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Briefings: Joe Said It Was So; Wagner to Retire from Legislature…

Joe Wanger

Rep Joe Wagner, presumably not shoeless. (via Twitter/@RepWagner)

Apparently, longtime Chicopee Rep Joseph Wagner felt Ludlow could not have all the electoral fun in Hampden County this cycle.

On Tuesday, Wanger, the dean of the 413’s legislative delegation, announced he would not seek another term representing the Chicopee-centric 8th Hampden District. Other reps, including many that have retired in recent cycles, had gained influence that transcended leadership on Beacon Hill. Yet, Wagner has wielded it quietly, retaining key posts under most of the 21st century’s Massachusetts speakers.

“I want to express my thanks to the voters of Chicopee for placing their trust in me to serve as their voice at the State House,” Wagner said according to Spectrum News.

“My work is not finished. For the remainder of my term, I will aggressively pursue an agenda which includes working to relieve the burden of the impacts of inflation on the costs of housing, home heating and healthcare, particularly for seniors living on fixed incomes,” he continued.

Among the priorities Wagner listed was fully funding the Student Opportunity Act, transportation funding, environmental remediation and rescue plan funding.

The Republican first reported Wagner’s retirement.

Wagner is retiring as second assistant majority leader of the House. Such a plum can be easy to overlook in a legislative chamber caked in obscure honoraria. For Wagner though, it meant several substantive legislative committees during his career.

Both in Western Massachusetts and on Beacon Hill, Wagner kept a low profile. He is not invisible, however, and frequently attends groundbreakings, announcements and openings. Candidates court his support and he can swing a large bat in Chicopee politics. Still, he has assiduously avoided controversy in public and behind the scenes unlike the last dean of the delegation, Ludlow’s Thomas Petrolati. “Petro” retired in 2020.

Wagner’s retirement drew praise from Hampden Sheriff Nicholas Cocchi, West Springfield Rep Michael Finn and Springfield Senator Adam Gomez, among others.

In leaving the seat, Wagner could uncork brewing ambition in the 413’s second city that has had little other outlet. Citywide officeholders, including Clerk, Treasurer & Board of Assessor, tend to stick around for a long time. The mayoralty changes over more often, but it is not for everyone. Chicopee has been split among multiple state senate districts for years, complicating bids there. The rep seat could be very attractive to a wide pool of candidates. That was on Wagner’s mind.

“My intention, in making this announcement, is that anyone interested in running for the Eighth Hampden seat will have time to make a thoughtful and informed decision and to organize a campaign that is worthy of consideration by Chicopee voters,” he said, according to Spectrum.

Chicopee City Hall undergoing renovations a few years ago. Its elected offices have undergone changes to and Wagner’s retirement adds to the list. (via G.Michael Dobbs/Reminder)

In its current form, the 8th Hampden fits snugly inside Chicopee along. Three other chunks lie in district with anchors in Ludlow, Springfield and West Springfield. However, redistricting last year unfurled the 8th Hampden into all of Chicopee save two exceptions. The 6th Hampden, which West Springfield’s Finn holds, will keep a foothold in Chicopee. Holyoke State Rep Patricia Duffy’s 5th Hampden will take on a Willimansett precinct in Chicopee.

That makes the seat available to nearly the full spread of Chicopee pols, from newcomers to the City Council and School Committee to political mainstays. The district favors Democrats, but this year’s environment could give the GOP a chance, too.

This is a massive shift from 1991 when Wagner won the seat in a special election. Chicopee Rep Kenneth Lemanski had resigned for a job at a psychiatric facility. Many once thought he was Edward Boland’s heir, but Springfield Mayor Richard Neal ended up congressman.  Three years later, the Chicopee rep quit the legislature after House leadership gave the Ways & Means chairmanship to Thomas Finneran of Boston.

The special Democratic primary pitted Wagner, then an aide to Chicopee Mayor Joseph Chessy, against Lauren McCarthy and George Moreau. Wagner prevailed by 72 votes ahead of McCarthy and Moreau. McCarthy would go on to become—and remain—an elected assessor in Chicopee. Moreau left the City Council to run in the special election but would return to the body. He passed away in 2016.

Wagner defeated Eliott Cutter in the special general election that autumn. He has faced no serious opposition since.