Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley talks with Diane Hewitt, a Groton resident and member of Stop the Pipeline Coordinating
Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley talks with Diane Hewitt, a Groton resident and member of Stop the Pipeline Coordinating Committee, at Friday morning's Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce event at Devens. sun / amelia pak-harvey

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DEVENS -- Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Martha Coakley is firing back at opponent Steve Grossman's criticisms about the Partner's HealthCare merger her office has been negotiating.

The Democratic front-runner visited Devens to speak with local business leaders on Friday, just one day after news broke that a judge has granted her request for a delay in the court hearing on the settlement.

The agreement would allow Partners HealthCare to acquire South Shore Hospital and two Hallmark Health hospitals while restricting its costs and growth throughout the next decade. The deal still requires court approval.

Grossman wrote a letter to Coakley's campaign in June criticizing her for negotiating the deal in secrecy and urging her to fully disclose the details of the merger.

"It doesn't make any sense," she said of the letter after her campaign stop with the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce. She argued that her office filed the agreement with the court and said it was open to comments.

Now, she said, the comment period has been moved to the end of September precisely so that everybody who wants to comment can do so.

"The proceedings are public, it'll be in public before the court," she said. "So I really don't understand where his letter's coming from.



Coakley said it only made sense to wait to go before the judge until her office receives the final Health Policy Commission report on the settlement.

"In the meantime, other parties, either competitors or other individuals, have an opportunity to file concerns or positive feedback with us," she said. "We're soliciting comments now, so we'll be looking at and talking to people who filed comments in the meantime."

In her talk with members of the Chamber of Commerce, Coakley focused on education -- a relevant topic to an industrial area that relies on a work force with the appropriate training and vocational skills.

"I think we've got a great future here in Devens, and I think that we got that opportunity particularly because we are a state that invests in education," she said.

She said the state should be looking into universal pre-kindergarten and longer school days.

"I think that as we have done education reform and brought up standards, which was something very necessary, we also now need to look at how we continue to educate our kids in a way that keeps them engaged, that keeps them excited, that gives them the tools for the future," she said. "Not just learning for a test, not just learning information that they can then circle."

But one of the region's most pressing issues didn't escape Coakley's main focus on education.

Groton resident Richard Hewitt, a member of the Stop the Pipeline Coordinating Committee, asked what her general views were on the proposed Kinder Morgan natural-gas pipeline to run from New York to Dracut.

Hewitt cited an "unprecedented tariff" being proposed to fund the project and asked if there is anything her office can do to "slow this train down" so that people have a chance to learn about the pipeline.

The project would require approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Coakley agreed that the issue of the tariff is unprecedented, and said sometimes there is a sense on the federal government's side that they know better.

"I think it has to be more transparent about what the cost benefit is and what the costs are," she said of the project.

She said her office is looking into the multiple issues surrounding the pipeline.

"What I've found is that when you have issues like this, the best thing is to get the companies, your legislators, your activists, your environmentalists in the same room to talk about what the facts are," she said.

A recent Boston Globe poll shows Coakley leading the Democratic field of candidates, which includes Grossman and Institute for Healthcare CEO Don Berwick. 

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