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Briefings: Valley Political Life Still a Picnic with Cocchi…

Sheriff Nick Cocchi. (via Twitter/@nickforsheriff)

SPRINGFIELD—Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe may have retired, but some of his traditions, if in a different form, live on. What would have been Ashe’s 40th clambake had he not retired was, in fact, not a clambake. But his successor Nicholas Cocchi has not allowed the annual political get-together to wither either.

Returning to the grounds of the Elks Club on Tiffany Street here in Springfield, Cocchi hosted his first annual summer picnic. The menu was a bit different—sausage, pepper and onions, a reported hit—and so was some of the setup. Being a municipal year with none of the mayor’s races capturing Valley political attention, the politics were a little low-key. But the event still drew gubernatorial candidates, local and state pols and other bigwigs from the region.

Cocchi took over for Ashe earlier this year after years-long, sometimes fraught contest. Few offices have the reach and broad hiring authority the sheriff has. Over 42 years in office, Ashe developed a national reputation and influence in local politics.  The annual clambake was perhaps the most visible manifestation of the latter.

For Cocchi, however, the emphasis was not on the electeds. Instead, he said in an interview the goal was connecting with constituents and “listening to the needs of the men and women of Western Mass.”

Cocchi said at least 550 people had passed through by the time he spoke with WMassP&I around 6pm. The event was not over, yet either.

Hampden Sheriff Michael Ashe introducing Elizabeth Warren, in background, at the 2012 clam bake. (WMassP&I)

Ashe’s clambake remains of the big political draws in Greater Springfield along with the Longmeadow Democrats’ breakfast. Although Ashe is a Democrat, it drew politicians of all parties. Nearly the entire field for governor, and other offices, showed in 2014. Both then-Senator Scott Brown and now-Senator Elizabeth Warren stopped by in 2012. Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin is a frequent guest.

Although the statewide constitutional officers’ elections are not until next year, Cocchi’s picnic still drew statewide figures. Two of the three declared Democratic gubernatorial candidates, former State Secretary of Administration & Finance Jay Gonzalez and Newton Mayor Setti Warren, attended. Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, a Republican, also made an appearance.

With Warren, Galvin, Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deb Goldberg and Auditor Suzanne Bump all up next year, interest in meeting with lower Pioneer Valley voters will be high.

Asked whether his picnic would be around to serve that need, Cocchi’s response was unequivocal. “You can count on it,” he said.