Sunday, October 16, 2011

Our One Hundredth: Senate Politics for Breakfast...

CHICOPEE--At a handful of tables in the Knights of Columbus hall, Democrats in Western Massachusetts' second largest city, scarfed down a breakfast of eggs, bacon and other staples and presented their own Democrat of the year award.  Area political luminaries were present including the city's mayor Mike Bissonnette, State Senator James Welch, whose district includes a sliver of the city, and Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs, Springfield's Democratic Party leader.  The award went to School Committee member Michael Pise, but he was not the only Democrat gaining attention.  US Senate Politics were also afoot.

Among those in attendance were State Rep. Tom Conroy D-Wayland and consumer advocate and former White House adviser Elizabeth Warren.  Both are candidates for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate.  Because virtually all municipal elections in Massachusetts are non-partisan and local party politics--in Greater Springfield anyway--are not particularly visible, events like these often go unnoticed.  However, with a nomination for a prized US Senate seat at stake, any local party event has the potential for much more.

Rep. Conroy & Mayor Bissonnette, 3rd & 2nd from right
Nevertheless, nearly all of the audience hung in even after Conroy and Warren spoke.  Pise, who declined to run for the school committee again after 20 years as a member of that body, is presently a candidate for an at-large city on the city council.  He received accolades from Welch (who also stood in for Chicopee rep Joseph Wagner) and aides for Congressman Richard Neal and Senator John Kerry on behalf of their bosses.

The small crowd let out strong cheers and applause for the Senate candidates.  Before the breakfast officially began, both candidates worked the room, but Warren, the chief architect of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, seemed to be the favorite.  Many more wanted to have their picture taken with her than Conroy.  Of course the elephant in the room was that Warren had netted millions of dollars, largely from small donors, in her first fund raising quarter compared to Conroy, who did not.  Conroy was overheard saying that he had 30 of his colleagues in the House supporting him.  The Wayland Democrats appeal to the audience focused mostly on his work for Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, his time spent overseas and his win over an incumbent Republican that won him his House seat.

Elizabeth Warren (WMassP&I)
Warren, too, stuck with biography, recalling her earliest job as a babysitter at the age of nine for a "colicky baby" and her next job as a waitress at thirteen.  She also described how when she applied for law school, she was doing something nobody in her family had ever done before.  When she graduated, finding work was difficult because she had another baby on the way, her son, Alex.  However, she told the audience that she ultimately gravitated back to teaching, a job she had when between her time as an undergraduate and a law student.  Her overarching message, a central part of her stump speech, was that the America she grew up in offered the opportunity to the daughter of a maintenance man to become a professor at a "fancy-pants university" like Harvard.  "We lost our way," Warren said of the last twenty to thirty years and called for America to once again invest in its infrastructure, energy and the next generation.

After her remarks, Warren spoke about her campaign in a brief interview with WMassP&I.  Responding to a question about the urban problems facing cities like Springfield and Chicopee, Warren highlighted the some her signature priorities, namely education, infrastructure and renewable energy.  On education, Warren advocated for great financial help from Congress to struggling urban school districts to better prepare cities' populations.  

Her point on infrastructure and the need for greater help from Washington to maintain it was particularly instructive.  She explained that the mayor of Salem told her during a recent visit that aging water pipes are among that city's most troublesome infrastructure problems.  Warren noted that repairing such infrastructure as it broke down cost more, not only in repairs, but in time lost to residents and business affected by hastily arranged street closures and torn up roads.  Even, so she noted that cities like Salem simply did not have the money for fuller, more effective repairs.   Finally on renewable energy, Warren called for further investment in greener sources of electricity as a means to bring down energy costs and improve Massachusetts and its cities competitiveness in the national and international marketplaces.

Warren with Michael Pise (left),  Bissonnette (right)
and a supporter. (WMassP&I)
Warren, who is teaching a class at Harvard this semester, was also asked about balancing her academic career against her new life as a Senate candidate.  "It energizes me to be out meeting people," she said.  However, Warren noted that the law school's semester ends after Thanksgiving meaning she'll have more flexibility for her campaign come December.

In May Senate Republicans drafted a letter that announced their intention to block any nominee, although by implication especially Elizabeth Warren, to lead the CFPB unless it were partly defanged its independence were gutted.  This letter, among other factors, likely contributed to President Obama's decision to nominate Richard Cordray and not Warren to lead the new agency.  However, that effort may lead those same Senators to a time and place where Warren is a colleague of theirs.  If that happens, it may be among Senate Republicans' worst mistake yet.  In response to that scenario, Warren was philosophical, "Sometimes the ball has a funny bounce."  She made clear though that she did not dwell on such things.  Rather, her focus was making critical changes before its too late.  "I just want to help," she said.

During the October 4 debate among Democrats in Lowell, Warren and her opponents were asked about illegal immigration.  While nearly all of the candidates offered support for proposals like the DREAM act, which offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant children who graduate college or join the service, Warren offered a more personal take on immigration.  She noted that her son-in-law is an immigrant.  Warren told WMassP&I that he was from a small village in Northern India, to the south of Kashmir.  She beamed with pride talking about him, her daughter Amelia and her three grandchildren.  Her son-in-law, she said, "saw America as the land of opportunity."  

That's something Warren says she want to see remain true for both immigrants and native-born Americans alike.  To do that the US must consider what its values are and what it can do to "help create the conditions" for the next generation to succeed.

No comments: