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Chicopee City Councilor Shane Brooks is running for state representative

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Chicopee City Councilor Shane Brooks, a Democratic candidate for State Rep in the 8th Hampden District

Three Democrats are in the field of candidates in the 8th Hampden District

Chicopee City Councilor Shane Brooks is running for an open seat in the state legislature from western Massachusetts.

He is one of three Democrats hoping to succeed State Rep. Joe Wagner of Chicopee who has announced his retirement after a three-decade career on Beacon Hill.

The other candidates are Joel McAuliffe, who is also a Chicopee City Councilor, and Shirley Arriaga, an educator at Chicopee High School.

No Republican has announced a campaign.

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

Shane Brooks

Public Service is super important to me. My grandfather was a police officer in Chicopee for over 30 years. My father was a public sector employee in the city of Chicopee for 20 years. And it's just it's really been the life lesson that that has been taught to me about how important it is to give back to your community. And I hope to continue to do that, whether that's locally or at a state level. But I'm committing to doing I'm committed to doing so. So I really look forward to it. I feel like I have the most experience of anyone who's entered the race at this point. You know, I've served in some sort of public capacity for the last 20 some odd years. And obviously, when a kind of a landmark of the Legislature retires, it kind of catches everybody off guard. I've known Representative Wagner for most of my adult life, and certainly have admired the the level of commitment he's had to the Commonwealth for the last 31 years. And It's an opportunity to kind of chart a new path for myself. I've been in the private sector, working with nonprofits for the last 25 years. I'm currently a vice president of a local nonprofit here in Springfield, The Gandara Center, and I think my public and private experience makes for an opportunity for me to really do, hopefully, some great things on Beacon Hill.

Paul Tuthill 

Expand on that for me, if you would, about your background and your experience, and how you think that would help you is a as a state legislator?

Shane Brooks

Absolutely. So I hold a Master's Degree in finance from American International College, somewhere that I enjoyed spending quite a bit of time. I currently run a division here at Gandara with 450 or so employees. And my budget responsibilities are upwards of $25 million. I believe that that nonprofit kind of lens that I look at how to manage money and allocate resources is essential to doing that, for not only the Commonwealth but really advocating and fighting for dollars for Chicopee.

Paul Tuthill 

What are some of the needs that you see in Chicopee, that you would like to address as a state legislator?

Shane Brooks

So you know, Chicopee is a unique place. We’re a Gateway City, so we certainly we have our needs by way of people who are living below the poverty line. But then we're also a blue collar city, a city of essentially homes where there are very mature settled neighborhoods. So there are a variety of issues, whether it be Chapter 90 monies for road infrastructure, and some aging, you know, state roads that need addressing, or if it's just looking at Chapter 70 school monies, and really bringing up the level of funding that can be provided to the schools. Obviously, we have an issue with housing instability, homelessness, food insecurities. So we're such a unique city in that way, being a Gateway City and then having some, some folks who are doing fairly well and settled and then other folks who are struggling. So I think it's really bringing a balance of what we can do for all of the citizens of Chicopee regardless of their economic status. And it's really just going to be working hard and trying to find a way to get as many state resources and it doesn't always have to be dollars, it could be just some sort of state assistance, but as many state resources as possible. Representative Wagner has done that consistently over the last 30 years, andnd it's just gonna really try to pick up the ball and running with that and continue to provide that level of constituent service that I think our residents have come to expect, and they honestly deserve.

Paul Tuthill 

As a city councilor in Chicopee, what are some of the things you feel you accomplished that you're most proud of?

Shane Brooks

I am always careful to say that I don't necessarily accomplish anything. I'm one of 13 members of the council. So I think collectively, the council we have accomplished many things, they look back at, you know, working with the state on building two state of the art high schools, I look at what we've done with really raising the level of awareness of the needs of seniors with our state-of-the-art Senior Center. And it's really just quality of life issues. I mean, in some of the things that are so important that people are simple things like road and sidewalk repair. Those are those are essential services that people have come to expect. So, you know, the most important issue to one person is the absolutely most important issue to that person. And it varies day to day on what needs to get done. I mean, we've worked really hard to try to revitalize the downtown. I know we're struggling a little bit with the Silverbrick project and that's more on the back of the developer than it is on the city. We're giving tax incentives or whatever, wherever possible. I mean, the Food Bank is a great example of a nonprofit that's able to develop a very much unused parcel of land that used to be the former Oxford Country Club for those who played golf many, many years ago. So we really, I think we've done some innovative things, we've introduced fiber through an effort by largely, you know, spearheaded by the electric light department. So we're trying to get broadband fiber out to all of the areas of the city of Chicopee.. And I think we've just collectively as a group, again, just done a pretty great job of trying to focus on constituent services and making sure folks have what they need in the city, all while keeping the tax rate as low as possible. We have one of the lowest residential tax rates in Western Mass, and trying to attract new business to help offset the cost of some of those residential rates with commercial rates that come in.

Paul Tuthill 

What do you see is the most important thing a State Representative does?

Shane Brooks

Oh, that's absolutely advocating for your home district. Whether that advocacy comes through allocation of resources, or simply just putting a reminder out there to the folks on Beacon Hill that there is a part of Western Mass that exists west of Worcester. I think sometimes western Mass can be forgotten. And it's going to be really a cheerleader for the region, not only the city, but the region. Because regionally we have one of the best, in my opinion delegations that advocates for the Western Mass region, going, there's no better way to get something done then collectively working together. I think about all the state reps and state senators from the region, we're lucky that we have such a large number of proud Western Mass advocates for lack of a better description. And I'm really just hoping to be able to match and learn from them and really hit the ground running.

Paul Tuthill 

You mentioned Joe Wagner, who's retiring after a 30 year career representing Chicopee on Beacon Hill, Have you have you spoken with Representative Wagner about your decision to run? Have you sought his advice, perhaps his endorsement?

Shane Brooks

I haven't sought an endorsement. You know, I'll leave that for Joe to decide.. I did meet with him for coffee and breakfast one morning. And, you know, I think we had a nice candid conversation about what his perspective was, and I'll kind of leave it at that.

Paul Tuthill 

What's the message you want voters to hear from you as you as you launch this campaign?

Shane Brooks

I'm going to try to get to 16,000 doors over the course of a summer, I'm going to knock on every one. I'll entertain any conversation, any ideas, people will probably see me in their neighborhoods. You know, starting again, this weekend, as I was out last weekend, canvassing and knocking on doors and really just tried to hear from the voters, what level of constituent service they need, and then how they best could be served by their next state representative.

Paul Tuthill 

The state has about $2 billion in unspent money from the American rescue plan act. If it were up to you, how would you spend it?

Shane Brooks

I think ARPA funds are such a, you know, such a hot topic to talk about today. I think we need to utilize ARPA funds to address the immediate issues within the community. And all the while understanding when those ARPA funds are expended they're not reoccurring. So at this point, we're not sure if we're going to be able to have a reallocation of ARPA funds going forward. So we need to be a little bit judicious about how we we spend the money. But there are certainly plenty of needs, both locally, here in Chicopee, and at the state level, where we can use that money to address some of those needs. I think essential workers being given bonuses for the work they've done throughout the pandemic, when they answered the bell when nobody else would. I think that's one of the most important things we need to address. And then taking a look at how we could better prepare our infrastructure for future challenges with respect to some of the things that we might experience going forward. Hopefully, we're at the end of this pandemic, and we'll be able to utilize some of that money to address some of the needs related to the pandemic, and then being as fiscally responsible with the remainder of that money as possible. I think that there's been a deliberate plan to not expend all the funds immediately as soon as we've gotten them. And I think that I would continue to take that same approach.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.