Valley supporters excited, inspired by Healey’s inauguration

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL 

Staff Writer

Published: 01-05-2023 8:33 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As Maura Healey takes over the governor’s office and prepares to lead Massachusetts into its next administration, many in Hampshire County are eyeing how she will fare with regard to her ambitious agenda for improving the state’s housing costs and climate impact.

Healey won Hampshire County resoundingly with 71.5% of the vote in 2022, the third highest margin of victory among Massachusetts counties, with only Suffolk and Dukes counties earning higher percentages, according to Politico.

Healey visited the Pioneer Valley during her campaign for governor back in October, touring businesses in Northampton and playing basketball with the UMass women’s team.

“Today’s swearing-in of Maura Healey and [Lt. Gov.] Kim Driscoll is exciting and historic for Massachusetts,” said Elizabeth Silver, the vice-chair and director of political organizing for the Northampton Democratic City Committee. “We’re optimistic that their policies and agenda around education, the environment, infrastructure, social justice, and many more critical issues, will benefit us here in western Massachusetts as well as the entire commonwealth.”

Although Healey is a longtime resident of the Boston area, her ties to the western part of the state date since before her election to her previous position of state attorney general. Mayor Nicole LaChapelle of Easthampton recalls first meeting Healey at the annual Hot Chocolate Run in Northampton, back when Healey was campaigning for attorney general in 2013.

“We had a really impressive conversation,” said LaChapelle. “I find her to be easy to understand, she does her homework, and what really stands out is her ability to go all in and figure out what the next steps are.”

Healey was visiting the Hot Chocolate Run that year at the invitation of Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, who was one of Healey’s earliest backers when she first announced her candidacy for the position.

“It was a no-brainer,” said Sullivan of his decision to support her candidacy at the time. “She had worked with some of our attorneys at the AG’s office in Springfield, and we were proud of the work she was doing with the civil rights division.”

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Sullivan also said that now that Healey is in the governor’s seat, she faces even greater challenges than she did as attorney general.

“She’s working for a much bigger entity now,” he said. “She’s going to have to have the ability to compromise and get her agenda through.”

Housing platform

In her inauguration speech made on Thursday at the State House in Boston, Healey spoke about the issues most urgent for her administration. The high cost of housing was one particular issue the new governor emphasized, pledging to create a secretary of housing position and to look into identifying unused state-owned land that could be turned into additional housing units.

Keith Fairey, the CEO of Way Finders, a Springfield nonprofit which helps develop affordable housing properties in Hampshire and Hampden counties, served as co-chair of Healey’s Affordable Abundant Housing transition committee. The committee was formed after Healey’s election victory to form concrete policies to address housing concerns for the new administration.

“We have a housing supply gap of 11,000 units today, and it’s projected to grow to 19,000 units in the next several years,” said Fairey. “There is a tremendous need for affordable housing for people with lower income, and this is actually something that is affecting all of our communities.”

Alexis Breiteneicher, the executive director for Valley Community Development in Northampton, said an issue for housing is ensuring robust funding for case management services for people moving into affordable housing units.

“Putting someone into housing who has a trauma history, chronic illness, or other challenge and hoping for the best serves no one’s best interest,” Breiteneicher said. “Imagine someone with a history of being unhoused, moving into housing with just six months of case management, then left alone without support — is that a tenant who will thrive? Probably not.”

Climate, education

Another topic addressed by Healey in her inauguration speech was climate change. Healey stated her desire to turn the state into a “climate corridor” and would use her first executive order to create a cabinet-level climate chief in the new administration, as well as commit to spending 1% of the state’s budget to environmental and energy agencies.

Jeff Clark, an Amherst resident who serves on the legislative team on the Massachusetts chapter of the advocacy group Elders Climate Action, said he welcomed the governor’s proposal to create a climate chief position.

“The idea of having a climate executive who is helping to span the different departments within the state is going to be extremely helpful,” he said. “You’ve got the different divisions and you’ve got the EEA (Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs), the DOE (U.S. Department of Energy) and the DPU (Department of Public Utilities) regulating utilities and it’s just so hard to make sure they’re working together.”

Healey also addressed the issue of education in her speech, saying she would include in her first budget the creation of a new program called MassReconnect, which would provide free community college to adults over 25 who are lacking a college degree.

“This proposal highlights the important role that community colleges have in helping to address workforce shortages and enabling more of our residents to obtain a college education,” said Christina Royal, president of Holyoke Community College, who like Fairey served on one of Healey’s transition committees. “The adult learner population is growing, and 25 is the average age of our students at Holyoke Community College, which constitutes 34% of our student population.”

Healey’s ascendancy to the governor role is historic, as she becomes the first openly gay person and first elected woman to become governor in the state, and the first lesbian elected governor in the country. Tina Kotek, who was elected governor of Oregon, will become the second lesbian to serve as governor when she is inaugurated on Monday, and Jane Swift formerly served as acting governor of Massachusetts following the resignation of governor Paul Cellucci in 2001.

“The inauguration of Maura Healey as the first woman and first lesbian elected governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is of special historical significance to the LGBTQ+ community in Northampton,” said Court Cline, who serves as the executive liaison to the LGBTQ+ community under mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, in a statement provided to the Gazette. “From the important 1974 election of one of the first members of the LGBTQ+ community, State Representative Elaine Noble, to all of the important legislation to protect LGBTQ+ rights including equal marriage, Massachusetts has taken on a leadership role for the country and the world.”

State Sen. Jo Comerford, who represents Northampton in the state Senate and like Healey identifies as a lesbian, called the inauguration day a “transcendent” moment for her.

“I found it to be one of the most inspirational speeches I ever heard,” she said. “Today was a good day for the commonwealth.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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