Mary O'Brien, former Berkshire County register of deeds, talks with treasurer candidate Thomas Conroy at Dottie's on Sunday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Thomas Conroy is seeking a "statewide stage" to fight for economic justice.
The Wayland state representative is running for treasurer and was at Dottie's Coffee Lounge on Sunday to meet with prospective voters. This is Conroy's second statewide campaign after running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2011, dropping out as Elizabeth Warren became the clear front-runner.
"When I started that journey three years ago, I found that in the gateway cities in the state, I found there wasn't that kind of opportunity and there wasn't the economic justice that I want to see in the commonwealth of Massachusetts," Conroy said of that campaign when he walked across the state including stops in Berkshire County.
The current chairman of the house Labor and Workforce Development said creating economic opportunities is a "passion" for him because his family didn't have much growing up. He said when he was two years old he got sick and his mother had to knock on doors asking for money to train fare to get him to the hospital.
A few years after that, he remembers his father returning from Vietnam with "no savings, no job and no income." But, the family was able to get by and he ended up taking out student loans to earn his business and economics degrees. With that education, he entered the private sector and worked for various businesses.
One company he worked for started to outsource jobs and cut pay. When he "stood up" for his fellow workers because of his experience growing up, he said it nearly cost him his job.
"I've learned a lot of decisions that are made in businesses and how they treat employees — what good business practices are and what predatory, less-than-good business practices are," Conroy said.
After 16 years in business, he went to the public sector in hopes to help spread economic opportunity. Currently, he said he is pushing to raise the state's minimum wage to become the "highest in the country." People should not have to work full time and still be in poverty, he said, and that is what is happening with the current minimum wage.
Conroy says he wants the position to help the entire state. Behind him is state Rep. Paul Mark, who helped bring Conroy to the Berkshires on Sunday.
But representing just one district in the state House of Representatives, he can only do so much. He is eyeing the treasurer's office — which is being vacated by Steven Grossman who is running for governor — so he can push for "economic justice" on the "statewide stage."
"I am someone who wants to continue this journey and run for state treasurer so I can reach out to communities throughout the state of Massachusetts," Conroy said.
During the hourlong event Sunday, he pledged to fight economic injustice through the office by building schools through his seat on the Massachusetts School Building Authority, expanding the state's student loan program, lending municipalities money to fix water systems and continuing the Small Business Banking Partnership, which loans state resources to businesses through community banks.
Education is what was gave him the opportunity to come out of the economic hardships his family faced and he wants to use the office to give more people that chance. He said he wants universal early education and wants to expand the MSBA's authority to include building early education facilities.
"Why shouldn't we expand the focus of the treasurer's office from K-12? Let's start earlier. Let's have early education classrooms. Let's build new buildings. Let's put people back to work. Let's put some carpenters and iron fitters and union folks back to work creating classrooms so we can have pre-K kids so every child has an equal chance to succeed," he said.
When it comes to higher education, Conroy said the state has a trust fund from which it issues low-interest student loans. But "the problem is, it is too small. I want to increase it a thousandfold."
Also through the treasurer's office, Conroy said he wants to help towns improve their aging water and sewer systems. He said it will cost $300 million each year for the next decade to fix the state's water infrastructure. The current Water Pollution Abatement Trust Fund has $50 million, which is not nearly enough to solve the issues, he said.
"We have ancient water infrastructure in the state. It's out of sight, out of mind. It's underground and we're not paying attention to it," Conroy said. "It's 100 years old. We've had massive pipes burst in places like Weston and Wayland and all over the state because our water infrastructure is broken."
He wants to "double or triple" that trust fund and loan towns money to improve their systems.
Meanwhile, he wants to continue placing the state's short-term reserves into community banks — rather than have them sitting in foreign bank accounts. The Small Business Banking Partnership increases a community bank's ability to issue loans to help businesses grow.
After providing a short speech on his intentions, Conroy field questions from about a dozen voters. The meet and greet was put on by state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and Paul Mark, D-Peru. Many of those in the audience were members of the Berkshire Brigades.
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