By Lizzy Stocks
Yvonne Spicer, the mayor of Framingham, along with Massachusetts Reps. Jack Lewis, Maria Robinson, Carmine Gentile, and Natalie Higgins, discussed their campaign and professional experiences as well as political activism with students and faculty in the McCarthy Forum Oct. 10.
Spicer said her decision to run for office to be Framingham’s very first mayor harkens back to the reason she came to Framingham: to teach.
Spicer said the classroom was a “launching pad to step out of her comfort zone.” She worked in administration, the Department of Education, and was the vice president for advocacy and educational partnerships at Boston’s Museum of Science.
She said she used her strong background in education, along with her non-profit experience to “start a brand-new city.”
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She said it’s always “troubled” her that there are not many young people involved in Framingham’s governance.
In an effort to hear from younger constituents, Spicer created the 2030 Advisory Council, comprised of 21-35 year olds who “give an important voice on behalf of the interests of younger residents to generate improvements, support policies and social justice,” according to framinghamma.gov.
Spicer said she wants this council to inspire Framingham’s young people to get involved in government. She also hosts regular community office hours as well as coffee sessions, and encouraged the audience to visit City Hall to engage in community conversations.
Rep. Robinson is serving her first term in the 6th Middlesex District, and represents the city of Framingham. Robinson said she ran a write-in campaign to succeed the late Rep. Chris Walsh.
Robinson said, “It’s a whole different universe of campaigning. It’s not just getting people excited about you – it’s teaching them how to vote in a write-in, teaching them where to put your name. … There are all different sorts of rules to understand.”
She said once in office, she’s found there’s a “different type of relationship-building,” as responding to constituent needs ranges from storm drain issues on Route 9 to homelessness.
“It’s been a really interesting learning experience to be both a campaigner as well as an actual legislator – those two things are very different from each other,” she said.
Robinson encouraged the crowd to visit the State House as it belongs to the people, and said, “We serve you. Please don’t ever forget that.”
Rep. Gentile is serving his third term in the 13th Middlesex District, and represents Sudbury. He said the Vietnam War sparked his political activism when he was in the ninth grade.
“I went along to Washington to advocate for the war to end, and I’ve been very, very politically active ever since,” he said. He is a member of his local Democratic town committee as well as the finance committee.
Gentile said since being elected as a representative, he has been appointed one of the 14 members of the Massachusetts commission advocating for amendments to the U.S. Constitution regarding political spending.
He added decreasing the cost of healthcare and education are his overall goals. He said, “A number of us – every representative here tonight – are working in the legislature to lower the cost of higher education.”
Rep. Lewis is serving his first term in the 7th Middlesex District, and represents Ashland. Like Gentile, war sparked Lewis’ activism while he was in high school when he traveled to Cleveland to protest the Iraq invasion.
After studying in many countries, Lewis found himself at a seminary training to be a minister, where he believed he could help others, engage in social work, and provide counseling. He said, “Doing work for other people, getting other folks elected, was more my style.”
Lewis worked as a minister, but said it was adopting his son that changed his mindset and led him to politics. “Trying to navigate social services and trying to navigate state departments and just trying to figure out whether I’m meant to be a father – this little seed within me grew and I no longer think in hypotheticals. … I told myself I just need to crack that door.”
He added he had no idea how to run his own campaign, but attending trainings and studying political science assisted him and his family.
“It’s one of those jobs where we’re all here. We’re here for the right reasons – to help people,” said Lewis.
He added, “In the MetroWest area, I can tell you we all work together. … When it comes to FSU, remarkable things happen here and we all try to show up and support in any way we can because this is our region’s institution.”
Rep. Higgins is serving her second term in the 4th Worcester District, composed solely of the city of Leominster. She said her political involvement began in high school when she met her state representative.
Higgins said, “It was really transformative. Growing up in a working-class family, my dad dropped out of high school. My parents owned a small auto parts store – government never was accessible for my family.
“We struggled to make ends meet. … Government always felt like red tape, closed doors. It wasn’t there to help us – it was there to help other folks and we couldn’t figure out how to access those resources.”
In 2016, Higgins learned her state representative would not be running for re-election, so she called her parents and boyfriend and said, “I think I’m running for state rep. … Will you support me?”
Higgins said she and her family did not know the details of campaigning, but utilized the program Emerge, which “recruits, trains, and provides a powerful network to Democratic women who want to run for office,” according to their website.
In an effort to make government more accessible, Higgins holds weekly office hours at the public library outside of normal 9-to-5 work hours.
“I’m thankful for all 1,475 people who took a chance on someone who had never run for public office before, who believed in her community, and believed that we are stronger together,” she said.
Miranda Martin, sophomore and secretary of Young Democrats Association, which sponsored the event, said, “We are a new club on campus whose overall mission is to promote youth involvement in politics.”
In regard to youth political involvement, Dahir Hersi, a junior political science minor, said, “Honestly, I think it’s the highest it’s ever been.” He said getting involved is easier with social media as people can share their views across platforms and encourage change.
Brendan Coleman, a senior and political science major, said, “I don’t really know how our generation compares to other generations in terms of political involvement, but through observation, people tend to only participate in things that directly affect them.”
Stephanie Bennett, a senior and president of IGNITE, said, “All politics are local and this event gave an opportunity for students to truly be emerged in local politics. IGNITE canceled our Thursday meeting last week to urge students to attend this event.”
Nuhamen Mengistu, a sophomore and treasurer of Young Democrats Association, said, “People believe politics to be dirty and complicated – and it is in today’s society, but it’s also what makes us a society – it represents us as a population, and the youth is a big part of that. We need to get involved and make our voices heard.”