Rep. John Velis, Solemnly Sworn…
BOSTON—Four new state representatives were sworn into the Massachusetts House of Representative in what will likely be the penultimate ceremony of its kind before legislature’s formal session ends in July. Among those sworn was John Velis, a Westfield Democrat, whose historic win earlier this month ended Republicans’ 35 year hold on the seat.
Velis, who ran as a “conservative Democrat” against Westfield at-large Councilor Dan Allie, took the oath with three others, all of whose special elections also fell on April 1st. Governor Deval Patrick administered the oath.
This session in particular appeared to have a large run of legislators leaving office, either to take a seat in the Senate or a job in the private sector. Velis’ seat, the 4th Hamdpen House district, opened when Don Humason resigned from the House to take the seat of former Senator Mike Knapik in the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire Senate district.
The other House members sworn this afternoon were Daniel Hunt of the 13th Suffolk, Daniel Ryan of the 2nd Suffolk and Roselee Vincent of the 16th Suffolk. Hunt, of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, formally became the next “Mahty” filling the seat of Boston’s newly-minted mayor Marty Walsh. Ryan filled the seat of Eugene O’Flaherty, the former House chair of the judiciary committee, who resigned to become Walsh’s new Corporation Counsel. Vincent, of Revere, took the seat formerly held by Kathi-Anne Reinstein, who took a job with Boston Brewing Company (Sam Adams).
In a ceremony punctuated by remembrances of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and updates on the census of former members and other dignitaries in the chamber, Speaker Robert DeLeo welcomed Patrick and the new members. Each newbie gave a speech thanking their loved ones and supporters. After all new reps spoke, Rep. Jason Lewis gave his farewell speech. Lewis will be sworn in as a state senator tomorrow, filling now-US Rep. Katherine Clark’s seat.
For some of the new reps, like Hunt and Ryan, the real fight was the primary as the general election feature little if any opposition. Such was not the case for Velis who announced shortly before Humason’s election to the Senate. Even after the 4th Hampden’s election dates were announced, a number of potential Westfield Republicans took a pass at running.
Ultimately, Allie, who was only elected to the Council last November, was the only GOP candidate. Velis, relatively fresh off a tour in Afghanistan where he served on a Law & Order mission with the JAG corp, started off strong with deep name recognition in the community and help from his uncle, Peter Velis, the former rep and superior court judge.
Republicans, growing alarmed that they might lose the seat began attacking Velis and funding canvassing efforts in the Whip City. Statewide Republicans contributed to Allie, but the state party apparatus did not intervene directly. Instead groups like the Marlborough Republican Committee and social conservative organizations propped up Allie, especially as he sustained hits for his campaign finances and debunked attacks on Velis. In the end, Velis prevailed with 53% of the vote.
Although he faces another election in November with Allie likely as a rival, none of that dimmed Velis’ mood as he thanked his family, friends and supporters during his speech to the House. He also recognized his campaign manager Felix Otero, his fiancée Lorraine Almeida, and military friends he had made during his JAG service. Velis made note of the Afghanistan vets in the chamber.
Velis added that it was his uncle, Peter, who began the long hold of the now-Westfield only House seat. That prompted cheer from the 30-someodd Republican members, only to be dwarfed by Democrats’ raucous, House of Commons style roar when Velis noted it remained Republican until his election.
In a brief interview after the ceremony during a recess, Velis told WMassP&I “I’m really glad to get sworn in and get started working for the people of Western Massachusetts.” He said he felt “excellent” when asked how it felt to actually be a rep. “I’m kind of taking it all in,” he added noting the grandeur of the statehouse.
Velis has little time to take in the scenery. Votes were scheduled after the ceremony as the House was in formal session. However, the meat of the chamber’s work the rest of the month will be hammering out its budget before the Senate begins work on its own. “Rep. Naughton was kind enough to file some amendments to the budget for me,” Velis said, referring to Rep. Harold Naughton of Clinton (among the vets Velis had recognized), “which I will take up the week after next when we do all of the budget stuff.” “I’m hitting the ground running,” Velis explained with a wide grin.
Velis will need to make the most of the time between now and July 31 when the legislature’s formal meeting period ends before facing voters again. But some intrigue does exist on the Republican side. Western Mass GOP sources say the party is actively seeking an alternative to Allie in the Republican primary. The filing deadline is April 29 and if the party does not succeed, sources say, it may leave Allie to his own devices and concentrate on keeping Don Humason in his Senate seat.
The swearing in of Hunt, Ryan, Velis and Vincent, minus Lewis’s resignation boosts the House up a net three members after a fusillade of resignations prompted a slew of special elections. Compounding that were votes to fill John Kerry’s senate seat, Ed Markey’s House seat and several senate seats which were also emptied during the session. A special election on April 29 to fill the seat of Rep Carlos Henriquez—expelled after a conviction for assault—will likely be the last House special this year. The seats of more recent resigned reps, including Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, Carl Sciortino of Medford and Steven Walsh of Lynn, shall remain vacant until filled by this November’s regularly scheduled election.