help people to understand who you are and what your intentions are for all the people."
Tuesday's DA debate will be recorded by Community Television of the Southern Berkshires and may be streamed live. 
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