Retirement Today, Campaign Tomorrow; Open Legislative Races Form Quickly…
Just a couple weeks after nomination papers became available, the complexion of the 413’s open legislative races is coming into focus. Between falling dominos and shock retirements, at least three seats will be open in the Springfield area in addition to a Senate race (mostly) in the Berkshires. Some challengers to incumbents may emerge, too.
Longmeadow Senator Eric Lesser’s decision to run for lieutenant governor opened his redrawn district. Ludlow’s rep jumped in, opening that seat. Meanwhile, the dean of the 413’s delegation, Joseph Wagner of Chicopee, announced last month he was calling it career. In the Berks, Senator Adam Hinds is also pursuing the lieutenant governorship, though the race to succeed him has been somewhat sleepy.
The loss of influence and institutional memory varies considerably among the retirements. Ludlow’s seat, which now blossoms northward toward Quabbin Reservoir, experienced a bigger jolt two years ago when Thomas Petrolati bailed. The story is different in the Chicopee-exclusive 8th Hampden District.
With Wagner’s retirement shall go a tremendous amount of clout Chicopee has built over his decades of service. A canny, quiet operator, Wagner had an almost Forrest Gump-like penchant to appear in several statewide policy debates. West Springfield Rep Michael Finn, whose district includes a scrape of Wagner’s hometown, has seen his stock rise, but it could be years before Chicopee again sees the influence Wagner consolidated.
Into that void so far is Chicopee City Councilor Shane Brooks. He announced his campaign on February 21 after about a week of contemplation. Despite losing the Council Presidency this year, Brooks can probably tap into establishment support in the city. Serving as Council President also undoubtedly raised his profile, too. There is some evidence that record viewership of municipal proceedings during the pandemic has benefited incumbents.
Brooks may not be alone for long. While others are still looking at the race, or at least not ruling it out, another candidate has organized a campaign committee. Shirley Arriaga, who failed to secure an at-large Council seat last year has filed with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance. Yet, she has not confirmed a bid, yet.
“Since Representative Wagner’s surprising announcement regrading his retirement, I have had many supporters urging me to run,” she said in an email. She said she was considering what was best for Chicopee.
“Needless to say, I do find myself strongly considering running for the 8th Hampden representative seat,” Arriaga continued.
Arriaga placed fifth in the 2021 race for the city’s four at-large Council seats. She was 227 votes behind James Tillotson, who was elected.
Like Wagner, both Arriaga are Democrats. No Republicans have inched toward the seat, yet.
Next door in the 7th Hampden District, a very different race is coming together. In 2020, the district’s shape mostly spiraled outward from Ludlow. Jake Oliveira, a Democrat, overcame Republican James “Chip” Harrington in a close race. Both were members of the Ludlow School Committee at the time, leaving the town hotly contested territory. Harrington, prevailed in Ludlow—and in neighboring Chicopee precincts—but Oliveira outran him with his margins in Springfield and Belchertown.
After one term, Oliveira is seeking Senator Lesser’s seat. While Oliveira’s past work advocating for education made him a regular presence on Beacon Hill, the district is not losing much seniority.
Harrington is making another play for the House seat. However, its shape differs greatly after redistricting. Gone are the urban appendages, replaced with branches into Franklin, Hampshire and Worcester counties.
The day before Harrington confirmed he was in on February 25, former Ludlow Select Board member Aaron Saunders leapt into the race. This will set off another contest for support in their hometown—but with a twist. Saunders now lives in Belchertown.
Yet, the idea of a Belchertown hometown rep, which has not happened in decades if ever, could jazz up support there. Harrington and Saunders had a prior rivalry. Both ran against Lesser in the Democratic senate primary in 2014. Harrington switched to the GOP in 2016.
Of course, Oliveira vacated this seat for the senate race, which is taking shape on both sides of the aisle. Lesser’s exit stands somewhere between Wagner and Oliveira in terms of impact. On the one hand, eight years is not a short tenure for a Beacon Hill where frustration has risen in recent year. On the other, a skittish House and Republican governor has stymied the more progressive Senate in that time. Alternatively, longevity has also not been as powerful in the Senate as in the House. Members of the Upper chamber benefits from small size, larger staffs and somewhat broader political latitude.
With the district undulating into more Democratic territory like South Hadley after redistricting, the Democratic primary is receiving more attention. Oliveira’s only primary rival is Sydney Levin-Epstein so far, former campaign aide to US Senators Ed Markey and Jon Ossoff.
At this stage, there is not much to read on the status of the race. Oliveira is arguably far better known, with deep connections throughout the district that long predate his election to the House. Still, Levin-Epstein has barreled into the race, touting the speed at which she secured double the signatures needed to get on the ballot.
We officially gathered close to 600 signatures across the district — doubling the 300 minimum needed to secure my name on the ballot.
And we’re just getting started #TeamSydney
— Sydney Levin-Epstein (@SYDNEYRACHAEL_) March 5, 2022
On the Republican side, East Longmeadow attorney John Harding and Granby businessman William Johnson have filed with OCPF.
In Senator Hinds’s wake is also an open contest. For now, it serves as an indirect reminder of population shifts have left the Berkshires with fewer legislators overall.
Peru State Rep Paul Mark is running for Hinds’s seat, yet Mark will have no successor in the House. His district, which current strings across the Berkshire up to Greenfield, has been dismantled in redistricting. Maintaining Mark’s seat could have required considerable cartographic maneuvering. Instead, facing no opposition as of now, he could slide into the Senate quite easily.
Candidates other than the incumbents have filed in two other house races. Paula Evans-Kingsbury has filed in the 1st Berkshire and Jeffrey Raymond filed in the 2nd Franklin Districts. Reps John Barrett, III, a Democrat, and Susannah Whipps, an independent, have not given any indication that they are retiring.