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Two candidates vying for Democratic nomination for Hampden, Hampshire, Worcester state Senate seat

Massachusetts state Senate candidates Jake Oliveira and Sydney Levin-Epstein at a debate on Focus Springfield on August 9, 2022.
Focus Springfield
Massachusetts state Senate candidates Jake Oliveira and Sydney Levin-Epstein at a debate on Focus Springfield on August 9, 2022.

Two people are vying to be the Democratic candidate to replace western Massachusetts State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow. A recent debate featured some sharp accusations between them.

Lesser is running for lieutenant governor and giving up representing a district that, starting in January, will include twelve communities in Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester counties.

Those seeking his job are Jake Oliveira, a state representative from Ludlow, and Sydney Levin-Epstein, of Longmeadow, who is a former assistant to U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts.

During a recent debate on Focus Springfield, Oliveira and Levin-Epstein found common ground on plenty of issues, including the need for more housing stock.

Levin-Epstein said it was important "that we increase the amount of subsidies that are provided for both for senior housing and additionally to make sure that we have mixed income housing available."

Oliveira framed his response by describing what he'd already done for the district.

"I'm proud as a legislator to have voted and secured dollars to put in place affordable housing at the Ludlow Mills complex in the town of Ludlow, right along the Chicopee River, right over the border from Indian Orchard," he said.

There also was not much difference between the two on the importance of funding school lunches and helping farmers. And both stressed they had the right backgrounds to deliver for voters.

"I'm ready to use my federal and state legislative experience, the relationships necessary in order to secure our fair share of funding to serve the community that raised me," Levin-Epstein said.

Oliveira said, "I am the only candidate running in this race who has the experience at the state House, who has the experience as a local elected official, who has the experience as a sitting legislator to hit the ground running for our district on day one."

Towards the end of the debate, the format changed and the candidates posed questions to each other.

Oliveira went first.

"Since becoming eligible to vote, Sydney, you've missed 80% of elections in Massachusetts. You've never voted in a local election until you started running for this office," he said to his opponent.

"I have spent years of my career working to elect progressive champions across this country, from Georgia to Massachusetts, helping to ensure that our rights in Washington, D.C., where I have lived for the past seven years, (are being) represented on Capitol Hill," Levin-Epstein answered.

After that, the exchanges didn't get any friendlier.

Levin-Epstein questioned whether Oliveira should have included two years he spent as a student representative to the Ludlow School Committee in the two decades of public service he mentions on his website. He didn't apologize for it.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face off in November against Republican William Johnson, who's a business owner in Granby.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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