Mike Lake was back in the Berkshires on Tuesday, meeting with residents at Dottie's Coffee Lounge.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Economic development doesn't adhere to borders.
If elected lieutenant governor, Mike Lake says he'll bring all communities together to work toward the common, regional goal.
Lake is the founder and CEO of Leading Cities, a nonprofit organization doing just that — bringing leaders from all over the globe together to solve problems.
Through summits and meeting, the organization identifies problems and shares solutions, focuses on spurring economic development such as trade agreements among municipalities and pushing for further intergovernmental cooperation.
"We partner with municipal governments, with institutions, private sector, and academia and non-profits, to get everybody in and tackle the problems of the 21st century. It is this experience that I see the real value in the lieutenant governor's office, to be a partner with our cities and towns," Lake said in an interview Tuesday morning at Dottie's Coffee Lounge.
"The challenges of the 21st century do not know man-made borders. They do not understand city limits and town lines. Our challenges transgress all of that and we need somebody who is working with our municipal leaders to tackle them."
After six years of growing that organization, Lake is hoping to do that on the statewide level. While all three lieutenant governor candidates are talking about experience, Lake say he has the "right experience" for "right now."
"I am running because everybody should have access to opportunities. I was the son of a single mother and had the opportunity of a public education, became the first of my family to go to college and then I was appointed to the White House," Lake said.
"Every opportunity I was given was because the community believed in me and gave me a chance. In part, it is about giving back and in part because I believe a kid in the Berkshires should have the same opportunities as Boston; that every corner of Massachusetts has jobs and is putting people back to work, has a safe community, has an education system to be proud of, and that we are supporting small businesses."
The Melrose native's interest in public service started in when he was elected to shadow the mayor in high school. Then he fielded a call from a women who needed a dentist appoint. He arranged the appointment. That's when he saw how the community had helped him and how he could help the community.
"A public servant is somebody in the community that anybody can come to at any time for any reason," Lake said.
Political science became one of five majors that Lake took at Northeastern University — finance, communications, entrepreneurship and information management rounded out his resume.
"My claim to fame is that I am the first person in Massachusetts history to complete five majors simultaneously, which is just a demonstration of how cheap I really am. I wanted to get every penny's worth and certainly did that," Lake said with a laugh.
At Northeastern, he met former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who became a mentor and who has now endorsed the campaign.
"He governed for all of Massachusetts. It wasn't just about investing in Boston," Lake said of Dukakis. "First and foremost, he is a role model. He's been a mentor and now I'd call him a political adviser. He has more experience and history than anybody else in the state at this point."
The biggest lesson he took was working collaboratively, Lake said. Dukakis pulled all the stakeholders together to find solutions to problem, he didn't just put policies in place, Lake said.
After graduation Lake was appointed by former President Bill Clinton as special assistant to White House operations, running the president's office.
"It gave me the opportunity to work with everybody and see how everything was working together. To have that type of insight at that age is something I'll never forget and it shaped me," he said.
After Clinton's term ended, Lake then was deputy finance director in the Midwest for John Kerry's presidential campaign. Then he was director of development for the United Way, where he focused on homelessness, before starting Leading Cities.
Leading Cities, he says, is "pioneering" the way governments work together. Together cities are sharing information with how to combat issues and developing agreements to help each other's economy — such as one he crafted with Catalonia, Spain, and Massachusetts.
"We need to think in a regional perspective. That is why the equity of all regions of the commonwealth is so important to me," Lake said. "Frankly, it is exactly the type of leadership we need in the 21st century."
If elected, Lake says he wants his first task to be heading a committee to review regulations. He pointed to laws on the books that prevent permits for hair salons to be ineffective for 30 days if sold or a recently reversed regulation on fishermen requiring them to count their catch twice as regulations that are out of date.
"We have the opportunity to make business a little easier for that small business owner. I would like the next governor to create and appoint me chair of a regulation review committee so we can work with the secretary of economic development and housing to identify regulations that need to be revisited," Lake said.
But it isn't just about making business easier; it is supporting the businesses as well.
"Three sawmills in Massachusetts shut down last year. For some communities, that is your economy, whether it is the mill itself or all of the businesses indirectly related. The fact of the matter is that of all the wood products we use in Massachusetts, only 2 percent of the wood is sourced in Massachusetts," Lake said. "We have a tremendous multiplier effect when we support local business."
He said doing procurement for the White House, he always focused on finding the local vendor and Massachusetts and those who contract with the state need to do the same thing.
Lake says he doesn't want to just create jobs, but rather jobs that pay a living wage. He supports the state raising the minimum wage to $11 an hour.
"As the minimum wage stood, it would take you almost four full-time minimum wage jobs to afford to live in Massachusetts. Nobody can work 160 out of 180 hours in a week," Lake said. "Twenty-nine percent of the 4,000 plus homeless families that we have in Massachusetts have a working adult. Your family should not be moving from shelter to shelter or living in a motel if you have a working parent."
He also supports a constitutional amendment to implement a progressive tax system.
Some of his other priorities include boosting the state's investment in education including implementing a universal preschool program. He wants to work with cities and towns on security issues and he believes the state needs to continue digging into what he calls a "backlog" of delayed infrastructure projects.
Lake says high speed rail in the Northeast is something he'd be advocating for and he would be able to work with the governor's of other states to sort it out.
"It is very difficult to get all of the Northeast governors on board because they have to manage the day-to-day operations of their state. So this is where the No. 2s can step in. We can work collaboratively on a proposal we can take to our governors to approve and then the federal government to make high speed rail a reality," he said.
Lake entered the campaign for lieutenant governor 18 months ago. He is seeking the seat left by Timothy Murray against Steve Kerrigan and Leland Cheung for the Democratic nomination. Lake is on the ballot after reeling in 35 percent of delegate votes at the Democratic Convention, which was just two percent shy of the leader Kerrigan.
"At this point, we got through the convention. We were outspent 4:1 and we emerged basically in a virtual tie. It was a huge victory for not just our campaign but or grassroots organizing," Lake said of the campaign.
Whichever candidate wins the primary will be partnered with the winning gubernatorial candidate on the Democratic ticket. Steve Grossman, Martha Coakley and Donald Berwick are the three candidates still in contention or that office on the Democratic side.
Evan Falchuk is running an independent campaign and named Angus Jennings as his running mate. Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito will be the Republican ticket.
The state primary is Tuesday, Sept. 9.