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Briefings: Done Wrestling with Hiring, Oliveira Announces Senate Staff…

Jake Oliveira Staff

Olivengers… Assemble! (courtesy Oliveira office)

Less than a day before 2022 closed, Ludlow Senator-elect Jake Oliveira announced his staff for his upcoming term, signaling both continuity and his priorities. Oliveira won outgoing Senate Eric Lesser’s seat after a feisty primary and heated if less climactic general elections. Currently a state rep, Oliveira served on Ludlow’s School Committee and lobbied for the state universities. His choice of Devin Sheehan as chief of staff underscores how central education will remain in Oliveira’s new office.

Sheehan, a former Holyoke School Committee member, took that office around when Oliveira began serving on his town’s school board. They have remained close, actively supporting each other’s campaigns. In Sheehan and Oliveira’s legislative, district and communications hires, he has turned to a mix of new and familiar faces as he takes the handoff from Lesser.

“I am excited to work with this talented group of individuals. I have been able to hire a staff that is highly qualified and will bring a wealth of experience to my Senate Office,” Oliveira said in statement. “My staff and I are excited to serve the 12 communities of the District and we look forward to the work ahead of us.”

Oliveira takes the oath on Wednesday in Boston.

After Lesser retired to run for lieutenant governor, Oliveira, a freshman state rep, jumped into the open senate race. He overcame fellow Democrat Sydney Levin-Epstein and Republican Bill Johnson by focusing on his experience and record. Now he must make good on that promise while also filling the void his predecessor leaves.

In Sheehan, Oliveira has chosen a trusted former colleague deep in the weeds of education policy. Like Oliveira, Sheehan has been president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. Yet, Holyoke and Ludlow have quite divergent educational needs. Holyoke schools entered state receivership after decades of problems, but Sheehan fought to keep the Committee involved. In short, a diversity of public education experiences shall be in Oliveira’s office.

Yet, Sheehan, a graduate of Franklin Pierce University and UMass-Dartmouth, will provide more than niche value. He worked in procurement for Springfield Schools, a dry but essential government function. In 2021, he ran for mayor in Holyoke’s boisterous election, which touched on countless topics that also affect, Chicopee and Springfield. Both cities are in Oliveira’s district.

For Legislative Director, Oliveira turned to Soumia Aitelhaj, who recently did that job for outgoing Worcester Senator Harriett Chandler. She also worked in Senate President Karen Spilka’s office as a scheduler. An immigrant from North Africa, she has degrees in English and Diplomacy from Boston College and the Fletcher School.

Aitelhaj has gained attention for recording the culture, namely the poetry of her family’s people, the Imazighen. Known in the West as Berbers per a Boston College alumni magazine, her family and their ancestors had been marginalized over various colonizations. Following her graduation from college in 2010, she traveled to the region to document and preserve this legacy.

Oliveira hired Jennifer Pickering to be his district director, a role she currently holds in Lesser’s office. Holding three degrees in public policy, international affairs and the practice of social work, Pickering worked on fund development, sales, and marketing plans in the profit and nonprofit sectors. She joined Lesser’s office about three years ago.

Lesser Oliveira

Inheriting a district and a district director. (WMP&I)

Indeed, Lesser offered an emphatic endorsement of Pickering and her efforts for constituents casework, often central to district directors’ duties.

“Jennifer was an integral part of my team and has a deep and profound passion for helping others,” Lesser said in a text. “Jake is lucky to have her.”

Rounding out Oliveir’s staff are Derrick Cruz as communications director and Noah Green as a legislative aide. Cruz, a ward councilor from Fitchburg, has degrees in communications and fine arts. He has won awards for his work on Latino issues.

Green, a graduate of Bryan University with degrees in politics, law and global studies, comes to Oliveira’s office after serving on his campaign staff. While serving as finance director for the campaign, Green filled other roles in the ultimately successful campaign. A West Springfield resident, he came to the campaign at the recommendation of Oliveira’s colleagues in Westside. Green’s professional background includes supply chain management as well as local campaigns.