Eric P. Lesser, a four-term state senator and Obama White House alum, said Tuesday he is running for lieutenant governor, expanding a crowded Democratic field bidding to be the No. 2 official in state government.
Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, brings a network of donors and a profile in Western Massachusetts into the race, where he pitched himself as being a “partner with our next governor.”
“What I bring is the appreciation and understanding about how Massachusetts needs to focus on quality of life and affordability,” said Lesser, a 36-year-old father of three children, ages 8, 5, and 9 months. “We’re in a time obviously of tremendous challenges. It’s not lost on me that we’re launching this at the height of the Omicron [COVID-19] surge. But there is an opportunity amidst all the pain.”
First elected in 2014, Lesser has led the Legislature’s committee on economic development and helped shepherd a sweeping economic stimulus and housing package into law early this year and a $1 billion package in 2018.
He’s also pushed a bill that would pay people $10,000 to relocate to Western Massachusetts and work from home and has been at the center of talks over several years in the Legislature about whether to legalize sports betting. Lesser has, at times, also been a vocal critic of Governor Charlie Baker, challenging the Republican administration’s estimates on “east-west” rail service between Boston and Springfield and failures within the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
He previously served in the Obama administration, including as the special assistant to the president’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, and later as director of strategic planning for the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Lesser also organized the first-ever presidential Seder in the White House.
The lieutenant governor’s field already includes three declared candidates: state Representative Tami Gouveia, a two-term Democrat from Acton; state Senator Adam G. Hinds, a three-term Democrat from Pittsfield; and Bret Bero, a Democrat who is a Boston businessman and Babson College lecturer.
A range of others also are weighing a run, including Dan Koh, chief of staff at the Labor Department under Secretary Martin J. Walsh, and Kim Driscoll, who was elected to her fifth term as Salem mayor in November.
Lesser — who currently represents part of Springfield and Chicopee, as well as seven towns — on Tuesday emphasized he would seek to address wide-ranging inequality in the state. He called Massachusetts “one of the most unequal places in the country” despite its progressive reputation.
He said he intends to make bringing high-speed rail service between Boston and Western Massachusetts a “centerpiece.” And he argued that the next governor and lieutenant governor will be at the forefront of putting billions in federal aid to work to rebuild transportation infrastructure, create more affordable housing, and spur the economic recovery from the pandemic.
Of course taking the lead on those issues will likely fall to the next governor. Lesser said he admires both of the current leading Democratic candidates, state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz and Harvard professor Danielle Allen. “I share both of their values,” he said.
The field, however, is widely expected to grow, potentially with the addition of Attorney General Maura Healey, a South End Democrat who would enter as a front-runner. Lesser said he’s a “big fan” of Healey, with whom he said he’s worked on legislation establishing a student loan bill of rights and bulk purchases for Naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose-reversal drug.
“I would enthusiastically be a partner to any Democratic governor,” said Lesser, declining to say if he aspires for that job one day. “I’ve learned to focus on what’s in front of you and do that with as much enthusiasm and energy as you can bring to bear. I’m running to be lieutenant governor.”