Briefings: Petrolati To Bear Right at Exit 7 from Beacon Hill No More…
UPDATED 8:49PM: To include Oliveira’s formal declaration for the office.
The rush to the exits of the Massachusetts House of Representatives continues.
Thomas Petrolati, the influential Ludlow state representative whose rise, fall—and return to semi-respectability—rocked Beacon Hill a decade ago, will not seek reelection. The 17-term rep’s decision will reverberate on Beacon Hill and in his hometown, having become Ludlow’s most enduring political figure since perhaps John “Iron Duke” Thompson, who served as House Speaker in the 1960’s.
First elected to the 7th Hampden District in 1986, Petrolati—or Petro in more infamous contexts—only ever faced token opposition despite the reddening hue of Ludlow and scandal. In 2010, Petrolati was linked to a donations-for-jobs scheme at the Probation Department. A wave of reforms and prosecutions followed, but Petro was never charged.
The long-serving rep’s departure was first reported by The Register of Ludlow. He disclosed his plans during an interview that is to be published in the paper’s next edition.
Petrolati is the third Hampden County rep to retire. Holyoke Rep Aaron Vega and Springfield Rep Jose Tosado both opted against reelection this year. However, neither served even a third as long as Petrolati has.
The 7th Hampden District consist of Ludlow, chunks of Chicopee and the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield and, despite its name, much of Belchertown in Hampshire County.
Names have already begun to emerge to succeed Petrolati. Jake Oliveira a long-serving member of the Ludlow School Committee is seriously considering a run per a town source. An announcement could come as soon as this week.
In addition to a decade on the School Committee, Oliveira has held top posts with Massachusetts Association of School Committees and chairs the Ludlow Democratic Town Committee. Moreover, he is plugged into Beacon Hill via his job working for lobby group for the commonwealth’s state universities.
On Thursday, after this post was published, Oliveira announced his candidacy. In addition to touting his education credentials and ties to the district, Oliveira thanked Petrolati for his long service.
“I would like to thank Representative Petrolati for his many years of service to the residents of the 7th Hampden District, and congratulate him on his retirement,” Oliveira said in his statement. “Tom fought tirelessly for his constituents, and I am particularly appreciative for his efforts to re-develop the Ludlow Mills.”
Other Democrats could emerge and Ludlow’s shifting politics notwithstanding, it remains home to one of the region’s most prominent Democratic figures: Hampden Sheriff Nick Cocchi. A candidate could come from his orbit.
However, a candidate from outside Ludlow, a once-industrial suburb-turned semi-bedroom community, could struggle to gain traction. The Chicopee and Springfield tendrils may not provide enough of a base, though a Belchertown candidate is not implausible.
Unlike Tosado and Vega’s seat, the 7th Hampden could be competitive for Republicans. Ludlow itself swung right in 2016 and the district’s Chicopee precinct also leans rightward. A possible wildcard is Belchertown. One more liberal precincts is in another district, but the diffusion of college-related populations from neighboring Amherst has made Belchertown bluer overall.
Yet, this may be the GOP’s best pick up bet in the 413 aside from Westfield Rep John Velis’ seat should he win his Senate election. Several Republicans hold or have held town posts including Oliveira’s School Committee colleague James “Chip” Harrington, who once ran for State Senate as a Democrat and then again as a Republican.
It is notable that Petrolati survived the last decade without challenges from within his party or from Republicans.
Petrolati’s name came up repeated during an investigation into a patronage scandal at the Probation Department. Many of his donors got jobs in the agency. He resigned as speaker pro tempore, which he had retained when Bob DeLeo took over as speaker from the disgraced Sal DiMasi.
Despite the trouble Petro likely caused DeLeo ten years ago, he later became chair of House Committee on Steering, Policy & Scheduling, a key organ of the Speaker’s power
DeLeo offered both feint praise and sincerer accolades for the retiring rep. In a statement, the Speaker called Petrolati both “dedicated” and “thoughtful,” whose career was “marked by his deep insight into the 7th Hampden District.”
“Both a masterful parliamentarian and friend, he will be missed in the House of Representatives and on the rostrum,” DeLeo continued.
A statement from Speaker DeLeo pic.twitter.com/wqKY3SDT0D
— Speaker Bob DeLeo (@SpeakerDeLeo) February 20, 2020
Despite that roller coaster, Petrolati remained one of the most influential members from Western Mass. His longevity—he retires as dean of the regional delegation—gave him access to Beacon Hill power players and the opportunity to shape their understanding and impressions of others, particularly pols from the 413.
Still, Petrolati reportedly told The Register his focus was always his constituents.
“I ran for office because I wanted to make a difference. I couldn’t have done that without the backing of the voters,” he told the paper.