Retired Register of Probate Francis Marinaro, also Downing's former coach, introduces the candidate and speaks to his leadership.
DALTON, Mass. — Benjamin Downing held his first official in-person kickoff event for his gubernatorial campaign at Holiday Brook Farm last week.
The Wednesday event brought more than 70 supporters and area residents to hear the former Western Mass state senator who announced his run in January. Pandemic restrictions have limited in-person events but Downing has held virtual gatherings and was in Lee earlier this month.
The Pittsfield native currently calls East Boston home since electing not to run in 2016. Downing's progressive campaign is focused on representation for both the eastern and western parts of the state, equity, and making greener decisions that prepare for the future.
The former five-term Democratic state senator believes that the government can be transformed from an "insular and unresponsive" state to be "as good as the people it serves," he said.
He wishes to be a governor who understands the daily impact of economic inequality, the urgency of the climate crisis, and the consequences of racial injustice as drivers for change.
"If we're going to get out of this and rebuild from COVID, if we're going to stop wasting time, then we need a new sense of urgency from all of our leaders, starting with our governor," Downing said to the attendees.
"For the last seven years, Charlie Baker has had opportunity after opportunity to take on the big challenges facing Massachusetts, on transportation, on housing, on climate, on COVID response, all the political power, and he hasn't used it on our behalf and too often, too many on Beacon Hill have cheered him on instead of raising their voices for the too many who have gone unheard.
"It doesn't have to be this way, but it won't change on its own, that's where we come in."
The popular Republican Baker, first elected in 2015, has not announced whether he will run for a fourth term. Three other candidates have so far declared for the Democratic nomination: state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz of Boston, Harvard political science professor Danielle Allen, and Pro Duct Air Cleaning owner Orlando Silva of Shrewsbury.
Downing first ran for Senate about 16 years ago and said his support system, many of whom were at the fundraiser, rallied around for him.
Growing up in Pittsfield, he said he knows what it feels like for people to look down on a place and see success as being synonymous with leaving the city. This is reportedly a trend across the state.
"The message that my generation heard was clear: 'study hard and get out, the best days of your hometown are behind it,'" he said. "Unfortunately, that message sounds familiar to a lot of folks across the state in Holyoke and Springfield, in New Bedford and Fall River, in Lowell and Lawrence, even parts of Boston as well."
Though Pittsfield and East Boston about 150 miles from one another and more than two hours apart via the MassPike, Downing said they are similar in principle.
"They're different in a million ways, but they're similar at the core, and similar to so many other communities across this state, tough, striving, creative, generous places that have had to fight much harder than they should to get resources and attention from Beacon Hill, and that's what brings me here today," he said.
"That's what brings me to this race because I have lived and seen the difference that leadership makes, I know what it feels like to be an afterthought, to be forgotten to be written off, I know exactly who suffers when those in power kick the can down the road."
Francis Marinaro, recently retired Berkshire County register of probate, introduced Downing by saying he is "easy to support."
Marinaro was the coach of his soccer team at the former St. Joseph's High School and spoke about the candidate's leadership skills even as a young adult.
"That team that we had back then ended up in the state finals, and we lost one-nil, as they say in the soccer language, and it was in double overtime and [Downing] was the goalkeeper, but I don't tell you that because of soccer," he said.
"I tell you that because we got there, not because of all the talent we had on the team, but it probably was one of the best and most talented soccer teams that St. Joseph's high school ever put out, but the reality of is we didn't get there without the leadership that this guy provided."
Downing represented the Berkshire, Hampshire, and Franklin districts from 2007 to 2017 and during this time, he lead efforts that are consistent with his current campaign.
He released his "Transit For All
" policy earlier this month that prioritizes climate change and accessibility to residents.
The seven promises in his proposal are fare-free public transit; regional transit autonomy; electrifying and modernizing the regional rail network; east-to-west rail by 2030; an equitable and resilient Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority; safe and livable streets; and to commit federal funds towards transportation equity and revenue sustainability.
In the past, he wrote a bill that aided the offshore wind industry which in turn, doubled the size of the solar industry and set up the state's first energy storage incentives.
He also wrote a bill that doubled the earned income tax credit for working families and led efforts to expand civil rights protections to transgender residents amongst others.
Both as a father and a candidate, Downing said he also wants to see child care become accessible for families of all socioeconomic statuses as well as health care, housing, and all other fundamentals for living.
"This will not be a campaign for the comfortable and the complacent, but rather one for the hungry in the hopeful," he said. "Built door by door, conversation by conversation, community by community, because that's not only how we win next November, that's how we make sure that we have leaders who are ready to use every ounce of their energy and their power to fight for us."
Attendees at the event included state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, John Barrett III and Paul Mark, Pittsfield Councilors at Large Pete White and Yuki Cohen, North Adams Councilors Lisa Blackmer, Benjamin Lamb and Wayne Wilkinson, and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Jamie Birge.