The Whole 2019 Yards: Westfield Election’s End Begets New Race…
UPDATED 7:44AM: To reflect a correction. The presidential primary is March 3, not March 6.
Many expected Westfield State Senator Don Humason to waltz right into the Whip City’s mayor’s office. It turned out to be far more complicated than that. Police Captain Michael McCabe put up an unexpectedly intense fight. By Election Day Tuesday, not even 100 votes out of nearly 10,000 cast separated the two. On Friday, despite the right to a recount, McCabe conceded, handing Humason the city’s top job and assuring pieces set in motion earlier this year would keep moving.
The most prominent of these now is State Rep John Velis, who had publicized his interest in Humason’s seat. Out of respect for his Upper House colleague, the plans were largely conditional and low-key—to varying degrees of success. In any event, Velis’ ambitions were the worst kept secret west of the Connecticut River. With Humason’s victory cemented, Velis made everything official.
“This is a large and diverse Senate district and I have been openly speaking with community and business leaders as well as with elected officials. I have learned a great deal about what is important to the people of this district,” Velis said in a statement announcing his run.
Velis has the chance to become the first Democratic State Senator in 25 years. Activists in arch-Democratic cities like Easthampton and Holyoke, and even in ancestral ones like Agawam, are salivating at the possibility, despite Velis’ often nonpartisan mien.
The 2nd Hampden & Hampshire, includes Agawam, Easthampton, Granville, Holyoke, Montgomery, Russell, Southampton, Southwick, Tolland and four precincts in Chicopee.
Despite officially tying plans to Humason’s success, Velis seemed likely to seek the seat in 2020 no matter what. Earlier this year, when other Humason challengers were floated, Velis partisans worried his path might not be clear.
Nonetheless, Humason’s departure means a special election will be set, not unlike six years ago when Humason resigned his House seat to become a Senator. Velis won the ensuing special held in 2014.
The date of the election has not yet been set. Humason is expected to remain a member of the Senate until he becomes mayor. Senate President Karen Spilka and Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin can set a date once Humason submits his resigation. The chatter already suggests the primary or generation could be times for the March 3 Presidential primary.
The conclusion of Westfield’s election already advanced changes in Westfield. Brian Sullivan, whose retirement triggered the fresh mayoral election, has already resigned to take a gig in Governor Charlie Baker’s administration. City Council President Ralph Figy will be acting mayor through January.
It is not yet clear whether Velis will face any primary competition or how serious Republican efforts for the seat will be. Though he has sanded off some conservative edges and has corralled lots of progressives support, Velis could be challenged from the left. On a compressed primary timeline, however, only top pols could probably pull that off. Most aren’t trying.
Holyoke’s Mayor Alex Morse and State Rep Aaron Vega disclaimed interest almost immediately. Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle seems happy in her gig, recently reelected. That town’s State Rep, Dan Carey is ally of Velis’. Almost no electeds south of Westfield have the profile these pols do.
The sole exception may have been Holyoke Ward 4 Councilor Jossie Valentin. She was actively considering a challenge to Humason in 2020 and could have rallied progressives throughout the district like few others. But US Senator Elizabeth Warren recruited the Holyoke Councilor for a post in her presidential campaign.
In the general election, Republicans face a different set of challenges. The only obvious contender is Southwick 3rd Hampden Rep Nicholas Boldyga. He has beat back several challenges over the years, in part by being of the insurrectionist wing of the State House Republican caucus. That plays well in his Agawam-Granville-Southwick district, not in the 2nd Hampden & Hampshire Senate district’s liberal north.
Republicans could have another problem: Westfield. The GOP’s hold on this seat was predicated on its ability to achieve blowout margins in that purple city—the last two senators were residents—cancelling out Democratic advantages in Easthampton and Holyoke. Velis, an Army Reserve JAG officer with an inoffensive voting record, now carries that mantle—but for Democrats
The GOP’s only redoubt then would be to run away with numbers in the south and nibble the edges in conservative precincts of Holyoke, if that’s even possible.
Yet, the GOP also cannot afford to not contest the seat. The Senate caucus only recently grew from sedan-sized to minivan-sized. However, their fervor will be telling. Governor Baker will probably campaign for whomever the nominee is. Yet, he may put more shoulder into a candidate more moderate than Boldyga.
Until opposition emerges, Velis can focus on gassing up his election machine. In addition to several fundraisers prior to Tuesday’s election, he has events planned in Agawam and Springfield this month. Over the weekend, he posted photos of canvassing for votes across the district. Last month, he gave a rousing speech at Agawam Democrats’ breakfast.
The shadow campaign may have irked some Humasonians, but it put Velis in perhaps the strongest position of political career.
“I am overwhelmed with the pledges of support that I have received, not just for the campaign, but more importantly, to work with me if we are able to earn the right to represent this district,” Velis also said in his statement.