O’Donnell announces candidacy for Kocot’s seat

  • Ryan O'Donnell, Northampton at-large city councilor, laughs while jokes are told March 17, 2017 during the Northampton St. Patrick's Association's 37th annual St. Patrick's Day Breakfast at the Hotel Northampton.

  • Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper fields a question during a meeting Monday at Northampton City Hall held for Ward 3 residents concerned about recent fires in their neighborhood. Beside her is Ward 3 City Councilor Ryan O'Donnell. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ryan O’Donnell announced Monday his intention to run for the House seat held by the late Peter Kocot. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 3/5/2018 10:03:13 PM

NORTHAMPTON — City Council President Ryan O’Donnell, 38, has thrown his hat in the ring for the 1st Hampshire District seat in the Massachusetts House, and he’s pledging to pursue a strong progressive policy agenda if elected.

“This is a district that cares about a progressive agenda,” said O’Donnell, whose fellow councilors unanimously voted him president this year.

The 1st Hampshire District was left vacant after the death of Rep. Pete Kocot, D-Northampton, who died at 61 on Feb. 22 after a brief battle with cancer.

O’Donnell is the second candidate to announce for the seat. Diana M. Szynal, 51, Kocot’s district director, announced her candidacy Sunday.

The district consists of all of Northampton, Southampton, Hatfield and Westhampton in Hampshire County, as well as Montgomery in Hampden County.

O’Donnell said several people approached him about running for the seat, which he already had an interest in.

He also said it had been hard to figure out the proper time to announce his candidacy, given the sad circumstances that led to the seat’s vacancy.

“It was nice to hear the support from so many people,” he said.

O’Donnell, who works as a nonprofit advocate for a variety of organizations such as Common Cause, said he will continue to serve as City Council president while campaigning. He said he will be able to balance his duties as a councilor, his campaign, and his work thanks to the help of friends and volunteers, noting that he’s won four elections previously.

O’Donnell was first elected councilor for Ward 3 in 2013. Re-elected in 2015, he then won a special election for councilor at-large in 2016, winning re-election last year. He grew up in the Pioneer Valley and is a 2002 graduate of the University of Massachusetts.

O’Donnell noted that the impending retirements of longtime legislators Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, and Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, combined with the death of Kocot, will mean that western Massachusetts is in danger of losing influence in the Statehouse.

“It’s very real that our region is jeopardized in terms of influence,” he said.

While O’Donnell said that the area would certainly lose formal influence, such as the kind that comes from committee chairmanships, he said such a loss could be made up by the moral influence of pushing a strong progressive agenda.

O’Donnell said that he wanted to get more people involved in government. “That’s important to me,” he said.

O’Donnell supports automatic voter registration and the public financing of campaigns.

“People should be able to run who do not have access to wealth,” he said.

O’Donnell said that the state is not sufficiently funding the Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority and public schools.

“Those choices exacerbate inequality in our society,” he said.

O’Donnell also said that the tax code needs to become more progressive in Massachusetts, expressing support for expanding the earned income tax credit and the Fair Share Amendment, which would levy an additional tax on millionaires in Massachusetts.

O’Donnell expressed support for a $15 an hour minimum wage, single-payer health care, transitioning Massachusetts to 100 percent renewable energy, and both north-south and east-west rail. He also said that the state should consider divesting its pension fund from firearms manufacturers.

“Massachusetts often leads the way for the nation,” he said.

On the local level, O’Donnell vowed to hold town halls and be a presence in the communities of the district, should he be elected.

“I’ll be a state rep,” he said. “But I’ll be a city councilor at heart.”

“People are going to get sick of me.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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