Primary Responsibilities, General Considerations for Pat Leahy…
HOLYOKE—Among the Leahy brothers, there appear to be two directions. A couple are into politics, if only part time. Most of the others are cops. While both practicality and scheduling would prohibit Patrick Leahy from doing both at the same time, he already has a political background on his resume and is currently locked in a primary with an eye to adding senator to his name.
Leahy, stereotypically built like a cop, but with a disarming wit and a pearly white smile, has had visibility as a member the community policing unit here. For a time, it seemed Leahy was headed to a career in politics in the executive branch. However, after former Treasurer Shannon O’Brien’s 2002 gubernatorial bid fizzled, Leahy’s path became less political.
“I learned a lot about state government,” Leahy said of working for O’Brien. “Checks & Balances are absolutely central. That has followed with me to every other job.”
Leahy will face fellow Holyoker Christopher Hopewell in tomorrow’s Democratic primary in the 2nd Hampden & Hampshire Senate district. The winner will face freshman senator Don Humason, who won the seat in a special election following the resignation of Mike Knapik. The district includes four precincts in Chicopee as well as Agawam, Blandford, Easthampton, Holyoke, Montgomery, Russell, Southampton, Southwick, Tolland and Westfield.
The primary itself has been a considerably lower-key affair than the primary in the nearby 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate district, which is an open seat. Hopewell and Leahy differ on relatively few issues. Leahy has raised considerably more cash and earned many more endorsements, running a campaign with an eye to the general. What defines the race is who has a better shot at taking down Humason, the gregarious, but starkly conservative former Westfield rep.
During an interview at his home off of Route 5 here, Leahy was reluctant to describe exactly how he would take on Humason. Yet, he was keenly aware that a lack of contrast last year contributed to Humason’s win. At the same time, Leahy, through his command of the issues, came across as more progressive than his brother, Holyoke at-large Councilor James Leahy.
He did note Humason’s stances on social issues including abortion and marriage equality. “When you’re talking about Don Humason, you have to,” Leahy paused. “In 2002 he was the NARAL-Pro Choice endorsed candidate for State Rep.” Now, Leahy said, Humason was cosponsoring bills that require doctors to lecture women prior to an abortion. “How can you trust Don on any other issue?”
Leahy also accused Humason of attaching amendments to bills sure to pass and then voting against the bill to maintain a pristine conservative scorecard. He also compared Humason to Knapik, the latter of whom “definitely worked with both parties.”
Leahy also took issue with Hopewell’s claim that the former lacks any substance. Leahy smiled when the subject was raised and proceeded to discuss some of his focuses as a legislator.
Inspired by his work on the community policing squad, Leahy said early childhood education was high on the list. “If children don’t have these building blocks, kids are acting up.” He continued, “It is not that they are bad kids, it is that they are having trouble learning.”
Among the many dimensions of community policing are interacting with young children and while doing things like handing out books can help, Leahy expressed some dismay at how far behind a lot of kids are. Some are struggling to read while others are years behind their reading level.
Leahy is currently on leave from the force while campaigning, although he still has his real estate business on the side going. He has been a full-time cop in Holyoke since 2007. Prior to that he served in a reserve capacity while holding sales jobs for hospitality supply and medical device companies.
Before that he worked for both O’Brien’s gubernatorial campaign and her Treasurer’s office. In the former Leahy was employed by the unclaimed check department, which receives employees’ uncashed final check. For her gubernatorial campaign, Leahy worked on her field operation often reviving defunct local Democratic committees along the way. Incidentally, O’Brien was also the last Democrat to hold the very district Leahy now seeks.
Although born and raised in the Paper City, Leahy said responding to calls as a police officer really made him appreciate the extremes of the city, which mirror the district’s diversity, more clearly.
“I’ve worked with farmers and gun owners,” he said with a bit of laugh noting that the city still has working farms and its share of sportsmen who hunt and fish. Of course, deeper in the urban core, the city also has problems with gun violence, too. Likewise the district varies from urban grittiness to the undeveloped bucolic.
Not surprisingly, Leahy also expressed an interest in public safety initiatives. However, he did not think the issue was primarily a staffing. “They are nowhere near danger levels, but they are not at optimal levels.” Instead, Leahy expressed an interest in expanding the grant programs available to police departments such for gang suppression like the commonwealth’s Shannon grant.
Holyoke funds its community policing operations out of its general police budget, which Leahy said was unique, but he would like to see the commonwealth support such programs more broadly, which in turn might lighten the load on the department’s overall budget and that other communities’ police.
Leahy also lamented the state abdication of its responsibility as part of the Quinn Bill. Having an educated police force, he argued, made for better cops. Leahy acknowledged that some police were just going through the motions to get a bump in pay and that “checks and balances” put in safeguard against abuse made sense. However, many cops, unlike himself, may not otherwise receive higher education and thus get a broader set of experiences.
“I know for a fact that there are officers who only went to school because of the Quinn bills,” who, he said, “never sat in a class with people of different makeups. That’s eye-opening.”
It is not just skills for cops, though. Leahy described traveling around in the city’s former industrial heart and he observed that most of the buildings are not vacant, despite their apparent condition, but rather “underutilized.” During one call to such a factory, he struck a conversation with a manager who lamented that he could not find properly trained workers for his precision welding business. Rep. Aaron Vega, Leahy said, has been pushing for better pipelines to such jobs directly from the vocational schools.
“If I lose this race, I will become a precision welder,” he said perhaps only half-jokingly.
Campaign life for Leahy has been draining at times especially with an infant daughter at home, but there are always calls to make or an event to attend. After the interview with WMassP&I, Leahy was due to attend the Hampen County District Attorney’s debate in Westfield.
“Our organization has grown,” Leahy said. Leahy said he planned to run a grassroots campaign that would defeat Humason “on door steps and in people’s living rooms.” Over the last several weeks and since Leahy brought on Mark Riffenburg as field director, phone banks and other outreach events have become frequent with an eye toward gathering campaign data for both the primary and the general.
Leahy has spent a lot of time also building a coalition to corral support beyond Holyoke, which, regardless of the nominee, will be a base for Democrats in November. In the primary, it appears Democrats have been coalescing around Leahy, whom many Democrats consider more electable.
The cities along the northern edge of the district went hard for Elizbaeth Warren in 2012. Leahy will need similarly high turnout from those communities counteract Humason’s strength in the district’s south—if Leahy wins the primary tomorrow of course.
Leahy is not relying on party loyalty alone though, and is angling for crossover votes, “When they vote in this district, they vote the person not the party.”