This is the First in a Series on Massachusetts State House Races in the Pioneer Valley
LONGMEADOW—Until this month and after scandal broke in the 2nd Hampden Republican primary, only signs for Marie Angelides held watch over lawns in this largely suburban State House district. They competed for real estate with Elizabeth Warren’s soft blue signs and Scott Brown’s signs belching “Brown.” Then, in October’s final stretch, there were new neighbors.
Signs for Representative Brian Ashe’s reelection campaign suddenly began to dot the landscape across Longmeadow and elsewhere in the district. Bright and conveniently sporting a short name easily read in bold letters, they stand in stark contrast to that of his opponents. Of course, signs do not vote.
The Ashe-Angeldies race has the same principals as 2010, however under somewhat different circumstances. Redistricting altered the 2nd Hampden in two significant ways. The two precincts of Springfield in the district were removed, the same two where Ashe’s parents, Donald, the Registrar of Deeds, and Maragaret live. Complicating comparisons further, East Longmeadow reworked their precincts. The district now has three newly drawn precincts in that town, as well as Longmeadow, Hampden and Monson.
The loss of the two Springfield precincts was seen early in the campaign as an ominous sign for Ashe. In 2010 he beat Angelides, a Longmeadow Select Board Member, by 494 votes. The margin in Ashe’s favor in Springfield was 520 votes. Of course the comparison is difficult anyway as more than 3000 votes dropped off between 2008 when Ashe was first elected, defeating Republican William Schibelli, and 2010 when he was reelected.
Still the shifts in the district present challenges that many Ashe supporters are aware. At a fundraiser in Longmeadow, Ashe, a one-time Longmeadow Select Board Member, greeted supporters from the town and across the commonwealth. In attendance were local Democratic representatives like Angelo Puppolo and Michel Finn as well as reps Paul Mark of Peru and John Fresolo of Worcester. Ashe’s parents, Hampden County Sheriff Mike Ashe (no relation), Longmeadow School Committee Chair Michael Clark and East Longmeadow School Committee member Deirdre Mailloux were also in attendance as well as Longmeadow Democratic Town Committee Chair and Vice-Chair Candy Glazer and Saul Finestone.
Clark, 22, vouched for Ashe saying he knew Ashe, “not as a representative, but as a person.” The then freshman representative backed Clark, still in college, rather vigorously, in the latter’s earlier, unsuccessful 2010 Select Board bid even though in Clark’s words, “he hardly knew me.”
Puppolo, who introduced Ashe, said the Longmeadow Democrat was “well educated” on the issues and that “nobody fights harder” than him for the district. Puppolo and Ashe both currently represent parts of Springfield and East Longmeadow and will continue to represent different parts of East Longmeadow under the new map.
Ashe, in a brief interview with WMassP&I, acknowledged that he has some headwinds in this race. Prior to his election four years ago, the district has been represented by two Republicans over a nearly thirty year period. Yet, Ashe agrees that the district has undergone changes since then.
Ashe, who grew up in Springfield, says Longmeadow has more families that, like his, have decamped from Springfield and other cities, attracted by the town‘s good schools. Indeed, the town’s political complexion has left it in Democrats’ column in 2008 and 2010, when many of Springfield’s suburbs chose Charles Baker over Deval Patrick for governor. Indeed, Ashe also carried Longmeadow.
Other changes, not necessarily political ones, are evidence in the town of 15,000 that makes up almost half the district’s population. New restaurants have set up in the town obtaining some of the town’s newest liquor licenses in years.
Ashe views the district’s evolution more practically. He notes that 2010 was also the pinnacle of the Tea Party and politics, at least locally, have “come back to reality.” In his view, there is less anti-incumbent furor and he expects voters to judge candidates on quality. “Don’t miss anybody,” he said noting that doing the job right means doing it for everybody in the district, something Ashe supporters says he does. If he were only representing the Democrats in the district, he added “Shame on me.”
From Angelides’ end, the race has already been tumultuous. During the summer, she faced now-former East Longmeadow Selectman Jack Villamaino in the Republican primary. Observers are unsure who would have won that contest, although Villamaino had been defeated by Angelides in 2010’s primary as well. The primary this year was upended after allegations of election tampering implicated Villamaino and an employee of the town. The two later reportedly married ostensibly to establish spousal privilege.
Villamaino ultimately resigned from the East Longmeadow Select Board and his campaign imploded leaving the primary to Angelides. The investigation is ongoing. WMassP&I reached out to Angelides’ campaign via email to gather her sense of the district and the race, but did not receive a response by time of posting. Angelides was elected to the Select Board in 2011.
Since the primary, the Reminder has reported that she has worked to rally supporters. Angelides is likely working with the Western Mass Victory Office Republicans established in East Longmeadow but, institutionally, it may not provide her with as much support as the Democrats can for Ashe.
Organization and the impact of other races are clearly other veins in this race. Although turnout will almost certainly be higher than 2010, if not quite as high as 2008, the US Senate race could alter the dynamics to an unknown effect. Of the four towns in the district, Longmeadow the likeliest to go for Warren, probably boosting Ashe. Yet Hampden, probably the least Democratic town in the district, could boost Angelides numbers. However, Ashe may have more crossover appeal to Brown voters that Angelides does with Warren voters.
Glazer, Longmeadow Democrats’ chairwoman, pointed to strong grassroots efforts that could bolster Ashe. “It’s an interesting race because it is a new district,” Glazer said as the fundraiser was winding down. She called Ashe’s victory in 2008 “very historic” given the district’s proclivity for Republicans in the past. However, Glazer also said, highlighting voter outreach efforts, that the district is filled with unenrolled voters who can appreciate that Ashe has stayed local and visible in the district.
Clark, who is serving his second year on the School Committee, is also field organizing for Ashe and emphasized this point as well. He noted that that Ashe‘s supporters are working hard to get the message out. “I think people are responding to it,” he continued.
Clark cited Ashe’s work to persuade the Massachusetts School Building Authority to assist in the renovation of Longmeadow High School. “He was on the phone a lot with the MSBA to get this project accomplished,” Clark said of Ashe, whose children attend Longmeadow schools. “People know Brian,” Clark added offering as another example, Ashe’s near constant presence in Monson following the June 2011 tornadoes.
Of course Ashe’s biggest supporters are his family. His wife, Sonja and two children were at the fundraiser too. “I would do anything to help,” Sonja Ashe said adding that she designed many of his campaign materials like lawn signs and literature. Mentioning that the family often canvasses together, she says, with a mix of maternal anxiety and pride, she senses that the couple’s son may have “been bitten by the political bug” too.