What Happens with Vega Stays in Holyoke, Not Boston, after 2020…
UPDATED 12:35AM: To include news of Pat Duffy’s entrance into the race.
HOLYOKE—The Paper City’s State Rep seeks a different tree product. His walking papers.
Aaron Vega, who serves as the state rep for the Fifth Hampden District will not seek reelection in 2020. The one-time councilor, who was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2012, has decided to retire after four terms in the lower house on Beacon Hill.
Over his eight years in office, however, he said he not only secured funds for city institutions, but he was able to reshape Holyoke’s reputation in the eyes of the legislature and better connect state government to this city of 40,000 or so on the Connecticut River.
“I think first is sort of reestablishing Holyoke as a place of redevelopment and revitalization, and not just a poor community that needs the state’s help,” Vega said of what he has been able to do in office. Rather, Holyoke is “a place to invest in and a place that things are happening.”
Vega represents the 5th Hampden House District, which consists entirely and exclusively of the City of Holyoke. He will formally announce his retirement Tuesday.
Aside from Westfield’s John Velis, who may soon be elected to the state senate and vacate his rep seat, Vega is the first state legislator from the 413 to announce retirement in 2020.
A son of South Holyoke, Vega, 49, had pursued a career in filmmaking before returning and ultimately securing a City Council seat in 2009. He launched a bid for state rep against then-Rep Michael Kane who dropped out of the race to pursue a different job. He easily defeated his general election opposition.
In a brief interview Monday at Brennan’s, a watering hole here in downtown Holyoke, Vega described his decision to retire as “personal.” Yet he wants to apply what he had learned to better his city.
“One of the things that’s really amazing about being a rep is that you deal with so many issues,” he said. “The best description of my job is then you’re in a permanent liberal arts education, which is wonderful, but I’m ready to go to grad school.”
Vega clarified that this would not include running for mayor, though he didn’t rule out running for office again. Rather, he thinks his next act could be in higher education, economic development and/or tourism. One thing is certain. He intends to remain in Holyoke.
“I absolutely envision myself staying in Holyoke,” he said, pointing to the education his young son, Odin, receives, particularly the dual language program and his wife Debra’s gig at Williston.
In a press release issued Tuesday morning, Vega thanked his family for their support. He also recognized his legislative aide, Patricia Duffy for her hard work on behalf of Holyoke and its residents.
Vega’s retirement does come at a time of transition for Holyoke. Mayor Alex Morse is challenging Congressman Richard Neal. Regardless of Morse’s success, there will be a mayoral election in 2021. Voters defeated a ballot question to build a new combined middle school and the state-controlled schools will soon have a new superintendent-receiver. There is already transition in the city’s delegation to Beacon Hill after Don Humason resigned his state senate seat to become mayor of Westfield.
That upheaval did give Vega pause about retiring.
“I think we’re going to need somebody that is able to bring the understanding and bring some calmness and some institutional knowledge to this,” Vega said. “There’s a lot of changes going on right now in Holyoke.”
Although the distinction of Old and New Holyoke has eroded over the Morse years, an extant old guard remains, harkening back to the city’s once large Irish population. By contrast, if not necessarily in opposition, there exists a population, drawn from all demographics, more embracing of the city’s urban character and its diversity. The primary for this arch-Democratic city could be drawn along these lines, but Vega indicated that such a contest may be a good thing.
Duffy, Vega’s aide, announced for the seat on Tuesday evening and Vega is supporting her.
As for his own work, Vega was confident he had an impact both here and in Boston.
“I feel good to be honest with you,” he said listing off organizations he was able to help like Girls, Inc. in Holyoke. He cited boosts in school funding programs he enacted like Breakfast after the Bell. The project of redefining Holyoke’s image dates to his freshman term. From the beginning, he was inviting colleagues to visit the city and learn about its progress first-hand.
“There’s always going to be more to do in places like Holyoke, but I feel like I’ve changed the viewpoint and I’ve changed the optics,” he said. “And I’ve given a lot of people a voice that didn’t have a voice previously.”