Eric Philip Lesser (born February 27, 1985) is an American politician serving in the Massachusetts State Senate. Before representing his hometown of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and neighboring communities in the Greater-Springfield area, he worked as a White House aide during the Obama administration. Lesser is one of the originators of the White House Passover Seder.
|Member of the Massachusetts Senate|
from the First Hampden and Hampshire district
|Assumed office |
January 7, 2015
|Preceded by||Gale D. Candaras|
|Born||February 27, 1985|
|Education||Longmeadow High School|
Harvard Law School
Early life, family and educationEdit
Lesser grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and graduated from Longmeadow High School. Known as an advocate for public schools, Lesser worked with students, parents, and teachers to increase school funding. He also worked for Congressman Richard Neal and Senator Ted Kennedy. Lesser was an active member of Sinai Temple, coordinating volunteer activities for high school students, and an active volunteer with the Longmeadow Democratic Town Committee.
Lesser's father, Martin, is a family doctor in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and a member of the Massachusetts National Guard. In 2010, he served a tour of duty in Iraq. Lesser's mother, Joan, is a social worker in Holyoke.
After high school, Lesser received his bachelor's degree in government from Harvard College. While in college, Lesser worked on Deval Patrick's gubernatorial campaign. He led the Harvard College Democrats and a policy group on Congressional Redistricting Reform. At Harvard University's Institute of Politics, he started a public policy research program.
Early political careerEdit
Obama presidential campaignEdit
After college, Lesser joined Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, helping stage events in New Hampshire. After the primary, Lesser was tapped to be the campaign's "Ground Logistics Coordinator," traveling with the candidate to 47 states and six countries – over 200,000 miles in total. Commenting on his logistical prowess, President Obama said "Eric Lesser may be running a Fortune 500 company one day," adding "We are lucky to have such a smart and committed young man as part of our team." During a campaign stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Lesser organized an impromptu Passover Seder. At the Passover Seder, then-Senator Obama promised, "Next year in the White House."
White House aideEdit
After the campaign, David Axelrod tapped Lesser to serve as his Special Assistant, where he shared a wall with the Oval Office. Lesser was described as a "wunderkind" and a "West Wing mascot" during his time at the White House. Lesser also worked as the Director of Strategic Planning at the Council of Economic Advisers, the White House unit charged with offering the President objective economic advice.
White House SederEdit
Lesser was a chief organizer of an annual White House Passover Seder attended by President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters – the first presidential Seder in American history. The Seder is a reunion of the original group who met in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania during the 2008 campaign. Lesser brought handmade shmurah matzah from the Chabad-Lubavitch center in Springfield, MA. Over the years the Seder has grown in prominence. President Obama has discussed the Seder with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Sara Netanyahu gave the President a silver Seder plate to use in subsequent White House Seders. President Obama has spoken of the Seder in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and in an address before the Israeli people.
On February 3, 2014, The Republican newspaper reported that Lesser was considering a bid for the First Hampden & Hampshire seat in the Massachusetts State Senate that was recently vacated by Sen. Gale Candaras. On February 18, 2014, Lesser announced his candidacy for Massachusetts State Senate. On September 9, Lesser won a competitive Democratic primary in the race for state senate. On November 4, Lesser defeated Republican Debra Boronski and America First candidate Mike Franco to win the State Senate seat.
Lesser launched his reelection bid in September 2016 after an uncontested Democratic primary. On November 8, 2016, Lesser defeated James "Chip" Harrington, earning 56 percent of the vote to Harrington's 44 percent. During the campaign, Lesser attracted a series of high-profile endorsements, including President Barack Obama; both U.S. Senators from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey; U.S. Representatives Richard Neal, Joe Kennedy III, and Seth Moulton; former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis; and Springfield, Massachusetts mayor Domenic Sarno. Lesser was sworn in for a second term in the Massachusetts State Senate on January 4, 2017.
Lesser won his third election to the Massachusetts State Senate in 2018, running uncontested in the Democratic primary and general election.
Lesser is a leading advocate of a high-speed rail system to ease travel between eastern and western Massachusetts. He believes that a high-speed rail line between Springfield and Boston would lead to an increase in employment and an overall boost to the economy in Western Massachusetts. In his first month in office, Lesser filed a bill that would require a report of the costs and benefits of a high which the State Senate passed unanimously, 39–0, and the State House of Representatives later passed. Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the legislation; it was later revealed that Peter Picknelly, the chief executive of Peter Pan Bus Lines, had personally lobbied the governor, sending Baker an email urging him to reject the proposal. Picknelly donated $1,000 to Baker's election campaign and hosted a campaign fundraiser for him.
In 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation announced their intention to study Lesser's east–west high-speed rail proposal; Lesser called this step a "major breakthrough." Lesser's proposed high-speed rail connection has gained the widespread support, including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, nearly all western Massachusetts lawmakers, the Boston City Council, and business leaders like the Greater Springfield and Greater Boston Chambers of Commerce.
Plan to end opioid misuseEdit
After the heroin epidemic resulted in 185 deaths in the first four months of 2014, Lesser created and published a four-point plan with concrete steps to address addiction. His plan includes the addition of more drug courts specializing in sending drug users to treatment instead of jail in Western Massachusetts, work to end dependence on prescription drugs through partnerships with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other organizations, investment in new treatments that have shown promise in decreasing withdrawal symptoms, and an increase in the availability of the drug Narcan, which can save lives by reversing the effects of a heroin overdose.
In January 2015, Lesser filed two bills regarding opioid misuse. Lesser's bills served as the blueprint for the plan ultimately adopted by the Massachusetts State Senate in its 2015 budget, which allocated $100,000 in state funds to buy doses of the drug Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, which can reverse opiate overdoses. Later in 2015, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced a settlement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the manufacturer of naloxone, in which Amphastar paid $325,000 into the state's bulk purchasing program. The state's fund spent $377,000 to buy 11,050 doses of naloxone and 8,750 applicators; as of November 30, 2016, 8,500 doses have been distributed to cities and towns in Massachusetts, saving local communities an estimated $186,000.
In January 2017, Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel told the Public Health Council that 50,000 people in Massachusetts were now trained to administer Narcan, and more than "1,500 overdose rescue reports — each a life saved — were received in the first six months of 2016."
Lesser is a leading advocate for civics education in Massachusetts. In 2018, a bill was signed into law cementing civics education in public school curricula, requiring student-led civics projects, and — as Lesser championed in a previous bill — highlighting media literacy.
Lesser, calling America's $1.5 trillion in student loan debt a "generational crisis," has proposed a Student Loan Bill of Rights to increase oversight of student loan servicers and protect borrowers.
Economy of western MassachusettsEdit
In addition to his proposals on high-speed rail and job training, Lesser has prioritized bringing technological innovation to western Massachusetts. He worked to pass the Mass Life Sciences Bill, a major investment in grants like the $3.9 million received by Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, to create a new clinical trials unit.
Lesser has also proposed a remote worker relocation program, which would pay $10,000 over two years to employees that could move to western Massachusetts to work from home. His plan is similar to one currently in place in Vermont.
In May 2014, Lesser published an opinion piece in the Springfield Republican detailing a plan to support the increasing population of adults over 65 in Western Massachusetts. Lesser believes that in-home healthcare should be more affordable so that seniors can stay in their homes as long as possible. His plan also includes two points to protect the physical and financial security of the elderly. Lesser wrote that the state should provide increased oversight of in-home healthcare agencies in order to reduce instances of elder abuse, and he supports the increased availability of computer and financial literacy education opportunities to decrease the number of seniors who fall victim to online and phone scams.
Since 2017, Lesser has hosted an annual "Thrive After 55" Wellness Fair where participating organizations answer questions and offer information about their resources to local seniors.
In response to President Trump's transgender military policy, Lesser sent a letter to Governor Baker in June 2019 asking him to oppose Trump's ban and publicly reaffirm support for transgender service in the Massachusetts National Guard.
After Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the 2016 U.S. presidential election because Donald Trump won more votes in the Electoral College, Lesser filed a resolution in the Massachusetts State Senate calling on the U.S. Congress to propose an amendment to abolish of the Electoral College. "It has now been twice in 16 years, and five times total in American history, that a president and vice president have been elected by winning a majority of the Electoral College, despite the fact that they lost the national popular vote," Lesser said in a statement. "Given the importance of empowering voters to believe every vote counts in a presidential election, the repeal of the Electoral College merits a thorough discussion and examination."
Outside of the State HouseEdit
Lesser holds a number of national recognitions, including a Rodel Fellowship in Public Leadership at the Aspen Institute. He is the co-chair of the Future of Work Initiative at NewDEAL, a national network of pro-growth, progressive state and local elected officials. He also sits on the Advisory Board of the Student Borrower Protection Center, an advocacy group for student loan borrowers. Lesser is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Lesser has taught workshops on campaigns, elections, and public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a class at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on millennial leadership in local and state politics.
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