Candidates Comerford, Connor, and Kline meet with Create the Vote Leading up to Primary for Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester Senate Seat

Three candidates running in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary to represent the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in the Massachusetts Senate met with members of the Create the Vote Coalition Aug. 24 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art to discuss their policies on arts, culture and the creative economy in Massachusetts.

The candidates—Jo Comerford, Steven Connor, and Chelsea Kline—are vying to succeed state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, who resigned earlier this year after holding the seat for more than 25 years. Kline is the only candidate whose name will appear on the ballot; Comerford and Connors are waging write-in campaigns.  Ryan O’Donnell, another Democratic candidate is also running a write-in campaign. With no Republican candidates running, the Democratic primary victor will effectively win the seat.

Each candidate met separately with the Create the Vote Coalition to discuss their views. The following is a summary of their comments and answers to coalition members’ questions. The discussions were moderated by MASSCreative Director of Policy and Government Affairs Emily Ruddock.

Jo Comerford

Comerford discussed her background in theatre and arts education. As an actor and educator in New York City, she developed a community outreach and schools program for the Pearl Theater Company, which enabled students in the city’s schools to see plays at the Pearl. The experience of receiving a ticket to access the theater and see a show was empowering for young people, said Comerford. She also saw the importance of the arts when she started a theater program at Peter’s Place, an NYC shelter for homeless seniors, in an effort to foster more communication between residents.


“The arts allow people to be at the center of their own narratives,” said Comerford.

She also believes the arts can help illustrate issues and help people better understand policy better. The arts can “empower people to understand local, state and federal government,” Comerford said.

Comerford said her campaign platform is anchored in local economic development and encouraging small business growth, including leveraging the arts and supporting creative entrepreneurs. She sees a lack of easy access to Western Mass. by performers and musicians and inadequate public transportation in the district negatively impacting the growth of the creative economy in the district, and wants to work on solving such problems.  

Coming from an artistic background, Comerford is comfortable working across differences, she said. She has “out of the box thinking, listening skills and empathy” which she believes will help her be an effective lawmaker.

She also acknowledged that Rosenberg’s leadership on arts, culture and related policy would be a tough act to follow. She said she saw the former Senate president “exercise personal and political capital” on these issues. Rosenberg’s successor, she said, will have to quickly build strategic relationships to continue delivering for the community.

Comerford also expressed interest in forming an informal group of advisors who will use their expertise to guide her on policy. She said this group must include arts and cultural leaders.

You can read Comerford’s Create the Vote questionnaire here:

Steven Connor

Connor also discussed his background in theater, performing, and arts education. He said he gravitated toward theater in high school and worked behind the scenes. After serving in the Navy, Connor wanted to pursue a more creative life. He worked as a chef, attended the Actors Workshop in Boston and made a living as a balloon delivery clown. Connor later made his way to California, where he provided arts education in a day program for institutionalized people.


“The arts gave them a voice,” he said. One client with whom he worked, for example, was non-verbal, but was able to communicate through pen drawings.

He eventually returned to the area and enrolled at UMass Amherst, where he earned a BA in theater.

Connor has served as director of the Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services for more than 14 years. He called the VA’s arts festival “vital to recovery,” for some veterans. He spoke of the arts as a tool to help people heal from trauma.

Connor grew up when the Northampton area had a more industrial economy. As industry faded away, he watched how arts and culture helped transform Easthampton.

“Arts are an integral part of our lives, whether [people] acknowledge it or not,” he said.

Connor volunteered that he does not support the Massachusetts film tax credit, a measure designed to attract the film industry to shoot movies in Massachusetts.

Chelsea Kline

Kline said the arts “are deep in my DNA.” She was raised by sculptors who made their living with a patchwork of jobs. Her father lived in artist housing in Dorchester. She’s been surrounded by creative people and artists all of her life—including her husband, who is a sculptor and teaches at Hampshire College, and her daughter, who is studying film at the same institution. As such, Kline said she knows the realities of being a working artist.


Kline, who relied on public assistance as a young single mother and went on to earn a degree from Harvard Divinity School, is very focused on helping low-income and otherwise vulnerable people. Seeing art through a social justice lens, she described it as a tool to lift up vulnerable people and said “it keeps people from being isolated and keeps us connected in a deep way.”

Kline said she wants to be an advocate for Western Mass. and find ways to invest in the area and in vulnerable communities.

She sees the arts as a public good that is worthy of more investment. “The more the community funds the arts, the more that there is ownership over the arts,” she said.

She also believes that the district needs greater broadband internet access, which would help artists sell their work, build community and share ideas.

Kline also wants art integrated throughout our school curriculum. She believes that Western Mass., a culturally-rich area, could take the lead in focusing on arts education. Moving away from high stakes testing, she said, would free up tens of millions in education funding that could be re-allocated to other educational initiatives.

You can read Kline’s Create the Vote questionnaire here:

Participants in one or more of the three meetings included Barbara Schaffer Bacon, Co-Director, Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts; Dee Boyle-Clapp, Arts Extension Service, UMASS Amherst; Alexandra de Montrichard, Manager of Strategic Initiatives, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art; Jim Hicks, Executive Editor, Massachusetts Review; Erin Williams, Director of Cultural Development, City of Worcester; Emily Wojcik, Managing Editor, Massachusetts Review; Ellen Keiter, Chief Curator, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art; Andrea Powers, Director of Finance and Administration, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art; and Rebecca Miller Goggins, Director of Development, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Create the Vote 2018 is a nonpartisan campaign to raise awareness of the ways that arts and creative expression improve schools, strengthen local business districts, and build vibrant neighborhoods in which people want to live, work, and play. Members of the campaign are meeting with federal, state, and municipal political candidates to discuss the candidates’ views on the arts and cultural community and the role that culture, creativity, and the arts should play in state and local government.

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