Running as a ‘Bernie Sanders progressive’
PITTSFIELD — Democratic primary candidate Rinaldo Del Gallo III wants to make it clear from the start what kind of campaign he will run for the state Senate seat representing Berkshire County.
“My general theme is, I am running as a Bernie Sanders progressive,” he said during an interview. “It was one of the first decisions I made. I wanted people to be able to know in an instant what type of platform that I had.”
Del Gallo added, “There has been a lot of discussion about what is going to happen with that [Sanders] revolution. It has to be a political revolution, so to speak, that happens throughout our government at the federal and state levels.”
The movement of wealth toward the higher-income levels in recent decades is a trend that must be reversed, Del Gallo said, to stabilize the middle class and the poor and revive a sluggish U.S. economy.
“Wages have gone flat. Almost all wealth has gone to the top,” he said, citing statistics on income and wealth disparities noted by Sanders in his presidential campaign.
“It is an absolute rigging of our system that is causing the decay of our country, that is causing the collapse of the middle class, which is causing the ranks of the poor to swell and the ranks of the middle class to just disappear,” Del Gallo said, adding that crime, drug addiction, infrastructure neglect and other problems are related to a lack of economic opportunity for many.
Del Gallo, 53, of Lenox, is an attorney who grew up in Pittsfield where his uncle, Remo Del Gallo, served as mayor during the 1960s. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat now held by Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who is stepping down at the close of his fifth term in January.
In the Democratic primary Sept. 8, Del Gallo will face Adam Hinds of Pittsfield and Andrea Harrington of Richmond. Christine Canning of Lanesborough is the lone Republican candidate in her party’s primary.
At the state level, Del Gallo said, one focus for him would be promoting a taxing system tilted more toward the middle class. He also would advocate for a $15 minimum wage, solar and wind power generation and other environmental issues; support family leave and universal pre-kindergarten and would strive to be “the most pro-labor person” in the Legislature.
Right now, he said, 33 states have a graduated state income tax, which, like the federal government, has different rates depending on the level of income. “I would like Massachusetts to be the 34th state,” he said.
The state now has only one tax rate, “basically a flat tax,” he said. The candidate said he believes there are “different types of income that would be taxed differently with different types of approaches,” saying that he would research tax issues more before making specific proposals.
Del Gallo contends that , at the federal level, the 1950s and 1960s saw high nominal rates and, “I would submit that those were some of the most economically prosperous times in our county.”
Del Gallo said it seems “clear to me that we are going to have to amend our tax policies so that those who are super-affluent, those with the ability to pay, pay. We need a very fundamental change.”
Without that level of taxation, he said, “We haven’t been able to finance infrastructure, or public education … But the good thing, at least in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is that this is a taxing opportunity; it is there for us.”
He also argues that “government clearly can create wealth,” which he said is a basic difference between Democrats and Republicans, who believe the private sector should create wealth and drive the economy. “Then they hop in their car and drive home on a [public] road and pretend that isn’t wealth,” he said.
Expanding tax revenue sources could help repair crumbling infrastructure, fund education and promote green industries, he said, adding, “But we have been talking about this for decades.”
The Obama administration’s economic stimulus package was a good idea but “far too small,” he said.
“We need money,” he said. “We need some return on this enormous amount of wealth and capital that exists in this country … A lot of people would think this is pie in the sky stuff, but there is a lot of wealth out there that could be reasonably taxed, and in the past when we have done so we have had fantastic economies,”
Raising the minimum wage also would spur the economy, he said, as it would give people more money to spend. Opponents of hiking the wage, “try to pretend progressives are wrong on minimum wage impact, but Harry Truman doubled the minimum wage in 1950s, and we had a booming economy. They want to pretend that the progressives don’t know what they are talking about; well, they are just wrong. These are eminently doable things.”
Like Sanders, Del Gallo would push for tuition-free college for state residents, arguing that European nations have shown this too is realistic.
Such tax changes would be “saving them [the wealthy] from themselves,” he said. “Basically, they are drying up all the wealth. We cannot continue to decimate the middle class … It’s like overfishing a [prime fishing hole].”
Del Gallo said he also is proud of his record on the environment, having sponsored a polystyrene foam container ban ordinance that passed in Pittsfield and proposed a plastic bag ban, which is pending.
He received a Hero of the Ocean award from the state Senate for his efforts on the polystyrene ban.
On economic development, he said the area should continue to push to create industrial employment, along with a creative economy, which he said is not large enough to carry the regional economy alone.
He also called for more optimism that something approaching the days of large-scale GE employment are not gone forever. “We have been far to negative, defeatist,” he said, adding that other regions, such as around Albany, N.Y., offer a blueprint for success.