In Deval Patrick’s shadow, Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls make their pitches in Pittsfield

PITTSFIELD — In January 2006, a former Clinton administration lawyer and first-time candidate named Deval Patrick came here, to the heart of Berkshires, and wowed hundreds of Democratic activists with a soaring address about the future of the Democratic Party.

This afternoon, at the same event hall, the five Democrats vying to succeed him pitched themselves to more than 200 local activists, but stayed a bit closer to earth.

In 10-minute stump speeches that mixed biography highlights with distillations of their top policy priorities, the candidates made their cases that they were best equipped to next lead the state. Mostly eschewing grand vision, they spoke soberly about issues ranging from job creation to education to health care, many emphasizing their progressive bona fides.

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“There are no great orators here, but they’re all capable candidates and they all share my values,” Michael F. Wilcox, 67, a local activist from Alford deeply involved in Democratic politics, said after the event concluded.

As the crowd filed out aferward, Mary Pat Akers, a Great Barrington Democrat who helped organize the event at the Sons Of Italy ITAM 564 Lodge — and was at the one in 2006 — recalled Patrick’s electrifying speech eight years ago.

“We’re sad to let Deval go,” she said of the governor, who has pledged not to run for third term.

Many in the crowd said they had not made up their mind on whom they would support, but liked getting a chance to see all the candidates in the same place and to compare and contrast them.

Attorney General Martha Coakley played up her local roots.

“It’s good to be back home,” she said, explaining she was born in nearby Lee and grew up in North Adams. In her remarks, she emphasized the need for economic fairness, improving education, and reducing the stigma of mental illness.

Treasurer Steven Grossman, who peppered his speech with references to local cultural and educational institutions, outlined his experience as a businessman and ticked through some of his priorities if he were elected governor. He said he would boost manufacturing jobs in the state and work to make pre-kindergarten universally acessible to all 4-year-olds, which he called “a moral responsibility.

Donald M. Berwick, who served under President Obama as the head of the country’s massive Medicare and Medicaid programs, worked to position himself as more liberal than his four opponents. He said there should a renewed focus on social justice and said he was only candidate to put single-payer health care for Massachusetts “on the table.”

Juliette Kayyem, a former state and federal homeland security official, invoked Patrick by name a few times in her speech, noting he chose her to be the state’s first Undersecretary for Homeland Security. Kayyem, who was also a columnist for the Globe editorial page for two years, emphasized her personal history as well, saying she is “the daughter of a Lebanese immigrant family,” and her leadership credentials.

Joseph C. Avellone, an executive at a bio-pharmaceutical research firm and a former chief operating officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, focused his words on the need to reduce health care costs and improve the number of jobs available in the state.

Senator Edward J. Markey kicked off the program with a passionate 19-minute speech, riffing on Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision for the United States and touching on almost every hot-button liberal issue from climate change to the criminal sentencing reform to the Affordable Care Act. He received a standing ovation.

“We need to protect and strengthen ObamaCare,” Markey said. “That is what Dr. King would want.”

He lauded local Democrats for helping to elect him and Elizabeth Warren, and said they would help elect one of the Democrats at the front of the room as the state’s next governor.

There are others, however, vying to succeed Patrick.

On the Republican side, Charlie Baker, his party’s 2010 gubernatorial nominee is running, as is Mark R. Fisher, a political newcomer from Shrewsbury.

Two independent candidates have also launched bids: Evan Falchuk, an attorney and former business executive; and evangelical Christian pastor Scott Lively.

Venture capital investor Jeffrey S. McCormick, an independent, is seriously considering a run as well.