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After pulling papers, North Adams City Council Vice President Shade explains decision not to run for 3rd Berkshire House seat

North Adams, Massachusetts city council Vice President Ashley Shade being sworn in to office in January 2024.
Josh Landes
North Adams, Massachusetts city council Vice President Ashley Shade being sworn in to office in January 2024.

On March 21st, WAMC broke the news that the North Adams, Massachusetts city council vice president had filed to run for the 3rd Berkshire District House seat on Beacon Hill. Ashley Shade is a second-term councilor and the first openly trans person to be elected to public office in the region. Formerly a Libertarian, Shade filed to run in this year’s Democratic primary for the seat currently held by former longtime North Adams Mayor John Barrett. But on Sunday, Shade announced that she had reconsidered. She explained her decision and her migration to the Democratic Party to WAMC.

SHADE: In my time, as a city councilor, I've come across a lot of issues that unfortunately can't be solved on the city level. There's a lot of things that affect our community that really have to be addressed on the next level in order to really see the positive changes we need for the community. Things like healthcare is very hard to solve at the local level, things like transportation and access in our community are very hard to solve on the local level. So, when looking at issues like this, my thought was, I’d like to be able to help find solutions to these problems. And so, the best way to do that is to work at the next level.

WAMC: I suppose inherent to that there's a suggestion that the current occupant of that role is maybe not finding those solutions that you're looking for. Did you feel like incumbent John Barrett was not moving quickly enough or addressing those issues to a degree that you were satisfied with?

I think John has his own legislative agenda. In looking at the problems that I see, one of the biggest problems in health care is the managed care system – And this doesn't just affect North Berkshire, but it affects everybody in Massachusetts – where if somebody needs to see a specialist and they're outside of the region their managed care insurance is provided in, it's almost impossible to find a doctor who will cover, who can be covered by that insurance, and it takes forever. These are problems that should have been worked out years ago, and John's been there for a while and hasn't worked that issue out. Transportation has always been a big, huge problem out here on the Berkshires, and there's not enough being done around it. The [Berkshire Regional Transit Authority]- While it's a great system, it doesn't service nearly frequently enough or easily enough for people in the Berkshires. As a matter of fact, for somebody from North Adams to take a bus to Pittsfield for a doctor's appointment and come back, they would have to take four or five hours of their day. It basically becomes a day trip just to go to Pittsfield and back. So, those kinds of, issues aren't really being addressed well enough, and they need a lot more attention and a lot more advocacy.

So, having identified all of these major issues and feeling like they're not being addressed enough, why did you ultimately choose to not run?

Well, I think I ultimately chose to not run I because of the timing, to be honest with you. Right now, I'm still pretty new to city council, and only in my second term, and after looking into the potential of running, now just wasn't the right time. And as much as I would have loved to have been a candidate, the timing for me personally just didn't work. So, I decided that now's not the right time. And also, there's things with a local level that I still need to work on, that I still have projects that I'd like to do, especially in updating our city ordinances, and I don't want to lose sight of that. So, I'd like to complete that work first before moving on to another potential position.

Were you contacted by the Barrett campaign or Barrett’s office about your potential run after WAMC broke the news about your filing on March 21st?

Um, I've had conversations with a lot of different people and a lot of different- From a lot of different circles. I've gotten advice from a lot of different people in the community and outside of the community, and when looking at the potential of running the three biggest factors were factors in my own personal life, fundraising, of course, is unfortunately necessary in this political environment, and then, having everything worked out timing wise. And unfortunately, where I thought there might be an opportunity, it just didn't work out. As far as contacting people who support John, I've talked to a lot of different people, I've talked to people from a lot of different circles, and I ultimately decided that the timing just wasn't going to work for me.

What do you want to see addressed in any potential challenge for the seat this year? Are there issues that you would want to advocate for, or conversations you want to make sure happen if Mr. Barrett chooses to seek reelection?

Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I mean, I, in my statement, I laid out some of the issues that are really important to me and important to all of my communities. Healthcare is a big one and fixing the managed care system that currently Massachusetts has. Getting better access to public transportation should be a priority, because without it, we can't grow economically and we can't get more people here to increase our tax base. And then, Massachusetts has an obscure law still on the books that essentially says sodomy is illegal and can be penalized. And if a Supreme Court decision was overturned by the Supreme Court, which they've gone with Roe vs. Wade, that could potentially be an issue for a lot of people here in Massachusetts. So, there's a lot of- Just like updating the ordinance on the city council, there's a lot of old laws and old things in the Massachusetts code that are absolute and need a lot of work and need to be rewritten and revised to protect the people of Massachusetts. And I don't see a lot of people doing that either. Though, I will say the Massachusetts Senate has proposed a bill to fix that particular piece of legislation, but nobody in the House has taken it up. So, I'd love to see whoever the candidate is from 1st Berkshire take that on and help support that in the House. Because we have to protect all people in Massachusetts from discrimination and laws that are discriminatory.

Lastly, this journey from filing to ultimately withdrawing, it also brought up the fact that you've made this move politically away from your Libertarian roots to the Democratic Party. Can you offer us a synopsis of that journey and how you've gotten from point A to point B politically?

I would define myself politically as almost like a classical liberal. Socially, I'm very progressive, and my social views always have been. And my time in the Libertarian Party helped me grow, but ultimately, it came to a point where an alt-right group became leaders and then took over that party and didn't want people like me there. And rather than fight people who would rather try to hurt me, I decided to join the only political party that actually recognizes me as a human being. So, my shift to becoming a Democrat and working with Democrats was really natural, because right now the Democratic Party is the only political party in the United States that actively has elections and can win elections that also recognizes me as a human being and doesn't want people like me to not be in this country anymore.

Here's the full text of Shade's March 31st, 2024 statement on Facebook:

"Every year on March 31st we recognize International Transgender Day of Visibility. It is a day to celebrate the lives and contributions of trans people, while also drawing attention to the discrimination, violence and other issues the community faces.

I am a proud Transgender Woman and I have the honor of serving as the Vice President of the North Adams City Council. To be able to represent my city, my community and my people is truly such an amazing and gratifying experience. I love representing all of my communities and being afforded an opportunity to realize challenges and resolutions, requiring local and state level interventions.

As many of you might be aware, I filed for an OCPF account, which is a necessary step to run for State Representative. There are many issues and challenges that need stronger advocacy on the state level here in Massachusetts. I'd like to use my platform and my visibility to highlight just a few of the significant issues I see creating challenges for our community.

Commonwealth Care and MassHealth are supposed to be the gold standard in healthcare insurance services for our nation. However, because of the regionalized managed care system, many individuals in rural areas aren't able to access doctors or specialists in other counties in our own state. Having multiple managed care options should make it easier, not more difficult for patients to seek care. We all deserve equitable access to healthcare services.

Massachusetts still has laws in place that could send a person to prison for sodomy or other "unnatural acts" if the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence vs. Texas is overturned. This law is a blatant act of discrimination against gay relationships but also effects many heterosexual relationships as well.

In Berkshire County and most of Western Massachusetts our public transit system is difficult to access and keeps many parts of our county and state inaccessible to so many of our people. Inaccessibility, in turn, hurts our ability to grow economically and help our lower income residents gain increased access to better employment opportunities. Poverty is an issue we face throughout our district and is experienced at an even higher rate for people who identify as LGBTQ+.

Across the United States, the ACLU has tracked 479 pieces of legislation aimed at discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community, including 2 bills here in Massachusetts. The majority of these bills take aim directly at the transgender community. It's still only March, and almost 500 bills have been introduced across our country. The need for significantly more LGBTQ+ representation in all forms of government is critical and urgent.

I have consulted with many friends and trusted advisors about taking the steps to run for State Representative. One point that has been made to me is that I'd have an opportunity to make history. It's a great thought, but if I'm running for office just to make history, that's not a good enough reason to run. A good representative is someone who works for the entire community, fights for the people and makes sure the people always come first. A good representative does more than just make history, they make their communities stronger and help solve ongoing problems that harm people.

With that all said, I'd like to inform you all that after long deliberations, I have decided I will not run for State Representative in 2024. As much as I believe I can be a strong advocate for the issues above and many others, I have more local work to achieve and relationships to build in our surrounding communities. I believe this must be accomplished prior to running for higher office.

I will continue to serve as a city councilor in North Adams and I will be far more vocal about these types of issues moving forward. I’m a firm believer that the only way to solve them is to amplify their visibility and work with our elected officials to find solutions. I will use my visibility to highlight these issues and continue advocating for the liberty and rights of all marginalized communities.

I want to thank you all for your support in this endeavor so far and I thank you for allowing me to serve my city and represent my communities. Through Compassion, Education and Love we will help North Adams and all of our surrounding towns grow and prosper, together."

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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