Velis reflects on election victory

  • State Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield, at left, defeated John Cain, a Republican from Southwick, in the special state senate election for the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District seat on Tuesday.   THE REPUBLICAN via AP FILE/DON TREEGER

Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2020 2:15:24 PM

State Rep. John Velis’ victory in Tuesday’s special election for the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District flipped the state Senate seat from Republican to Democratic control, but the day after the election the attorney and Army reservist continued to maintain his nonpartisan approach to politics.

“I firmly believe that both a Republican and a Democrat are capable of a good idea,” Velis said.

Velis, 40, defeated John Cain, 31, a Southwick Republican who owns a small heavy equipment repair and construction business in Agawam. 

The district consists of part of Chicopee and all of Holyoke, Westfield, Agawam, Granville, Montgomery, Russell, Southwick and Tolland in Hampden County and Easthampton and Southampton in Hampshire County. It became vacant in January when former senator Donald Humason, R-Westfield, resigned his position to become mayor of Westfield.

Velis carried both of the district’s Hampshire County communities by substantial margins, winning Southampton by 534 to 322 votes and Easthampton by 1,635 to 434 votes, according to the unofficial results. He won Holyoke, meanwhile, by 1,568 to 661 votes, according to the city’s unofficial results.

“There wasn’t enough time to visit everyone we needed to visit,” said Cain, following his defeat.

Cain said that from mid-January to the governor’s stay-at-home order in March, which was issued to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, he was knocking on doors 8 to 10 hours a day, and that his campaign knocked on 15,000 doors.

Velis said that he’s a firm believer in retail politics. He has a copy of Tip O’Neil’s “All Politics Is Local” by his bed, and he transitioned his campaign to phone calls and digital outreach after the pandemic hit. However, he also said that his personal focus changed to tackling the pandemic as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

“The campaign immediately became secondary,” Velis said.

As a senator, Velis said that making sure that the 11 communities in his district have a seat at the table for the distribution of state resources will be a priority, and that he will be looking into the unique issues of his district.

“I just need to get in and do a deep dive,” he said.

Velis said he will be reaching out to local officials to those who didn’t support him in the campaign.

“There’s not a single elected official in the world who’s going to work harder than me,” he said. “If you do something, do it with passion.”

Local turnout

Southampton Town Clerk Luci Dalton expressed satisfaction with how the town had run the election.

“I think it went very well,” she said.

Dalton said that there had been a temperature checking station at the polls, and that people who did not feel comfortable going in were able to fill out absentee ballots outside.

“Every voter that came through had a mask on, or some kind of face covering,” she said.

She said turnout was better than expected, and that of the 856 ballots cast, 287 were absentee and early votes. Turnout was approximately 19%. Turnout in Holyoke was 8.25%.

Easthampton City Clerk Barbara LaBombard said that turnout was higher than she expected in the city, at 17%, and that 9% of the vote was either absentee or early. She also said that there were enough masks, gloves and hand sanitizer at the polls to make people feel comfortable.

Of the 2,076 votes cast in Easthampton, there was a single write-in vote cast in the race, which was for City Councilor Homar Gomez.

“And it wasn’t his precinct so I know he didn’t do it,” LaBombard said, adding that the race was “a good dry run” for what may be coming in the fall elections.

The 2nd Hampden and Hampshire seat will be on the ballot in this year’s general election on Nov. 3, and both Velis and Cain are running for the seat once again.

Bera Dunau can be reached at


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