Author: Ryan Migeed

Western Mass Students Gather for 68th Annual Student Government Day

State Senator Eric P. Lesser greeted students participating in the 68th Annual Student Government Day (SGD), held today at the State House.

“I am inspired by this group of talented, impassioned young leaders,” Lesser said. “Each of them has something special to contribute, and I hope this event encourages them to consider pursuing a career in public service.”

This year’s event was attended by 413 students, including 15 from the 1st Hampden and Hampshire District. Participants conducted simulations of committee hearings and legislative sessions, and debated two House bills, HB.322, “An Act to establish a new high school diploma,” and HB.367, “An Act for mandatory Physical Education for all students grades K-12.”

Many participants took on the role of state senators and representatives, while others represented justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, constitutional officers, and the Lieutenant Governor.

Each year on election day, high schools across the Commonwealth elect a student designee and alternate that will participate in the coming year’s Student Government Day.

This year’s SGD participants from the First Hampden and Hampshire district are listed below:


Belchertown High School

Benjamin Stone

Alison Laughner

Chicopee Comprehensive High School

Briana O’Connell

Morin Kyleigh

Granby Junior Senior High School

Jillian Harrington

Joseph Mercier

Longmeadow High School

Madeleine Aseltine

Ludlow High School

Elizabeth Skaza

Nicholas St. Pierre

Minnechaug Regional High School

Viviana Angel

Emma Tynan

Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School

Todd Morehouse

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School

William Maldonado

SABIS International Charter School

Brian LaValley

Catherine Lupien*

*Assigned as Senator Eric Lesser

Western Mass Receives $90,000 in Crime Prevention Funds

BOSTON—State Senator Eric P. Lesser announced that Springfield, Ludlow, and Granby are slated to receive funding from the Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program to support local activities to prevent and control crime.

“Crime prevention is paramount not only to our public safety, but also to the economic prosperity of our community,” Senator Lesser said. “This grant comes at an important time as budgets are tight, and will give much-needed help to our local police officers.”

$30,000 in grant funds were allotted to Springfield and Ludlow, along with $29,181 to Granby.

State Representative Ellen Story (D-Amherst) praised the funding as a boost to ongoing crime prevention efforts.

“I am so happy for the release of this funding, which will help Granby and the surrounding area build stronger, safer communities,” said Rep. Ellen Story. “Our local law enforcement can always benefit from added support.”

State Representative Thomas M. Petrolati (D-Ludlow) said the grant comes at an ideal time for law enforcement officials in Ludlow.

“The monies provided will bring additional assistance to the Ludlow Police Department, and also allow continuity in the continuation of the various crime prevention programs dependent on grants such as these to survive,” he said.

The JAG Program provides critical funding necessary in support of crime control and prevention, including law enforcement; prosecution and court programs; prevention and education programs; corrections and community corrections; drug treatment and enforcement; crime victim and witness initiatives; and planning, evaluation, and technology improvement programs.

A Passover tradition for the White House: Campaign aide turned Mass. lawmaker helped inspire Obama’s Seders

By Joshua Miller

The Boston Globe

April 02, 2015

SPRINGFIELD — The story of how state Senator Eric Lesser will celebrate Passover in the White House with President Obama Friday begins where few grand tales do: in a dim basement room of a Sheraton in Harrisburg, Pa.

During the Pennsylvania primary, one of the toughest patches of the 2008 presidential contest, Lesser and other Obama campaign aides organized an impromptu Passover Seder there and were joined by a surprise guest. In the years since, the President, who is Christian, has not only brought the yearly ceremony to the White House, but makes a point of participating and including Lesser and other members of the original crew.

So Lesser, after doing the mundane work of a backbench legislator this week — huddling with staff about the closure of a small bridge, talking with a constituent about arts programs, fielding budget queries — will head to Washington and is set to break bread, matzo, with the commander-in-chief in another chapter of an unlikely story.

For Lesser, 30, the annual Seder serves as a marker of his life’s rapid progression from young campaign aide to Massachusetts’ youngest state senator, now married, with a daughter.

At the 2009 Seder, the first one in the White House, he was single and brought his father to the dinner. At the time, he was working as the special assistant for David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser and strategist.

In 2011, Lesser was working for the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and brought Alison Silber, his then-fiancee. She was his guest again in 2012, months after they were married, and when he was a first-year Harvard Law School student.

And in 2014, amid Lesser’s state Senate campaign, the Longmeadow couple brought along their young daughter, Rose.

After the president, first lady, and about 20 guests worked their way through a Haggadah, the Passover service text, some of the dinner discussion turned to a certain Springfield-area election.

“At one point, the president started asking him about how the campaign was going,” said Newton native Herbie Ziskend, one of the young coorganizers of the original Seder and an attendee every year since.

“It felt a little bit like getting pee-wee football coaching from Tom Brady,” Lesser said in Springfield this week. “But he is a former state senator himself. He is familiar with how a state senate campaign operates.”

Lesser said Obama told him to knock on every door and talk to as many people as he could one-on-one. (Lesser ended up winning the open seat in a district that includes some of Springfield and Chicopee and seven nearby towns.)

The elegant presidential surroundings are a far cry from the group’s original Seder in 2008.

That year, in the midst of the tough Democratic primary campaign in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t practical for Lesser, Ziskend, and Arun Chaudhary, another Jewish staff member, to get home for the holiday, which commemorates the Israelite exodus from slavery in Egypt. So they threw together a Seder — with some emergency supplies, including matzo and kosher wine, procured by Lesser’s cousin in Philadelphia — and held it in the basement of a Sheraton in Harrisburg, Pa., in what Ziskend called “a little dark, not-that-nice room.”

It was originally going be just the three of them and a few other staff members. But then-US Senator Obama and others ended up joining.

The 2008 Seder ended, as many traditional Seders do, with the attendees raising their glasses and saying, in unison, “Next year in Jerusalem!” And then Obama added, “Next year in the White House.”

And so it was that the custom begun in Pennsylvania continued at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It has evolved a bit. In 2011, for instance, the attendees began reading the Emancipation Proclamation at the end of the Seder, in a nod to the universal message of a holiday that celebrates freedom from bondage.

On Friday, coorganizers Lesser (2008 Seder: luggage wrangler; now: state senator), Ziskend (2008: advance man; now: a director at an investment firm) and Chaudhary (2008: Obama’s videographer; now: a creative director at political communications firm) are set to return to the White House.

Beforehand, the three, who all worked in the administration during Obama’s first term, will huddle to practice helping to lead the evening’s activities.

“Eric leads us in the songs,” Chaudhary explained. “He and I do a lot of the explaining and traffic management, and Herbie does the holding up of stuff, like on the Seder plate.”

White House chefs do the cooking, including using some family recipes from participants. Last year’s menu included Passover foods such as gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzo balls, and kugel.

The Seder tradition is anchored in the retelling of the Exodus story. And for Lesser, retelling his own Passover story — how he came to celebrate with the president himself — has become something of a touchstone.

Earlier this week, Lesser regaled sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at Heritage Academy, a Jewish community day school in Longmeadow, with his real-life tale of being part of history in 2008.


State Senator Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, thanked students at Heritage Academy in Longmeadow for giving him a Seder plate on Tuesday.

Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe

He told them about campaign staff members, Jewish and not, making their way into the basement room. Just as they were about to start the service, they heard a familiar voice from the hallway.

“He popped his head in and said, ‘Hey, is this where the Seder is happening?’ And it was Barack Obama,” Lesser recalled.

Lesser, who is still a Harvard Law School student, explained how the tradition has continued and, in 2009, they “celebrated the first Seder in the White House in American history.”

He also chronicled that time the Seder was delayed when a participant had trouble getting a container of macaroons past the Secret Service. And talked about Malia and Sasha Obama usually finding the afikomen, a hidden piece of matzo that is a part of the Passover service.

The middle-schoolers were enthralled, peppered him with questions, and then presented him with a note and a decorated Seder plate to bring to the First Family.

He assured them he would deliver the items on Friday when he shows up at the White House, where the event is expected to be essentially the same.

But for one notable change.

“For an apolitical event,” Chaudhary said, “it’s ironic but very cool to have two elected officials there now.”

By which he meant: the leader of the free world and state Senator Eric Lesser.

Sen. Lesser votes to approve $200 million for road repairs

BOSTON–Sen. Eric Lesser voted Wed. to approve $200 million in funding for road repair projects throughout the Commonwealth.

“These funds will allow cities and towns to make desperately needed improvements to our pothole-laden roads,” Lesser said.

Paired with the additional $130 million Gov. Baker has already authorized, the approval represents a total of $330 million in Ch. 90 funds that will soon be available to cities and towns as they jumpstart road repair projects this spring.

To report a pothole or other road condition, residents should contact their local municipality. Links to all municipal websites in the First Hampden and Hampshire district can be found at

Plan to expand high-speed rail from Springfield to Boston, and beyond

WWLP 22 News

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A decade from now, you might be able to get from Springfield, to Boston and to Canada through high-speed rail service. That was one of the subjects discussed during a meeting Tuesday morning in Springfield, promoting the benefits of rail service to western Massachusetts.

Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) sponsored a bill in January that would look at the feasibility of a high-speed rail line running between Springfield and Boston. Lesser, along with members of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission went over potential costs and benefits of the project Tuesday.

If Lesser’s bill is approved by the Legislature, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation would submit a report outlining the rail line’s potential impacts by August. The line itself already exists, and is known as the “Inland Route.”

“We need a better east-west real connection, so there’s a very massive study underway. We would not just look at connecting Springfield to Boston, but actually Boston to Montreal,” Tim Brennan of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission said.

A study on the rail service is expected to be finished by the end of the calendar year.

World’s 1st Dr. Seuss Museum Coming To Springfield


Springfield—the hometown of Dr. Seuss—plans to open the first museum in the world honoring the creator of “The Cat in the Hat,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and other beloved children’s books, the Springfield Museums in Massachusetts announced Thursday.

“That’s the right place,” Seuss’s stepdaughter Lark Grey Dimond-Cates says. “That’s where all his ideas come from.”

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, which its leaders estimate will cost more than $3 million when all done, is being developed by the Springfield Museums in the institution’s downtown complex. The first floor, scheduled to open in June 2016, will be a children’s museum, offering pint-sized recreations of local landmarks that inspired Seuss’s books. The second floor, which is expected to debut in 2017, will showcase Seuss art and artifacts.

“I think this has immense potential,” says Eric Lesser, a state senator from neighboring Longmeadow who chairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. “It’s a very exciting opportunity for a couple reasons—with Dr. Seuss, you’ve got the opportunity for a cultural attraction and a literacy and education center.”

Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museums. (Greg Cook)

The museums’ Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden—a cluster of bronze representations of the Cat in the Hat, Horton the elephant, the Lorax and other beloved Seuss characters sculpted by Seuss’s stepdaughter Lark Grey Dimond-Cates—is already “one of the biggest attractions in western Massachusetts,” Lesser says. The Seuss museum, he says, will add to the memorial’s appeal and compliment the existing Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge—as well as the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield and the planned MGM Springfield casino.

“The opening of the sculpture garden [in 2002] really positioned the museums for a flood of visitors from around the country,” says Kay Simpson, vice president of the Springfield Museums. “They immediately started requesting we have a Dr. Seuss museum.” Now the institution aims to finally satisfy that demand.

Conceptual design for the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum's "City Zoo Interactive Display." (Springfield Museums)

Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel in Springfield on March 2, 1904, and grew up in the city. After studying at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, he moved to New York in 1927 and worked in the metropolis until he settled in California in 1946. He resided there (living in La Jolla much of that time) until his death in 1991. (Seuss’s second wife, Audrey Geisel, still lives in La Jolla at age 93, but has “some issues with dementia,” so she hasn’t been much involved with museum plans, Dimond-Cates says.)

On the first floor of the Springfield Museums’ Pynchon Memorial Building, in space freed up when the Wood Museum of Springfield History there moved into a renovated and expanded office building nearby in 2009, will be an interactive 3,200-square-foot, Seussian version of Springfield.

“The places he saw in Springfield as a boy, some of the characters that he encountered, had such a profound effect on him that they are later manifested in the books he created,” Simpson says.

Conceptual design for Dr. Seuss's Neighborhood at the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, including bakery, brewery and Seuss's childhood home. (Springfield Museums)

Designers from 42 Design Fab in Springfield, 5 WITS in Foxborough and Boston Productions in Norwood are developing kiddie versions of Seuss’s childhood home at 74 Fairfield St., the Seuss Bakery run by his mom’s parents, the Kalmbach and Geisel Brewery (nicknamed “Comeback and Guzzle”) run by his father’s family (the museum will highlight manufacturing machines, Simpson notes, not booze), the zoo (“He grew up next to the zoo and his father actually became a superintendent”), “the flowering dogwood trees in Forest Park that are believed to be the inspiration for the truffula trees in ‘The Lorax,’” and, of course, Mulberry Street, the real-life Springfield road located two blocks from the museum campus that inspired Seuss’s first book in 1937, “And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.”

Initial conceptual sketches for the museum include an archway for the “City Zoo, G. McGrew, Manager” as in Seuss’s 1950 book “If I Ran the Zoo.” Which could be a sticky issue since the original book includes a number of racist caricatures. “That won’t be something we’ll be focusing on,” Simpson says. “It’s always a dilemma with any historical document. You actually see the stereotypes of the time. It’s very uncomfortable.”

Also planned are vocabulary and literacy activities—a word-building wall, a book-making section—inspired by Seuss’s “Beginner Books” series, the first of which was 1957’s “The Cat in the Hat.”

Theodor Geisel at his drawing table. (Wood Museum of Springfield History)

When the museum’s second floor opens in a couple years, visitors will find a recreation of Seuss’s La Jolla studio—his actual furniture, lamps, inscribed books, examples from his wacky hat collection and the “unorthodox taxidermy” that he began making in the 1930s. “When Ted last visited Springfield in 1986,” Simpson says, “he was presented with a sign from Forest Park, which has the words ‘Geisel’s Grove.’ And actually that was a part of Forest Park that was named for his father. That is one of the artifacts that is coming with this collection.”

These artifacts are being donated by Seuss’s stepdaughters Lark Grey Dimond-Cates of San Diego and Leagrey Dimond of San Francisco, where she runs Thidwick Books (as in “The Big-Hearted Moose”).

“Lark and Leagrey just feel that Springfield is really special and important to Ted,” Simpson says. “The National Memorial is here. They see it as Ted is coming home.”

Even though Seuss ended up spending the majority of his life in California, there was never a proposal for a Seuss museum there, Dimond-Cates says. Springfield is “where it belongs,” she says.

Conceptual design for Mulberry Street mural at the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. (Springfield Museums)

“Other children’s book series have kind of faded over time, but Dr. Seuss has seemed to keep growing in popularity. It’s a phenomenon,” Simpson says. More than 600 million copies of his books have been sold, she says. Random House plans to publish a new Seuss book, “What Pet Should I Get,” based on a rediscovered manuscript, in July— with at least two more previously unpublished Seuss books in the pipeline.

Seuss’s innovation was to make books that teach children how to read and offer moral lessons (“A person’s a person, no matter how small,” “I speak for the trees”) via wild wordplay and flights of fantasy, via “lots of good fun that is funny,” as the Cat in the Hat put it.

“The spirit that Ted put into that work, it’s so gentle and thoughtful and sweet,” Dimond-Cates says. “And those characters that he came up with—the Lorax and even the crummy, little Grinch—there was always a sweet message in those books. It was Ted. He was a sweet man.”

Sen. Eric Lesser tours, touts benefits of Sisters of Providence Opioid Treatment Program


HOLYOKE — Following his appointment this week to a regional committee focused on health-related challenges in the Northeast United States, state Sen. Eric Lesser spent time Wednesday learning more about one of the Pioneer Valley’s busiest substance abuse treatment programs.

The Opioid Treatment Program run by the Sisters of Providence Health System staff in Holyoke provides medication-assisted treatment for opiate addiction for people suffering from addiction in all four counties west of Worcester. And as heroin and opiate addiction has seen a drastic uptick in recent years, the demand for the program’s services has increased significantly, according to Dr. Robert Roose, chief medical officer of addiction services for the Sisters of Providence Health System under Mercy Medical Center.

Roose, who was recently appointed to an opioid crisis task force by Gov. Charlie Baker, said that he helps run a 30-patient acute treatment unit for inpatient addiction services which admits around 200 new people each month.

He also oversees two outpatient opioid-treatment programs which serve a total of around 1,000 patients each day with one of the three FDA-approved drugs for treating opioid addiction.

As Lesser is now representing Massachusetts to the Council of State Governments Eastern Region Committee on Health, he said the program’s successes should be replicated to help everyone who is looking to break an addiction.

“We have a very serious epidemic on our hands. The opioid crisis has touched everyone, from all walks of life,” Lesser said. “There are treatment options available but we need to make sure the most people possible have access to those services. The other side is looking for legislative ways to prevent future epidemics.”

The heroin epidemic’s resurgence in the past few years has led to a public health crisis throughout much of the Northeast United States, including Massachusetts. While the Bay State had 363 opioid-related deaths in the year 2000, by 2011 that number had grown to 642 by 2011. That figure was more than 860 in 2013, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

In 2013, President Barack Obama’s administration renewed the nation’s drug policy, transforming it to address the drug problem and addiction as public health issues. Treating substance abuse primarily as a criminal justice issue dates back to the declaration of the “war on drugs” in the early 1970s by President Richard Nixon and based on data collected over the course of nearly 40 years proved unsuccessful.

But even as attitudes has shifted toward care over punishment, another hurdle has been providing enough treatment options to meet the need. In Massachusetts, established a 16-member task force to work to identify best practices, and opportunities to expand treatment. Roose is among the members.

Lesser said he plans to take what he learned from Roose in Holyoke, including the fact that there is typically a two- to three-week waiting list for addiction-treatment services, to Beacon Hill.

“This crisis won’t be solved from our courtrooms and jails,” Lesser said. “We need to expand our treatment options and get people the help they need when they need it.”


Sen. Eric P. Lesser Appointed to Region-Wide Health Committee


BOSTON—State Senator Eric Lesser was appointed today by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to the Council of State Governments (CSG) Eastern Region Committee on Health.


In this role, Sen. Lesser will represent Massachusetts at national conferences to discuss health- related issues with residents and legislators from across the country, illustrating how the Commonwealth continues to be a national leader on health issues.

“I congratulate Senator Lesser on this appointment—his intellect, work ethic, and experience will be a tremendous contribution to the Council of State Governments,” said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.

“As a state and nation, we face significant public health challenges, including a rapidly aging population and an opioid addiction crisis that is showing no signs of slowing,” said Sen. Lesser, who is also a member of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health and the Senate Special Committee on Opioid Addiction.

“I look forward to representing the state of Massachusetts to address these and other important public health issues affecting the Eastern region.”

The Council of State Governments is a region-based forum that fosters the exchange of insights and ideas to help state officials shape public policy. The nation’s only organization serving all three branches of state government, the Council offers state government officials the opportunity to build partnerships focused on collaborative problem-solving.

More information on the Council of State Governments can be found at

Op-ed: Together We Can Fight Substance Abuse

By Sen. Eric Lesser

One of the most urgent problems facing our community is substance abuse, and in particular, opioid addiction. Nearly 1,000 people in Massachusetts died of unintentional opioid overdoses in 2013, more than double the number of motor vehicle deaths and a 46 percent increase over the previous year.

Here in the Pioneer Valley, public safety officials and community leaders have been working hard to fight back, whether through school outreach programs, specialized first responder training, or drug-related investigations and arrests. But addiction and overdose still remain a large problem, especially in Hampden County, where the rate of individuals with prescription drug abuse has exceeded the state average since 2009.

Given the escalating nature of this crisis, I wanted to share some of the work I’ve been doing at the State House to help reverse its direction.

First, I was recently appointed as a member of the Senate’s Special Committee on Opioid Addiction, which will investigate and recommend ways to better prevent, intervene, and treat opioid addiction across the Commonwealth. I’ll be sure to send updates about my work on this committee throughout the year.

Second, we know one of the primary gateways to heroin addiction is via prescription drug abuse. That’s why I’m sponsoring legislation to close the pharmacy shopping loophole, by requiring pharmacies to report their distribution of commonly abused prescription drugs within 24 hours, rather than the current 7 days. This will help pharmacists, public health officials and law enforcement to stop this dangerous practice before it becomes deadly.

Third, I’m sponsoring a bill to examine statewide bulk purchasing of Narcan, a successful anti-overdose drug. Unfortunately the price is skyrocketing, preventing police, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders from getting access to this lifesaving medicine. My bill would help save money by pooling resources and getting a better price from the manufacturer.

I’m also working with my colleagues to support local programs to combat substance abuse. In February, Senator Welch (D-West Springfield), Senator Humason (R-Westfield), Senator Downing (D-Pittsfield) and myself hosted a delegation of Senators led by Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr on a tour of Western Massachusetts. One of our most important stops we made was to the Hampden County Sheriff’s substance abuse treatment facility, where lawmakers learned first-hand about treatment programs with a proven track record of success.

Finally, I’m working with my colleagues in the House and Senate on several additional bills aimed at combating opiate abuse. These include legislation requiring any drug manufacturer operating in Massachusetts to contribute to the Drug Stewardship Program, which provides safe take-back and disposal of unwanted prescription drugs. I’ve also co-sponsored a bill requiring all opiates in Massachusetts to be prescribed electronically to allow for better monitoring.

While substance abuse is a serious challenge, by working together, we can help make our neighborhoods safer and improve quality of life here in Western Mass and across the Commonwealth.

State Sen. Eric P. Lesser represents the First Hampden and Hampshire District. You can contact Sen. Lesser at 617-722-1291.