Ken Donnelly has heart. I offer this quote from Bay Windows, which I think is a real measure of the man I have come to know in the past few months. “He noted that on his office wall there are portraits of Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and John F. Kennedy. The King photo he said is to let visitors know ‘my priorities are fighting for basic civil rights and freedom. Rights to pursue your happiness and live the life you want to live.’ Chavez is there to show solidarity with workers and the labor movement; the Kennedy portrait inspires in Donnelly the courage to face adversity. ‘So that’s a little bit about who I am.'”
Maybe Ken was tugging at my heartstrings.
My grandfather was a carpenter. Every once in a while, when I was a child, he would drive me past a house he built in Washington Township, NJ.
When I was still in elementary school, I was given a camera with the promise that if every photo I took came out, my grandfather would pay for the developing and the next roll of film. One day, he took me to a field in Westwood, NJ, where he held a shovel for the groundbreaking for the Pascack Valley Hospital. My grandmother explained that my grandfather was a trustee of the hospital, that he was responsible for helping to build the hospital, but I was much too young to understand what this was all about.
I was an adult before I really understood what happened that afternoon. Hospital trustees, especially for new and aspiring hospitals, are usually wealthy benefactors. That certainly wasn’t my grandfather. He was a carpenter. A union carpenter. And, as it turns out, a leader of the carpenter’s union.
So why would a working man, who took pride in building things, find himself at the groundbreaking of the hospital? Because unions gave power to the workers. Unions changed the power relationship between workers and corporations. Unions brought about living wages, health benefits, and safe working conditions.
I’m third generation union. My mother was a member of the teachers’ union, and I have been a union member for most of my professional career. I have also sat on the other side of the table, as a member of two school committees I have had to play the role of the public employer in some very difficult times. When I was on the school committee side, I tried my best to look after the interests of the town and the taxpayers of Arlington. I think you can effectively move from one side of the table to the other. I see it happen all the time.
Yes, I believe that a union leader can change seats to become an effective legislator. We only need to look to our neighboring town, where State Senator Tolman was a leader in the railway union. Steve Tolman has been effective in looking after the interests of his communities, and he hasn’t given away the store to railway workers. Union-driven trains have not taken over Belmont Center.
Ken Donnelly has been a reform-minded leader. He is a member of the state’s Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission, and supported significant reforms in the pension system. According to the Billerica Minuteman, he supported pension reform including tough health standards for firefighters and police, including a no smoking requirement. Ken Donnelly is currently recommending that two doctors should have to sign off on a disability rather than one. “We have to make sure that the pension system is one that the taxpayers can depend on,” Donnelly said. “We can’t have abuse.”
Still, this wasn’t my selling point. I could see that Ken Donnelly is effective. I could see that he knows how to work with folks on Beacon Hill. I could see that Ken does his homework, and isn’t afraid to take unpopular but necessary positions.
Here’s what sold me. We were talking about some very complex, and very technical, education issues. We discussed the state board of education and the governor’s role in reforming the state’s education bureaucracy. I thought I would spend a good part of the breakfast explaining the reasons for the school committee association’s displeasure with the State Board of Education, but Ken quickly demonstrated that he knew about the structural problems and how to fix them.
I was sold.
Ken Donnelly is smart. He is respected by anyone who has ever worked with him. He’s a hard worker. He gets results. He is everything I could possibly want in a state senator.
This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Fourth Middlesex district. Every newspaper in the district has recognized this with their endorsement, and it’s not often the Lowell Sun, Boston Herald, and Boston Globe agree on anything. I hope you join me in voting for Ken Donnelly.