• Jo Comerford held a press conference announcing endorsements from Franklin County officials in front of the Franklin Justice Center in Greenfield on Wednesday morning. June 20, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Published: 9/8/2018 8:54:58 AM

Women were winners in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region this week, which means the region won, too.

Even lawyer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud — who lost a gutsy challenge to 30-year incumbent Congressman Richard Neal — won in Franklin County, which preferred her 1,631 votes to his 1,396. Amatul-Wadud, who was named a 2016 Top Woman of Law by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, is a Muslim woman of color who challenged a white male incumbent at a time when progressive advocates are pushing for the Democratic party to diversify its ranks of elected officials.

Her campaign was one of several across the state that saw insurgent candidates take on members of the political establishment. Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley defeated 10-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano in the 7th Congressional District, putting her in line to become the state’s first woman of color to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Had Franklin County voters swayed western Massachusetts, the state would have two minority women representing us in Washington.

This primary seems to have brought out more strong women candidates than ever before, which was a delight to see.

For the 1st Franklin District House seat, held by Steven Kulik for 25 years, four of the seven candidates were women.

While Natalie Blais of Sunderland swept the field, Francia Wisnewski of Montague, Christine Doctor of Huntington and Kate Albright-Hanna of Huntington had large followings as well.

Blais, the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce executive director, was an aide to former Congressman John Olver and after that, Congressman Jim McGovern for a dozen years, and she had served as chief of staff to the UMass-Amherst chancellor.

Wisnewski is a Colombian-born senior program manager of the literacy program Raising a Reader Massachusetts, has been vice chairwoman of the Greenfield School Committee, chairs the Hampshire and Franklin Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, and has participated in the Emerge Massachusetts program to inspire women to run for office.

Doktor, who works as a part-time sheep farmer and a lawyer in Cummington, touted her legal experience in New York and in her two pro-bono practices locally. The 40-year-old graduate of Columbia Law School has also worked as a legislative aide to former state Rep. Shaun Kelly of Dalton and in the legislative office of former Gov. Jane Swift.

Kate Albright-Hanna describes herself as “a muckraking journalist” who’s reported for CNN, Vice and MSNBC and also worked on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign and a 2016 campaign to convince Elizabeth Warren to run for president. She also won Emmys for two post-9/11 CNN documentaries.

And of course, we have to add another strong victory for a woman in the state Senate district that includes much of the Franklin County region.

Jo Comerford, as a write-in, notched a decisive victory over two other write-ins and a ballot candidate.

A former executive director of MoveOn, Comerford led the field with about 53 percent of the vote. She has held leadership positions in several area nonprofits, including the Center for Human Development, American Friends Service Committee, Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the National Priorities Project.

She will now represent communities from Amherst to Greenfield to Orange.

This week’s primary results mean that our region will likely be represented by mostly women lawmakers in the coming years — a reality we at the Athol Daily News couldn’t be more excited about.

Besides the primary victors who face no obvious challenges in the November general election, the North Quabbin’s incumbent House member is the popular Independent, Susannah Whipps of Athol, who is finishing up a second term, and its senator is Anne Gobi of Spencer, who was elected in 2015 after serving in the House.

While we are being well-served by our other current lawmakers, Sen. Adam Hinds and Rep. Paul Mark, it’s refreshing to see that in our part of the state at least, the makeup of our legislative delegation will now have the proper mix of men and women.

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