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Analysis: Hoop City & the “L” Words in a Senate Campaign…

UPDATED 10:10PM: For clarity and to reflect a correction of Lesser’s age. He is 28, not 29 as previously given.  His birthday is later this year

Chicopee Democrats caucus, Political candidates mingle at the City Library (WMassP&I)

CHICOPEE—The race to replace Senator Gale Candaras was already looking crowded before Friday.  Two Ludlow town officials and a Longmeadow therapist had already gotten in.  A former White House staffer is on the cusp of declaring, but has formed his campaign committee.  Add, a well-respected City Council for the district’s largest community.

Thursday WMassP&I tweeted that Springfield Ward 7 Councilor Timothy Allen would jump into the race to succeed Candaras who is retiring to seek the technically vacant Registrar of Probate position in Hampden County.  Allen is running as a Democrat.

Allen told WMassP&I in a brief phone interview he was getting into the race to apply his experience and skills on Beacon Hill on behalf of the area.  “I want to do everything I can for my city and my region,” he said.

Councilor Tim Allen in 2012 (WMassP&I)

Councilor Tim Allen in 2012 (WMassP&I)

Allen joined his fellow Democrats running for the 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate district at Chicopee’s Democratic caucus today. The caucuses, which elect delegates to the party’s state nominating convention in Worcester, are a prime opportunity for candidates of all races to collect signatures, meet activists and learn about issues in the community.  Juliette Kayyem, a candidate for governor, was in attendance, as well as candidates for District Attorney and other legislative races.

Cong. Richard Neal opened the caucus discussing the importance of on the ground organizing and finding the right candidates to win independent towns that have drifted away from the Democratic party.  Chicopee City Committee Chairman Mike Pise, an at-large School Committee member, emceed the candidate speak-out portion of the caucus.

Allen’s decision to jump into the already crowded race may do little to alter the arithmetic of the primary.  As it was, the formation of the race had put the poles of the race at Longmeadow and Ludlow.  The affluent suburb to Springfield’s south so far only has Thomas Lachiusa formally declared.  Harvard Law student and former White House staffer Eric Lesser, a native of Longmeadow who recently returned to the area, has formed a campaign account and has appeared at many Valley political events.

Ludlow School Committee member “Chip” Harrington (WMassP&I)

In Ludlow Selectman Aaron Saunders and School Committee member James “Chip” Harrington have both entered the Democratic primary.  Saunders served as Candaras’ chief of staff for many years and has been a member of the Select Board for six.  He currently works for Comcast.  Harrington owns his own business and is an auxiliary police officer.  A member of the School Committee since 2005, Harrington has held myriad positions in Ludlow town government.  He was, until Rep. Angelo Puppolo backed off of a senate run, the only other declared Democrat.

Allen has served as Ward 7’s city councilor since 2010 when ward representation returned to City Hall.  The ward consists of nearly all of East Forest Park as well as the Outer Belt region of 16 Acres.  The ward in its entirety is in the senate district as well as pockets of Forest Park and non-Ward 7 parts of 16 Acres.  A few precincts from other wards are sprinkled into the senate district as well.

The 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate District in gray. Click for larger view. (via malegislature.gov)

The 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate District in gray. Click for larger view. (via malegislature.gov)

The district as a whole includes about a third of Chicopee and Springfield each, Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow and Wilbraham.

Allen’s time on the Council has been defined with diligence and a hands-on approach to the policy going through and originating in the body.  He has compiled a legislative record over four years including the demolition delay and zoning ordinances and been a supporter of strengthened residency, reform pawn shop regulations and repeal the biomass permit.  A college professor now, he was a Vice-President for IT at MassMutual, working in that department for many years.

An ally of the Council’s President, Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton, Allen chairs two of the ad hoc committees formed earlier this year.  He rose to some prominence along with Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards, as one of the councilors representing wards most deeply affected by the 2011 tornado.  Both Fenton and Edwards stood with Allen at his Friday announcement at City Hall.

With weight in two key suburbs of Springfield, the race for the senate seat does not seem particularly altered by Allen getting in.  In effect, it wipes away a great deal of Springfield as gettable territory for the other candidates and moves the battle to different places.

Ludlow Select Board Member Aaron Saunders (WMassP&I)

Ludlow, the largest town in the district, may be divide between Harrington and Saunders.  The question becomes whether it will tilt heavily in one or the other’s favor.  Both have appeared on Ludlow residents’ ballots, although Harrington more often.  The School Committee member also has cachet having hosted his television show on public access.  By comparison, Saunders as Candaras’ Chief of Staff, likely learned nearly all of the town’s pressure points.

Another wildcard is Rep. Thomas Petrolati, the town’s long-serving voice on Beacon Hill.  While rocked by the Probation Scandal, the Ludlow Democrat still casts a huge political shadow in his hometown.  Saunders’s name has surfaced from time to time as a potential successor to Petrolati in the house.

Eric Lesser center with Saul Finestone & Candy Glazer at Longmeadow Caucus (via Twitter/@EricLesser)

Eric Lesser, center, with Saul Finestone & Candy Glazer at Longmeadow Caucus (via Twitter/@EricLesser)

In Longmeadow, it would seem as though that town’s Democrats are poised to rally around Lesser.  Candy Glazer, the Democratic Town Committee Chair, is listed as his campaign chair in paperwork filed this past Monday.  A state committee member and one of the commonwealth’s Electors for President Obama in 2012, Glazer had been connecting Lesser to key Dems in the district.  Lesser served on Obama’s campaign from 2007-2008 and then in the White House as an aide to David Axelrod, one of the president’s top advisors.  Before leaving Washington to attend Harvard Law School, Lesser also served as director of strategic planning for the Council of Economic Advisors.

Lachiusa, a member of the town committee, announced the same day Puppolo pulled back.  Yet, it is not clear what pull he would have in the town or nearby communities.  Although Lesser, too, may not have much name recognition, he may have access to resources to change quickly that.

Harrington, Lesser and Saunders had been shuttling among the early caucuses in Springfield and Longmeadow to meet voters, such that it almost appeared they were carpooling.  In any case, the result is Ludlow split, but pulling in one direction and Longmeadow in the other.

2014 Springfield City Council Class photo (WMassP&I)

2014 Springfield City Council Class photo. Allen at far right. (WMassP&I)

Allen starts the game off with substantial name recognition as a popular councilor in a high turnout part of Springfield.  He won his race originally in 2009 with more than 60% of the vote.  With all of Ward 7 in his district, it will give him an edge in Springfield.  However, to win, Allen would either need to pull well into the 70’s range or beyond or build a sizable base outside of the city.

That puts the battle in places like Belchertown, Chicopee, Granby or even East Longmeadow.

Saunders, who has been endorsed by his old boss, may have been able to do some politicking  to get key Springfield figures with Candaras’ help.  That may still happen, but paying Saunders smaller dividend than without Allen.  Following in Candaras’ footsteps appears to be part of Saunders’s plan to build support outside of Ludlow, particularly in her hometown Wilbraham.  Her influence may only lap at Longmeadow’s political shores, where Glazer is at least as influential as the senator.  Before Chicopee Democrats, Saunders highlighted a tried and true Western Mass pitch: regional equity.

Harrington Campaign Photo (via Facebook/Harrington campaign)

Harrington appears to play a role of communitarian branching out.  As long as he has been in Ludlow town government, it is not quite right to use the word outsider.  While he may be a Ludlow insider, he could be positioning himself to be an outsider to the area establishment.  Adding a new item to his pitch from before Caucus, in Chicopee, he took up the cause of containing prescription drug abuse.

Lachiusa has not offered much about his campaign to evaluate.  He did not speak in Chicopee.

Eric Lesser at the Chicopee caucus (WMassP&I)

Lesser said he wanted to make the Springfield area more hospitable to young families like his.  In his brief discussions before caucuses, Lesser recognized his father, who served in the National Guard out of Westover.  Lesser continued saying many people “who want to stay here,” cannot for lack of opportunity.  He noted his background in Washington, but also organizing with Longmeadow Dem Saul Finestone to stop education cuts ordered by then-governor Romney.

Consequently, he may be serving that role as generation next, perhaps, the Benjamin Downing in the race.  Senator Downing, who represents Berkshire county and the western fringes of the 413’s other counties, ran for senate at 25 fresh off of career as a political aide, not unlike Lesser, 28.

Allen, almost out of character from his role as one of the council’s counter-establishmentarian members, approaches the race as an elder statesman figure.  Having slogged through the ever-present turmoil of Springfield’s budget morass, he has touted experienced in business and fiscal stewardship.  At the caucus, Allen pointed to job creation work on the City Council.  Specifically, he mentioned growth at Smith & Wesson and efforts early in his tenure to secure Titeflex’s jobs.

Aaron Saunders Portrait (via Facebook/Saunders campaign/official)

All of the candidates for the senate seat (as well as those for other seats) made references to Chicopee where possible.

Debra Ann Boronski, an East Longmeadow Select Board member, is so far the only Republican candidate for the seat.

Fractured as it is, there is no clear frontrunner at this point.  The numbers may change depending on whether others jump in or some of the declared or nearly-declared candidates step back.  It is hardly unheard of for candidates to switch gears and seek other options.  Rep. Harold Naughton, after ending his campaign for attorney general, is seeking reelection for his house seat and Sen. Dan Wolf is seeking reelection after his gubernatorial campaign hit turbulence last Fall.

Legislative candidates do not have to file regular campaign reports with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, complicating further analysis. While money is by no means a determinative factor, it can show the relative strength of a candidate when the data is available in the months, rather than the weeks before primary and election day as is the case now.  More importantly, those reports also show spending, which can also indicate what, if any strategies candidates undertake.

More than six months out from primary day, the primary looks like a jump shot.

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