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With blowout win, Mark lays out Mass. state Senate agenda for 2023

Paul Mark outside his victory party in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts on election night.
Josh Landes
Paul Mark outside his victory party in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts on election night.

After easily securing a seat in the Massachusetts State Senate Tuesday, Democrat State Representative Paul Mark is laying out his agenda for 2023.

Mark dominated his race for the open Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin, Hampden district seat against unenrolled conservative Brendan Phair, winning a roughly 75-25 split with a difference of almost 30,000 votes. After a decade in the commonwealth’s lower house, he woke Wednesday morning with a much more significant mandate as one of just 40 state senators on Beacon Hill. WAMC caught up with the state Senator-elect outside of his victory party at Patrick’s Pub in downtown Pittsfield.

“My message is thank you, thank you to the people of the former 2nd Berkshire district, 29 different communities that have voted for me and sent me to serve for the previous 12 years," said Mark. "And I'm so excited to pick up 32 towns I've never had in the past. But, I'm honored by the support we've seen both throughout the campaign in the primary election, now again, tonight, on election day. It's 57 communities, it's bigger than the state of Rhode Island. It's going to be a lot of work. But I promise, the only thing I can promise, is you will always have my hardest effort, you will always be able to get a hold of me, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to serve you in Boston and be your voice.”

Following the most recent round of redistricting, Mark’s House seat was eliminated — leaving the rural, westernmost region of Massachusetts with just three state representatives in Boston.

“As the only senator for the entire county, it is crucially important that we make sure that Boston knows we exist, Boston knows what we care about, and that we get as many resources as possible back to this region," he said.

Mark is filling the seat of former state Senator Adam Hinds, who resigned before the end of his term this fall following a failed bid for lieutenant governor in the primary. With just under two months until he’s sworn in, Mark wants to parlay his years of legislative experience into committee appointments that will benefit his new constituency.

“I would love personally to have higher education," he told WAMC. "I would love economic development. I would love to be on Ways and Means, I've never served on Ways and Means previously in the House. Tourism, arts, and cultural development is a great committee for this area. As a new senator, I know I'm coming in with zero Senate experience, but at the same time, I'm not a rookie. I've been doing this, I've chaired committees in the past, and so I'm hoping that I'm going to be able to get something that has a bigger impact than maybe the average first term senator will be able to get, and if we're successful, again, we're going to use that to make sure that this region is never forgotten and is getting every single penny we're entitled to.”

Mark’s top priorities are transportation and housing.

“Especially with this winter coming up and the increases in costs for fuel and energy and heating, making sure that we have every resource at the disposal of people that are in need, that nobody ends up losing a house, nobody ends up foreclosed upon, nobody ends up unnecessarily evicted that we can prevent," he told WAMC. "So making sure those programs are in place and fully funded is extremely important. Then next, as people are looking to build, whether it's public entities, quasi-public, private entities, or even individual developers that have a good sustainable plan that's in balance with local neighborhoods and communities, that we're making sure that they have the resources they need, the know-how they need, and that some of the smaller towns are able to access the knowledge and the assistance that maybe is more difficult in one of the communities where you're often reliant on volunteers to do a lot of work that maybe some of the cities take for granted.”

Mark is optimistic about what 2023 could bring the transportation infrastructure of Western Massachusetts, which is by turns crumbling and underdeveloped.

“There's a lot of money right now flowing from Washington coming through the state," he said. "And so making sure that the money that is earmarked to get the west-to-east rail coming here to Berkshire County in time happens, that we're making sure that we have micro-transit, that we have availability of a public transit form in some form in the rural communities, as well as the traditional [Berkshire Regional Transit Authority] routes.”

In 2016, Mark proudly declared himself the first elected official to endorse Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ run for president in the Democratic primary. WAMC asked the decidedly left-wing Democrat to offer his diagnosis of his party’s direction moving forward.

“A lot of what's been happening nationally, and especially the extremism of the right, of people like former President Trump, has led to both a reaction within the Republican Party, where people that are more moderate like Charlie Baker don't actually know how to proceed, how to move forward, and on the Democratic Party side, you see more progressive activists getting more engaged, feeling more energy, being ready to, I think, take the next step on some bills that maybe have been languishing in the past. And then you also see, I think, a moderate faction of the Democratic Party, even here in Massachusetts, that is kind of looking at what's happening nationally and I think moving a bit to the left, not because of some kind of an ideological bent, but more because the national Republican Party, and now with some of the nominations that have happened at the state level as well, the Republican Party is moving the goalposts so far to the right, I think people that didn't think of themselves as progressive six years ago are now starting to realize you have to go far to the left to just get the middle back to the middle.”

Of Mark’s former Berkshire House delegation colleagues – all of whom are Democrats – incumbents John Barrett and Tricia Farley-Bouvier went unchallenged in the general election. In the Southern Berkshires, Smitty Pignatelli easily defended his seat against Green-Rainbow Party candidate Michael Lavery of Becket.

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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