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Driscoll says experience as Salem Mayor is what makes her the best Lt. Governor pick for Mass Dems

Kim Driscoll.
Josh Landes
Kim Driscoll.

Kim Driscoll is in her fifth four-year term as the mayor of Salem, Massachusetts. The 55-year-old Democrat is one of four elected officials running for lieutenant governor, with second-term Republican Karyn Polito stepping down.

Driscoll is the only one with direct municipal management experience, which she says distinguishes her from the pack. The state party will endorse one candidate at its convention starting June 3rd before the September 6th primary. On a campaign jaunt through Berkshire County Wednesday, Driscoll sat down with WAMC to give her pitch on why Western Massachusetts voters should back her instead of local rival candidates State Senators Eric Lesser and Adam Hinds.

DRISCOLL: I don't think you need to be from Western Mass to really love and appreciate the uniqueness and opportunities here. I really feel like as someone who is a city leader- I'm the mayor in Salem, prior to that I worked for the city of Chelsea as their Deputy City Manager and legal counsel. I am all about making sure our cities are working and thriving. And frankly, I don't think our commonwealth can really be a successful state without having cities and towns that are reaching their full potential. And certainly as the next Lieutenant Governor, I hope to be a real partner to all of our communities. I may not be from your hometown, but I care about hometowns. And that's what I hope folks here realize as well.

WAMC: Now, the Lieutenant Governor position has few official duties- What makes it an attractive position to run for?

You know, I actually think it's an exciting opportunity in Massachusetts. We're entering this next phase of the pandemic, we've got some federal resources, we really want to make sure we put those dollars to good use, and serving as lieutenant governor, you get to partner with the governor. It's a big job, it's a big state. And I think having an opportunity to work in close partnership, not only making sure our cities and towns are thriving, but also working on the most important issues facing the commonwealth, from housing, to transportation, to infrastructure and climate change. We know our schools have had some of the biggest impacts of this pandemic. There's a lot of work on our plate, and for me, the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and get to work helping us on a statewide basis. I've been proud to be a member of local government. As a mayor, you're on the front lines, there's never any hiding in a job like that. I’m proud to be part of the sort of ‘get stuff done’ wing of government, and hope to bring that same sense of urgency and accountability and sort of value system. Working for people every day is why I appreciate being mayor, getting to work on things that matter and making a real meaningful impact, and I hope to be able to do that as a lieutenant governor, working with our next governor to do good things for Massachusetts. And ultimately, that means improving the quality of life in the places people live.

So far, Eric Lesser has led the pack and fundraising, what are your thoughts and how that's going to impact the race- Certainly, you know, he's outraised you somewhat dramatically just looking at the raw numbers.

Yeah, I think that we won't have the most the most money in this race. But we certainly will have enough. We've got a strong plan, we're raising more dollars month over month, and feel really good that we'll be able to have the resources necessary to communicate with voters. And I should say, if we're looking at metrics, we've got the most endorsements in this race. A ton of local elected officials and former elected officials have come on board. Strong organizational strength, certainly a strong message that's resonating with voters that if you've been a mayor, you've been an executive. It's the perfect experience to bring to bear in the statehouse. And I feel like we're in a really good position.

Now a recent UMass Lowell poll that came out on Tuesday had you leading the field with 22%, but almost half of the likely Democratic voters were undecided. What can you gather from that information?

You know, I think coming out of COVID, a lot of people have, you know, really, I think, drilled down on their own life. We're all going through a really difficult time over the last couple of years, and I don't think people are fully paying attention. It's a down ballot race. You know, we're certainly excited that both polls that have happened so far, early polls have shown have shown us in the lead, but we're also not spiking any footballs, continuing to work hard, trying to get our message out and realizing that there's a lot on people's minds. And certainly I don't think the state politics are at the top of the list right now. But as we build towards the convention, build towards the primary, and then ultimately the November final, I hope more people will be will be tuned in.

Now speaking of the convention, at this point heading towards it, do you feel like you have a good base of delegates committed to your campaign? And do you feel that securing the nomination at the convention is key to your path to success?

You know, I've only run in one city before. So we're really just focused on trying to make sure that we make our 15%. That's our goal, to come out of the convention getting our name on the ballot. The real work will continue in the weeks and months as you lead into the primary.

Earlier, you were talking about how the experience of a mayor you think gives you a unique preparation for the Lieutenant Governor role. You know, we're sitting here in Pittsfield, the urban hub of Berkshire County, a Gateway City. Can you speak a little bit more to what, like, a local chief executive like a mayor can bring to the LG’s office?

You think about the most vexing challenges that are facing our commonwealth, and frankly, many of our Gateway Cities. You know, housing costs. Even though housing costs here may be a little bit less expensive than what you're seeing in the Greater Boston region, they're still not affordable for the people who live here. We know that, as I mentioned earlier, schools, and strengthening our public schools, particularly in Gateway Cities where we serve most of the more needy students within our commonwealth, folks who may not have English as a first language, who may be economically disadvantaged. There's been a lot of trauma experienced by our students, especially our young adolescents, that middle to high school age group, and our educators and staff who have really had to take a lot in to try and deliver education in a really strange setting over the last couple of years with all kinds of disruptions. We have a tremendous amount of work to do in that space. And frankly, some of our schools weren't working well, the way we were delivering education even before the pandemic. So there's a lot on our plate there. None of us are going to outrun or escape climate change. There's definitely more action that's necessary. I'm really fearful our grandkids are going to ask us what did we do to tackle the climate crisis and right now, we don't have good enough answers. There's more work to do in that space. When you think about transportation infrastructure, you know, the bread and butter of so many places, I don't believe public transportation begins and ends with the MBTA. Most of us, frankly, aren't interested in getting into Boston every day. Most of us are interested in getting around our own communities, in the adjacent communities where we work, go to school, have our medical appointments and the like. We have a tremendous amount of work to do. Much of those challenges I just mentioned are things that city leaders are dealing with, particularly leaders in Gateway Cities. Over the last two years, we've been the key response in recovery related to COVID. Those are experiences that I bring with me into the statehouse. Not only the ability to work on issues that are affecting our cities, but statewide have impacts, and none of which are going to be solved or mitigated unless there's action at the local level. And that's where I think my mayoral experience can be a real difference maker. I've had to balance budgets, I've had to operationalize plans, I’ve had to be in a position to bring people together on a unified vision, and then carry it out. That's unique about being a mayor and being a local leader. I feel fortunate that I've been reelected five times in Salem, and I think people have voted for me in my community because they know I care about the public good, even when they disagree with some of the issues or challenges. I think they trust that I'm looking out for the quality of life and the impact of everyone in our community. And that sense of obligation and trust is, you know, an important value to me, and something I think can really be beneficial as lieutenant governor.

Let’s talk about those challenges for a minute. What do you feel like has been the biggest challenge you faced working with your community as an elected official in Salem?

You know, I think the nuts and bolts of governing are never an easy day. I always say we can tell if it's a full moon before even looking outside at the sky, because there's something that might be, not be going well. So delivering services on a, you know, in a way that ensures that people understand they're getting their money's worth out of what they're putting into their real estate taxes on an annual basis. But our biggest challenge in Salem, and I think most of Greater Boston, has been housing. We are a community that typically has been affordable like many gateway cities. This is a place where you could pour coffee or pour beer for a living and afford to put a roof over your head. And that is no longer becoming the case. And what worries me is that we have young adults who want to stay in the communities they grew up or raise a family in the communities they grew up, they're really not going to be able to do that with the current housing prices. And we have older adults who want to age in place. There's a huge housing shortage throughout, you know, most of Massachusetts, and an opportunity for us to work on that by leveraging public land, looking at ways to embrace transit-oriented development, thinking about areas in other parts and other regions of Massachusetts, like Western Mass, like Central Mass, that can take on a little bit more housing with supports for transportation and the economic prosperity that we know is so vital and necessary. You know, I think in our world, housing is one of the most, the most challenging issues because it also can't get solved overnight. And there's no one thing that you can do that's going to miraculously fix the housing crisis. You know, for me, I would also say it's just a moral issue. I think it's key to the social determinants of health. I think everybody deserves to have a safe, accessible, affordable roof over their head. And for far too many of us that's not the case. We're spending way too much of our income towards housing, which limits your ability to put food on the table and pay for medicines and the other things that are also important.

Now, on the November ballot is the Fair Share Amendment question that would, if passed, levy a 4% surcharge on income over $1 million in the commonwealth. Are you for or against that question?

Yeah, I'll be voting to support the question. I really do think we need a sustainable revenue stream to help support education and transportation. I don't like the class warfare that I feel like is coming as a result of it being on the ballot, but I do know that we want things like early pre-K experiences, a high quality pre-K experience for all four year olds like they do in other states. I know we have stark transportation needs, and again, not talking only about the MBTA. There are lots of ways that we need to invest in both community level transportation, Regional Transportation Authorities so that we can get our single occupancy vehicle trips reduced. That's key, not only to the congestion that so many communities face, but also to climate change. These resources from this ballot question, should it prevail, will provide that sustainable revenue that are going to help us get ready for the next generation of challenges that we're going to have. And the last point I would say on this is, you know, the commonwealth has a unique opportunity to make these investments. But we also have a responsibility to make sure we're thinking and acting wisely when it comes to the use of these dollars. If we are going to have this funding source come in, I think the accountability standards and transparency around how we're spending it, where it's going- We want to be sure about what those metrics are that we're going to use to support the return on the investments here. I think those pieces need to be critical and voters should demand that.

I'm interested in your thoughts on police reform in Massachusetts. Over the last two years, there's been a lot of really emotional conversation about what policing means to communities. I've heard from some folks who feel like the police reform bill doesn't go far enough. I've heard from members of law enforcement community that they think it goes too far in the wrong direction. What were your thoughts on that legislation? And again, do you think it was overkill, too little, just right? What are your thoughts?

Yeah, my sense is we need to see this legislation fully implemented. I'm glad we have it. I think stronger accountability is needed within public safety. If you're given a badge and a gun, you're given a tremendous amount of trust and responsibility in every community in the commonwealth. And I think by and large, many our officers in our police departments are professional, really want to do the right thing and are facing at times really difficult challenges. We know that mental health challenges and behavioral health challenges are on the rise, we know the opioid scourge, what's happened here in terms of substance use disorder. When folks dial 911, oftentimes, you're met with, unsure of what you're going to be meeting when you respond to that call. A range of issues. So I do want to recognize that I think we have lots of hard working, trustful police departments. But the key to any police department in any community is really having that trusting relationship. If you have lost the trust in your community, you can't be an effective law enforcement partner. So I support this legislation. I think having that higher degree of accountability and licensure is key. And also, when there are folks who violate the law, act egregiously, that we're in a position to make sure they're not staying in the profession. That's the best thing we can do. If we really want good policing, we need to make sure that we're, you know, removing and having a process in place to remove officers who aren't holding up that high standard.

Lastly, Kim, what do you feel like the sort of make or break of this election is? I think in the Lieutenant Governor field, because the role is perhaps less understood by the public, I'm interested to talk to the candidates about what they feel like is going to be the thing that this sort of rests on. Do you think there's sort of a linchpin issue in this election?

You know, in my mind, I think voters are interested in knowing what kind of skill sets you're going to bring to the position, whether it's any of these races- Lieutenant Governor, auditor, you know, treasurer, the gubernatorial candidates, what have you done? What's your experience? And how are you best going to serve our commonwealth going forward? You know, right now, we have a large amount of federal resources at play. It feels like there's an opportunity for us to recover strong out of this pandemic in Massachusetts. But we also could have some troubling times ahead. When the federal dollars run out, as we think about what's happening in so many of the industries that we rely on- I've been a person who's managed through a recession. I've been a person who's had to operationalize new plans, who also has to do so in an accountable way. So I think people are going to look for experience and it's an executive position and I think having someone who's already served in an executive role would be a real asset to the commonwealth.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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