Those living in the western or southeast regions of Massachusetts might say there aren’t many economic and social similarities between the two.
Eric Lesser, a candidate for lieutenant governor, would argue otherwise.
A Democratic state senator from Longmeadow, Lesser traveled to Bristol County on July 12 to campaign for the upcoming primary election on Sept. 6. Lesser faces competition against Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and State Rep. Dr. Tami Gouveia of Acton.
Lesser has visited the southeast part of the state on multiple occasions as the chair of the Gateway Cities Caucus. He said municipalities like North Attleborough and Mansfield share more in common with communities like Springfield than people might realize——namely their history as hubs of industry.
“Our gateway cities used to be our anchors of economic hubs,” Lesser said. “In Holyoke, they made paper, in Fall River they made textiles, in New Bedford, there’s fishing, in Lynn they made boots, in North Attleborough and Attleboro they made buttons, and in Springfield there were automobiles.”
The senator acknowledged that employment shifted away from industrial areas and towards research and development-type jobs found in towns and cities inside the corridor of Route 128 during the 1990s.
For Lesser, the strengthening of gateway cities is a hallmark of his campaign, as he believes improving public transportation and vocational school accessibility can help bring a variety of jobs to these communities.
“We can create thousands of jobs tomorrow by closing the waiting period at vocational schools that already exist and matching them with jobs across this region,” Lesser said. “It’s an exciting time for this neck of the woods but there are a lot of challenges that are needing addressing.”
Lesser said improvements to gateway cities would ease the affordable housing crisis by bringing more construction jobs to build more housing. He notes that there has been a high demand for housing, but not enough supply.
“This region is falling victim to these trends and you’ve seen very very fast housing prices, high rents and that’s something we got to work on,” he said. “
Lesser has also called for the implementation of East-West rail: a passenger train service that would connect Springfield, Worcester, and Boston. He said it would not only help those in western municipalities have greater access to other areas but that it could help ease traffic congestion on highways like I-90.
Lesser said what makes him different from the two other candidates was not only his experience working in state government, but in federal government during his time working for former President Barack Obama.
His passion for politics stems back to when he was 16 years old, when he and his classmates organized a proposition 2 and ½ override campaign against expected budget cuts. On election night he witnessed the vote tally live and was moved by the joy and relief on teachers’ faces after the residents voted against said cuts.
“There was a woman sitting next to me clutching a pink slip,” Lesser recounted. “When the vote passed, she ripped up the pink slip in relief. I just felt grateful and learned that despite the messiness of politics, its the most powerful way to make a difference.”
The Massachusetts Constitution states the lieutenant governor has two main jobs—to sit on the executive council and serve as governor if the current governor dies or becomes too sick to carry out their duties.
Lesser, however, sees the position as more than just a line of succession role. He said those who have formally served in the role, used their role as a platform to help communicate and connect with community leaders and residents. Lesser said he wants to take a “hands-on”’ approach—-acting as a partner for the governor, the legislature, and different towns and cities across Massachusetts.
“You learn in working in different types of communities, how to form relationships, how to be commutative,” Lesser said. “The lieutenant governor is the only other position in the state aside from the Governor that can work across boundaries and work on multi-disciplinary projects.”