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A Fifth of Hampden: Beaudry Wants to Bridge Holyoke’s Divides…

A Fifth of Hampden is a series of profiles of candidates for Holyoke’s Next Rep

Patrick Beaudry

Pat Beaudry’s kickoff in early March. (WMP&I)

HOLYOKE—Patrick Beaudry almost ran for office last year. A longish time at-large city councilor was bailing. Beaudry, home for three years after a career in state politics, had the cred to make a serious bid as a first-time candidate. Instead, he held off and does not regret it.

Beaudry had just finished his capstone project for his masters even as his working at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) as its public affairs manager. That came after gigs for legislators on Beacon Hill, the state Democratic party and a prominent Boston political consultancy. It was time to catch his breath

“And when this thing popped early this year,” he said referring to the rep seat opening, “I just knew that I was grateful that I had made that decision I did because I was fresh.”

Beaudry is one of three Democrats vying for the nomination to the Holyoke-only 5th Hampden District. The incumbent, Aaron Vega is retiring after four terms. Beaudry faces Vega’s aide, Patricia Duffy, whom Vega endorsed, and Ward 3 Councilor David Bartley—son of the like-named former Massachusetts House speaker and former Holyoke Community College president.

Beaudry’s kickoff, in another time. (WMP&I)

Despite his opponents’ apparent advantages, Beaudry, 33, has pitched himself as a homegrown product of the public schools with ties to the city’s historic factions. In the Beforetimes, Beaudry’s kickoff filled a hall at the city’s quirky Wherehouse? with a cross-section of the city’s political classes.

Beaudry’s resume seemingly augurs in favor his argument, too. He has worked for Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, one of the commonwealth’s leading progressives, and Vega’s predecessor Michael Kane, a townier Holyoke figure. His background as spokesperson for the state Democrats and the PVPC could also help him as rep.

“I really want to open up state government to our district and really have people feel like they understand exactly what’s moving at any given time, what the possibilities are to change it,” Beaudry said.

Beaudry spoke with WMP&I in an interview in his backyard in the city’s Oakdale neighborhood. Sitting in a mask as his dog Indiana alternated between frolicking and needing attention, Beaudry acknowledged the irony that his first bid for office was also his first COVID campaign. Yet, after lockdowns eased, the campaign became semi-normal. For example, he began knocking doors regularly. One problem was he was doing too much himself.

“I definitely burned out early as a result,” he said. “And once I was smart enough to start asking for help, once I realized people really wanted to help, we’ve just been traveling at a clip ever since.”

Despite endorsing Duffy, Beaudry cast no aspersion on Vega. Rather, Beaudry wants to pick up one of Vega’s crowning achievements.

Last year, the Student Opportunity Act, a reallocation of state funding for public schools, passed. Vega was a lead sponsor. The pandemic had crushed hopes of fully funding it this year, but better than expected revenue figures give hope for future appropriations.

“I think it’s probably where I’m going to be the squeakiest wheel,” he said.

Drawing from his work at the PVPC, Beaudry has an interest in planning and development needs of cities like Holyoke. Yet, the arc of his career did not begin with the expectation of becoming a policy maven.

Sen. Chang-Diaz is a Beaudry fan. (via Wikipedia)

After graduating from Suffolk University, Beaudry, acting on a tip from a friend, took a job the office of the office of newly elected Senator Chang-Diaz. He became her scheduler, giving him a crash course in balancing and prioritizing the time of an in-demand elected. He left a good impression on Chang-Diaz.

Asked how she thought Beaudry would do as a rep, Chang-Diaz replied, “Fantastic! Truly, Holyokers would be hard pressed to find a more talented and committed person.”

“Patrick is smart, savvy, and burns with a sense of justice and injustice,” she wrote in an email. Beaudry’s dedication to the Paper City was unmistakable, she continued. “He knows how to navigate the halls of power, but he’s never forgotten where he comes from. The everyday struggles of Holyokers–be they 4th generation or new arrival–are his North Star.”

Beaudry began working for then-rep Kane when his office took on another aide, working alongside now-Holyoke Clerk Brenna Murphy McGee. Vega’s 2012 bid for rep had been a challenge to Kane, but the latter resigned for a private sector job before the election. (Beaudry said he and Vega later met to discuss how they could work together). In 2013, Beaudry worked on the 2013 special Senate election—for Stephen Lynch in the primary and Ed Markey in the general—before moving over to Liberty Square Group.

After a year there, he became communications director for the state Democratic party through the 2014 gubernatorial cycle and beyond. As the party’s top spokesperson, he gained experience but the role of attack dog did not always suit him.

“Not having the opportunity to talk about any of the positives wore thin,” he said.

When he came upon the PVPC job, he had not been thinking about returning home to Holyoke. After meeting with Tim Brennan, the agency’s longtime director who passed away this March, he knew he wanted the job. That was 2016 and so began Beaudry deep dive into planning policy.

Pre-pandemic Pat packing petitioning papers. (via Twitter/@Pat_Beaudry

A laid back, almost surfer-like mien belies Beaudry’s appetite for policy. His master’s degree focused on Gateway Cities, a designation for urban communities like Holyoke. The term came into vogue as part of then-Governor Deval Patrick’s economic policy. MassInc recognized Beaudry as a Gateway Cities leader in 2018.

Yet, many investments have not sparked hoped-for revivals. The state cannot just make businesses fill empty storefront in non-Boston urban Massachusetts.

One major success was downtown Lowell. The city could work with its UMass branch and community college to expand downtown.

That “put a ton of working people on the sidewalks, in the restaurants and coffee shops of downtown Lowell every single day,” Beaudry said. In other words, the state can facilitate foot traffic through its workforce. He pointed to HCC’s growing presence in downtown Holyoke as having potential.

Beaudry notes that Holyoke has capacity to grow. It was once 50% larger than its current population of 40,000. To grow, it must arrest decline and blight before it consumes a block and then a neighborhood. State tax incentives can help build housing and stabilize neighborhoods.

Another impactful issue is one voters rarely mention: zoning reform. People facing hard times often cannot find affordable housing anywhere but cities like Holyoke. Though Beaudry was careful to note the issue is not assistance programs themselves.

“Human outcomes, in my mind, are going to be more positive when we distribute the families having a hard time out across the Commonwealth, and allowing all communities do their part to ensure their success and their stabilization,” he said.

Transportation is another huge issue in the campaign and in PVPC’s ambit. The organization was instrumental in developing Greenfield and Springfield rail service—with a Holyoke stop. Beaudry also supports better connections to Boston, echoing the call for East-West rail evangelist Eric Lesser.

However, Beaudry is also thinking about other modes. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he observed, bikes have sold out. Public transit was in a crisis even before the coronavirus.  While the MBTA in Boston has long been a hot mess, it enjoys a large ridership among those who have options.

“The PVTA is primarily ridden by people who depend on the PVTA. It’s not a ridership of choice,” he said. With the right investments, frequency and reliability could improve, especially between communities. It could even become reliable enough to facilitate a night out between Holyoke and Northampton for example

His face here (again)?

Whoever wins the primary, that person will be among a few citywide officials as Holyoke heads for transition. The fractures of the city’s political wars from the last ten years are not as apparent, but their impacts echo.

Beaudry argues he can cross those lines and work with city electeds as a team as Holyoke steams through the pandemic and beyond. He has praised his challengers for mostly keeping the race positive despite a few jabs amongst each other at forums. Whoever wins, he wants to work with him or her to help the city.

Of course, he still hopes he is the one who is getting help from them.

“Failure of this community is not an option,” he said. “I just continue to tell people that you give me your vote on September 1, and I’ll give you two years of representation on Beacon Hill you can be proud of.”