Analysis: You’re Not Reporting Natural or Socioeconomic Disasters, You Say…
UPDATED 1:45PM: For grammar and clarity.
Maybe it was the familiar picture on the Facebook feed of that friend who loves The New York Times. Or it was the teasing (and misleading) lead on the Grey Lady’s Twitter account. DC denizen and missed it Sunday night? You probably read it in Politico’s Playbook. Maybe you were waiting in line for your double shot nonfat extra pump classic hazelnut macchiato and peered over at the newspapers. The Times on the top rack at many Springfield area Starbucks had the dateline: LUDLOW, Mass.
There on the front page of the paper and still featured on the US section of The Times was a very rare sight. Headlined by a notion about the Obama generation was a profile of a Democrat (and to some extent his district) running for State Senate in a corner of New England accustomed to receiving the lesser share of attention when compared to bigger cities and state capitals.
What? Him again? Another story about Eric Lesser, the White House aide turned State Senate candidate vying to fill Gale Candaras’ seat? Didn’t even quality-over-quantity WMassP&I already dig into his endorsements, not once, but twice? True. But it has become increasingly impossible to ignore how, even five months out from primary day, Lesser’s campaign has become a rare and strange touchstone here, animating both the politics of and interest in the Pioneer Valley.
Lesser is one of five Democrats running in the primary for the 1st Hampden and Hampshire Senate District. Also running are Springfield Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen, Ludlow School Committee member James “Chip” Harrington, Thomas Lachiusa, a counselor at the county jail and Ludlow Selectman Aaron Saunders.
The district encompasses about a third of Chicopee and Springfield as well as Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow and Wilbraham.
Even before the article written by The Times’s Jason Horowitz, a national political correspondent, Lesser had made an impact on the race. Attribute what you will to the steady stream of endorsements from local notables and unions, Lesser has been adept at getting press. Whether a byproduct of Lesser’s own generational savvy with social media or merely his campaign’s sophistication, his updates via Facebook and Twitter seem wholly unlike what the Valley is used to in its candidates.
On this level, only Alex Morse and Ernesto Cruz came close to that level of campaign social media engagement such that both the work of campaign staff/volunteers and the actual human interaction of the candidate himself melded almost seamlessly (like reaction to Horowitz’s hug-prone portrayal). Indeed, Morse, Cruz and US Rep. Richard Neal during his 2012 primary are the noted exceptions to the way campaigns engaged social media in the Pioneer Valley.
I hope Alison and Rose agree i’m very “hug prone”! http://t.co/BMha1XuPic
— Eric Lesser (@EricLesser) April 14, 2014
Politics in Greater Springfield too often seems to begin and end with whether you are next in line or have enough friends to summon the strength to survive a primary, and, if even necessary, the general. This is not terribly unique, but when put up against the depressing turnout of Hampden County (it is not just lower turnout in Holyoke and Springfield), one cannot help but wonder if something deeper and more systemic is afoot in the land. Something that robs the lower Pioneer Valley of progress and keeps it in a cycle of hoped-for redemption that never quite arrives, but will if we just stay the course.
The article in The New York Times offered a premise that Lesser was among few Obamaniacs who are seeking elected office. Many, like Lesser’s closest friends, some of the very ones with whom he had founded the White House seder, had moved on to consulting or other ventures instead. The Times’s notion is not entirely true. It may be impossible to actually track the number of Millennials inspired to public service by Obama. Even those peers of Lesser’s that are not running now are still quite young enough that they still could and still be young when they do so. But, The Times could easily home in on, given the amount of attention they have given him over the years.
Many young twenty and thirty somethings are trying their hand at electoral politics from California to the Garden State. As WMassP&I has documented, Millennials are breaking out here in Massachusetts. Even south of the border in Connecticut, the likes James Albis and Mae Flexer have brought their generation into that state’s lower house (indeed Flexer is looking to join the Senate). Others like Chris Murphy staffer Sean Scanlon are also looking to join the body. Whatever the reason, Generation Y is making its move.
Despite the premise, the article itself is a largely positive look at Lesser’s run in Western Massachusetts’s little corner of America. References to the Manny Rovithis’ trademark ads and the impact Lesser had on his hometown paint a picture as comfortable in the 413 as one about a state senate race in The Times own backyard would be in Westchester or Nassau counties.
There is nothing to extrapolate from the fact that a DC-based reporter, rather than a Boston-based one, schlepped up to the 413 to write about Lesser. He is no unknown commodity to The Times, which has written no fewer than three stories in which he was a key figure. Lesser also received the rare, positive treatment in Times Magazine writer Mark Leibovich’s book about Washington’s political culture. Amid of torrent of criticism of the egomania, hypocrisy, ham-handedness and/or simple efficiency at being a buttinsky in every instance, Lesser scored praise for being “Sweet-mannered and conscientious.”
Sources says that the Lesser camp did not court national press coverage, and even sought to avoid The Times’s spotlight. Nevertheless, the final product did not imply an outsider muscling into the Valley’s insular political culture. Rather it seemed more a classic story of Valley residents returning after an education beyond the 413 like former Springfield councilors Patrick Markey and Bruce Stebbins. Both had stints in DC before returning to Hampden County and later seeking public office. Moreover, for all his time on the trail and in DC, Lesser got his actual education in the Bay State, if in Cambridge.
There was a more important dimension than how Lesser himself was portrayed by the booming voice of the nation’s paper of record. Greater Springfield was getting attention, but not for some natural disaster or the need for counter-insurgency tactics in the North End of the Springfield. The City of Homes itself is seldom a dateline for hopeful news, save the debate between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown. Often it has been the setting for tornadoes, homophobic ministers or racially motivated arsons. For what it is worth Ludlow’s last appearance in The Times may have been a hunting-related homicide.
The Lesser campaign has taken on the air of a campaign for much higher office, something less foreign to Metro Boston, but an oddity in Greater Springfield. That is reserved for federal campaigns, races the state Democratic party eyes or, again, exceptions like Cruz, Morse, maybe the Hursts. Lesser’s people are knocking on doors early—very early for this race—even in the heart of his opponents’ base in Springfield and Ludlow. A campaign office will open soon. Lesser is in demand at events on young folks in politics. The ranks of his interns are growing ahead of the summer door-knocking season. Door knocking is not merely voter contact, but also a sign that data will be a crucial part of the race. Five months out, policy is gelling in the form of Op-Eds beyond tired and familiar sloganeering. His website, still needs to grow, however.
To their credit, Lesser’s opponents have grasped the shift and have made a move to engage likewise. Councilor Allen has begun his own canvassing efforts, per his Twitter and Facebook pages. Those pages are a marked difference from the normal ways of doing things. Allen is staffing up and prepared to fight the battle on the digital realm as much as he is along Allen and Parker Streets. Beyond that, he is taking a page from recent US Senate races by calling for a candidates’ pledge, which is itself a shot at Lesser’s capacity to raise money.
Ludlow’s Harrington, following the presentation of Springfield Police Commissioner-designate John Barbieri, issued a call for more cops, a declaration that will resonate in all of the 1st Hampden & Hampshire’s Springfield precincts and in communities where cops and their families live. Beyond mere policy, Harrington has ceded no ground to Lesser, attempting to match the latter’s ubiquity across the sprawling district.
It is far too early to know if Lesser can corral the support he needs to win the September 9th primary with enough gas to overcome Republican Debra Boronski. Win, lose or draw on Election Day, however, Lesser has already made an impact on the soporific and familiar politics of the Pioneer Valley. The energy is there. It has transformed a sporadic reawakening of the district’s rusty down ballot machinery into a charged, competitive affair juicy enough for national media to note.
Over a decade ago, Lesser sat in a Friendly’s booth that no longer exists. At the ice cream chain’s former Longmeadow outpost, he chatted politics with The Republican’s one-time columnist Tom Shea about politics. Since that time, Lesser has been around the country and the world. Landing back in Longmeadow after such a whirlwind, with wife Alison and baby Rose in tow, Lesser talks about how things will never change if they go forward as they always have. He carries a credible air of 2008 to a place where Hillary held strong and the Obama fever never really arrived.
It will be up to voters if Lesser is among “the ones we have been waiting for.” For now, Lesser, or at least the moment in which he chose to return to the 413 and run, has already left an impact. Campaigning can and has changed here…for the better.
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