Longmeadow Daze: A Lesser Rally for the Post-Lesser Era…
LONGMEADOW—This well-heeled, even patrician suburb of Springfield was once a Republican paradise. The GOP held sway over nearly every state and local office. Now, it is an as integral part of the local Democratic coalition. On Tuesday outgoing State Senator Eric Lesser, State Rep Brian Ashe and the Democratic Town Committee were rallying for Ludlow State Rep Jake Oliveira in his quest to matriculate to the Senate.
Two weeks from Election Day, Lesser and Ashe came together to endorse their colleague running for the former’s seat. There was little doubt or intrigue about whether Lesser would back his fellow Democrat. However, the modest event, framed by the Community House, also not-too-subtly exuded a baton-passing vibe.
“It’s a little emotional for me to be in my hometown, to give my enthusiastic and really 100% support to Jake,” Lesser said. Behind him in the Community House early voting, including to elect his successor, was ongoing.
Highlighting Oliveira’s work on Ludlow’s school committee, Lesser also praised his aspiring successor’s political insight. Oliveira was one of Lesser’s calls in 2014 when he first ran for state senator after working for then-President Barack Obama.
“Nobody gave a more trenchant analysis, the dynamics and the ups and downs and the different the different things to keep in mind,” he said.
The senate district will formally become the Hampden, Hampshire & Worcester after 2022. Palmer, South Hadley and Warren will join the district from next year. However, it will then include less of Chicopee and Springfield. Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow, and Wilbraham remain in the district unchanged.
After a lively battle with former congressional aide Sydney Levin-Epstein of Longmeadow, Oliveira secured their party’s nomination for the state senate. Lesser, busy with his own race for lieutenant governor, made no public preferences, though both offered public support to his statewide campaign. In their owns ways both Levin-Epstein and Oliveira, jockeyed to be his natural successor.
Next month, Oliveira faces Republican businessman Bill Johnson of Granby. The dynamics of the district and the likely victory of Attorney General Maura Healey in the governor’s race favor Oliveira. Yet, Johnson and allies are ceding nothing. A SuperPAC affiliated with Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, is paying for ads. Johnson himself has self-funding capacity.
Candidates of either party can benefit from Longmeadow residency in general elections. The premium has benefited both Ashe and Lesser as it benefited Mary Rogeness, a Republican, before Ashe. In his remarks, Ashe assured Oliveira, whose House district undulates out from Ludlow, would be “a great friend for Longmeadow.”
“He’s really blossomed into a great legislator. But even more importantly to me, he’s just so easy to talk with, he’s so easy to communicate with,” Ashe said, noting Oliveira’s ascent from teenage town meeting member to House colleague.
Longmeadow leans left in elections now. It is no longer remotely surprising Democrats like Daniel Zwirko, who attended the rally, win Select Board seats. Oliveira credited Longmeadow Democrats, and their former chair Candy Glazer, who was also present, for the town’s political transformation.
“I also wanted to, before I thank both of you a little bit more formally,” Oliveira said to Ashe and Lesser, “to thank the Longmeadow Democratic Committee.”
“Candy, you have been a tremendous mentor for me. Your building from the grassroots this town committee into something that’s a model for town committees throughout Western Massachusetts,” Oliveira continued, also recognizing the current chair Barbara Wenig.
For all the Oliveira accolades, the callbacks to Lesser were many. The 37 year-old retired from the Senate for his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic LG nod. Ashe joked that Oliveira punched his ticket as a state legislative aide and advocate for state universities. But Lesser went to the White House. He served as an aide to Obama advisor David Axelrod.
Even Oliveira, not quite two years younger than Lesser, recalled meeting voters while campaigning for rep in 2020 who saw similarities between the two Millennial pols.
“Oh, you’re like a young Eric Lesser,” Oliveira recalled. “Truth be told Eric and I are only a year and a half apart.”
More seriously, Oliveira feted Lesser’s work on East-West rail, now chugging forward at higher and higher speed as US Representative Richard Neal and even Baker, once a foe, have climbed aboard. The Ludlow Democrat also pointed to his senator’s early work on expanding access to anti-overdose tools like Narcan. It had a big impact in towns like Ludlow, Oliveira said, that the opioid crisis has hit hard.
“You should be taking a victory lap for that, because you’ve saved people’s lives,” he said to Lesser.
Throughout it all Lesser bashfully accepted the praise, however mildly wistful, from his two colleagues
“It’s a lot of fun, not every day. It’s a lot of fun. It’s really been the greatest professional honor in my life,” Lesser said of being in the Senate.
Even ticking off many of the same issues, Lesser closed on message.
“We’re at a very pivotal point at a lot of very, very long range policy that we’ve been working on very long time,” he continued. “Jake’s got the experience and he’s worked with Brian and I on these issues for the last seven years to get that done.”