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W. Mass. Senator Downing Not Running For Reelection

This is a picture of Massachusetts State Senator Ben Downing.
Jim Levulis
Massachusetts State Senator Ben Downing in his Pittsfield office. He is the son of the late Berkshire District Attorney Gerard Downing.

Massachusetts State Senator Ben Downing announced Monday morning that he is not running for reelection this year.Downing, a Democrat, says when he ran and was elected to the State Senate in 2006 he intended to serve 10 years if given the opportunity.

“In my mind I think the system that we have set up is best served by talented people coming in and out of it with different points of view and backgrounds,” Downing said. “For me, I think 10 years is the right amount of time.”

Downing, now 34, was studying at Tufts University when he ran for the open seat vacated by Andrea Nuciforo. The Democrat says he is going to miss the people and relationships formed over his decade in politics.

“Both with people who volunteer their time to support you when you’re running for office,” Downing said. “Especially, I’m a 24 year-old kid who’s in grad school. There was reason for people to say ‘Jeez, you’re a nice kid, but you’ll have your chance. I’ll vote for you, but I’m not going to work for you.’ The amount of time and effort that people put in, in a race that was decided by 243 votes…every little bit of that mattered.”

The Pittsfield native says he doesn’t have anything immediately lined up for when his term ends. Before he was elected to the Senate, Downing worked for Congressmen Richard Neal and John Olver. Having spent his entire professional career in public service, does Downing plan to stay in politics?

“I don’t think so, but I’m not 100 percent sure yet,” Downing said. “The only thing I know that I’m not doing is I’m not lobbying and I’m not running for office. So I’m not sure where that will lead me. I’m inclined to say something in the private sector.”  

He did rule out a run for governor in 2018. Downing has been heavily focused on broadband expansion to western Massachusetts and clean energy. He currently chairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.

“The leadership position that Massachusetts has taken on clean energy and climate change,” Downing pointed to. “One of the things I said in my first campaign was not only that I wanted to bring a fresh energy and new perspective to the office, but I also wanted to make sure that we were making decisions with future generations in mind and not just future elections. When I came into office we had 2 megawatts of solar energy in Massachusetts and 50 solar firms in the state. We now have north of 950 million megawatts of solar energy and 270 firms employing nearly 12,000 people in every corner of the commonwealth.”

The Massachusetts Democratic Party picked Downing to head its coordinated campaign for the 2014 elections, which involved a speech at the party’s convention in Worcester.

“We will not be out worked,” Downing said during the speech. “We will not be out organized. We will not be out fought because the stakes are too high, our future is too important so let’s get out of here today and let’s go win an election this fall.”

Downing says he did not come to the decision lightly. He says he feels a drive for new experience and adds family played into it. He’s been married for three years while representing 52 communities in the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District and commuting to and from Boston.

“I also care about it enough to know that if I didn’t have it in my heart to do it 100 percent then I couldn’t tell voters that I was if my heart wasn’t there,” said Downing.

Representative Paul Mark of Peru says he has looked up to his fellow Democrat during their time in the State House.

“Ben has been an amazing senator for the Berkshires and the region,” Mark said. “He’s been a close friend to me. I always say it to him even he’s a little younger than me, he’s been someone I’ve looked up to, sort of a mentor. I think he’s going to be sorely missed.

Downing does not plan to endorse anyone in the race to replace him.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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