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Chicopee City Councilor Joel McAuliffe runs for state representative

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Joel McAuliffe
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Chicopee City Councilor Joel McAuliffe

Three Democrats are now in the race to succeed State Rep. Joe Wagner

Chicopee City Councilor Joel McAullife is the latest to launch a campaign for the seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from the 8th Hampden District.

He joins fellow City Councilor Shane Brooks and Shirley Arriaga, an educator at Chicopee High School, as candidates for the Democratic nomination for the office.

The incumbent, Joe Wagner, is retiring after a more than 30-year career representing Chicopee on Beacon Hill.

WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill spoke with McAullife.

Joel McAuliffe

Well, after spending years in the mayor's office, on the city council, and in the state senate working alongside our next lieutenant governor,and with the retirement of our 31 years state representative, it's never been more important that we have someone who knows how to get the job done and make sure that Chicopee gets its fair share on Beacon Hill> I have the experience and the know how to get the job done. And that's why I'm running.

Paul Tuthill 

So what is it in your background that you believe qualifies you to be a state representative?

Joel McAuliffe

Well, I've worked at every level of government in the Commonwealth, municipal government, state government, and having an understanding about, you know, the different facets of each of those is incredibly important. Knowing that I can hit the ground running on day one in the State House, I know, the people. I have the relationships. I think is important because we need to minimize the learning curve for our next state representative. Chicopee cannot afford for someone to be learning on the job. And that's why I've jumped into this race. And I want to the best of my ability to represent the people of Chicopee who deserve the best representation possible.

Paul Tuthill 

What does Chicopee need, that you believe you can deliver as a as a state representative?

Joel McAuliffe

They need someone who can get the job done. Chicopee is at a crossroads moment in its history. We have an opportunity to revitalize our downtown, bring economic development to our city, attract new businesses and jobs. But that's not going to occur without a state representative who's able to bring targeted economic development opportunities to our state., We're in the need of new school buildings like the berry elementary school, I have experience working with the MSBA and DESE to make sure we can secure the highest percentage of reimbursement on school buildings. That's something our next state representative is going to have to be able to do. And of course, I from day one have brought Crossroads Fiber from an idea in my head to the city council where I've advocated for and helped make it a real entity that's currently providing service to a number of our residents, saving them money and improving their service. I want to do what I can to bring back revenue to the city that helps bring Crossroads Fiber city wide, so that not a single person is left behind from the digital divide, and can have access to this vital municipal service.

Paul Tuthill 

So Crossroads Fiber is a is a municipal broadband initiative?

Joel McAuliffe
It is something that I started working on in the mayor's office as an aide and then advocated for on the city council. We took it from concept stage all the way to providing service, its first first service area was Ward One, the area that I represent on the city council. We need to change the laws to make it easier for municipal entities to exist to help provide more affordable and more reliable service to their communities. But this is also an opportunity to expand outside of our border. This is something that's done in other parts of the country where an entity starts in one minister polity and branches out. So it could be could eventually provide service to Springfield and to other surrounding communities, attracting more customers and helping lower rates.

Paul Tuthill 

In addition to the to the broadband initiative that we just discussed, what what other accomplishments are you most proud of as, as as a city councilor?

Joel McAuliffe

You know, as the son of a union machinist, and an Iraq War veteran, having the back of working people has been something that is ingrained in me. The ability to have passed a wage theft ordnance on the city council, I think makes a big difference for workers and sends a message to people that they will not be able to steal wages from their employees. So I'm very proud to have had the backs of our employees and workers in the city of Chicopee. I'm going to continue to do that as a state representative, and make sure that workers’ rights are protected.

Paul Tuthill 

What is the most important job of a state representative?

Joel McAuliffe

It is being the chief advocate for your community in Boston. We talk about frequently how Boston has far more legislators than us here in Western Massachusetts. And we have to speak loudly and with one voice as a delegation. The dean of the delegation currently is the outgoing State Representative Joe Wagner. So the next representative is going to have to work closely with the Western Mass delegation to speak for Chicopee and make sure I'm able to bring home those vital resources on the state level.

Paul Tuthill 

Have you have you spoken with Representative Wagner about your about your decision to run for the seat? Have you sought out his advice, his endorsement?

Joel McAuliffe

Certainly, we had a great conversation. Just a lot of reflection about the work that he's been able to do over the course of his career. He really set the mold for what a state representative should be. And so I'm going to continue to seek his guidance as we go through this process. But we're going to run a campaign that, you know, seeks the support of each and every resident of the city of Chicopee, knocks on every door, makes every phone call, we're going to be accessible and available. It's the kind of representative I'm going to be and I'm excited to hit the trail.

Paul Tuthill 
Massachusetts currently has about $2 billion in unspent money from the American Rescue Plan Act. If it were up to you, how would that money get spent?

Joel McAuliffe

So it needs to be invested in our municipalities who have done the vast majority of the work during this pandemic. The state government sort of stepped to the side and put the ball back in the court of the local municipalities, which put a huge strain on local health departments, and made it harder and harder for cities and towns to operate. So I'd like to see it go back to the cities and towns so they can provide targeted relief to local businesses and communities, but also provides startup capital for new businesses, looking to locate in our community help improve our infrastructure that is certainly crumbling, I want to double down on investment in Chapter 90 and other forms of state aid to fix our roads and sidewalks, our sewer pipes, which have been a long standing issue here in Chicopee, expanding the Massworks program on the state level so that more communities can get access to it. That's incredibly important. That's the kind of advocate I'm going to be.

Paul Tuthill 

Should public transit be free or reduced fare in in Chicopee?

Joel McAuliffe

Well, you I'm glad you mentioned transportation, Paul, because I've worked for the last five and a half years for the leading advocate for East West Rail, who helped make it come from an idea to now something that's really possible. And so my plan is to carry the mantle on from Senator Lesser in the legislature, while he advocates for it as our next lieutenant governor, that's going to provide economic development opportunities for Chicopee in Western Massachusetts, help connecting our people with those high paying jobs in Boston, and helping bolster things like the PVTA that you just talked about. We have an important transit system here in RTA in Western Mass in the PVTA. They need more funding, the state has traditionally underfunded them. So I'd like to see more investment in the RTA, particularly in areas like Western Mass, which are much more reliant on.

Paul Tuthill 

But do you think a no fare or reduced fare program perhaps on a pilot basis, which is what the city of Boston is doing with the MBTA, on some bus routes. Do you think that that is something that should be looked at in in Chicopee?

Joel McAuliffe

Well, we certainly can explore those options. I think the PVTA has been doing everything it can to keep fares as low as possible. We want to make it easier for people to get around. That should be a number one goal, particularly with regards to public transit that takes cars off the road that's better for the environment. It also is better for economic development and jobs. So we should explore all alternatives. I don't think anything should be off the table, but the state has got to be there to support it.

Paul Tuthill 

As you launch your campaign for this seat, what's the message you want voters to hear?

Joel McAuliffe

I've been working my entire career to make Chicopee a better place for them and their families. That's the kind of representative I'm going to be. That's the kind of person I was when I worked in the mayor's office, on the city council, and in the State Senate. I'm excited to hit the ground running, get the job done, and bring back important state resources back to Chicopee.