From Sentinel and Enterprise
By Peter Jasinski
GARDNER -- Standing at the site of the city's former MBTA station, Democratic state Senate candidate Sue Chalifoux Zephir on Saturday called for a return of commuter rail service to the city, suggesting that it could be paid for through the proposed Fair Share Amendment.
"If we want to reduce traffic and create good jobs, we must invest in better public transportation and repair our crumbling roads and bridges. That's why I support the Fair Share Amendment and will campaign for its passage next year," she said.
The amendment, also known as the "millionaires tax," would put a 4 percent surtax on individuals with annual incomes above $1 million. If approved on the 2018 ballot, supporters estimate the amendment would raise nearly $2 billion annually.
According to a spokesman from Chalifoux Zephir's campaign, regular passenger train service ran to Gardner from 1851 to 1960 and again from 1980 to 1986. The tracks on the Fitchburg Line of the MBTA commuter rail, which currently ends at Wachusett Station in West Fitchburg, remain in place at the former Gardner rail station.
"Because the infrastructure is here, I'm not expecting this would be a ton of money. There will be the cost in additional staffing and things like that to get the trains out here and the renovations to the platform, but I'm optimistic this can be done," Chalifoux Zephir said.
Though the project would draw from Fair Share Amendment revenues, she added that extension of service and platform renovations would likely rely on federal dollars as well.
Chalifoux Zephir compared her plans for Gardner to former U.S Rep. John Olver's involvement in helping secure funds that paid for the construction of the commuter rail stations in Leominster and Fitchburg.
When Fitchburg Line commuter rail service was extended by one stop in 2016 to create the Wachusett Station, the total cost of the project was initially projected to be $74 million, but eventually grew to $93 million.
That extension was five miles, whereas an extension from Wachusett Station to Gardner would be at least seven miles.
When reached for comment Thursday, fellow Democratic Senate candidate Mike Mahan also said he supports the Fair Share Amendment and that he would like to see money dedicated to universal pre-Kindergarten education programming.
"I have a young daughter who has been lucky enough to experience several years of pre-K and she's only five. I think every child deserves that," he said.
Though in favor of the amendment, Mahan also warned against viewing it as a possible remedy to all the state's problems.
"I think we need to be careful when we point to this and just raising other revenues as some kind of silver bullet," he said.
Candidate Claire Freda said she is also in favor of the amendment, but questioned whether its revenues could be used for a commuter rail extension.
"As a Mount Wachusett Community College trustee, I would like to see anything to help students commute to class, but I'm not sure that's how this is written. It's not for education or repairing roads and bridges, which is how the amendment is written," she said.
Though the amendment is projected to raise $1.9 billion, Republican candidate Dean Tran pointed out that the Legislature has already proposed spending exceeding $13 billion even before the referendum has passed.
"We have to be extremely careful of the adverse effects and unintended consequences on economic growth and driving small businesses out of the state, which will increase the unemployment rate," he said. "This will have a detrimental effect on the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce effort on economic development for areas such as Fitchburg, Leominster, and Gardner."
Despite several attempts to contact him, Senate candidate Michael Kushmerek could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53
From Sentinel and Enterprise
By Amanda Burke
Before leaving the Legislature for a role on the Cannabis Control Commission, former state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan introduced a bill to allow online state Lottery games.
Four of the five declared candidates seeking to succeed her in the Senate expressed qualified support for making the games available online.
Flanagan's bill was eventually held in committee, but state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg's office has filed another bill that would bring state gambling products online, a measure supported by Executive Director of the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission Michael Sweeney.
Advocates of the bill say New Hampshire's decision to allow online lottery sales will cut into the commonwealth's lottery revenue, a concern echoed by state Senate candidate and current Leominster City Councilor Claire Freda, who is running as an independent.
Freda said if Massachusetts does not move toward online lottery the state will "lose our competitive edge" when New Hampshire goes online with lottery sales as early as January or February. The Granite State also recently legalized Keno.
Freda said she worries people won't come to Massachusetts to play Keno. She said offering lottery online alongside games played in store will ensure cities and towns continue receiving robust municipal aid through lottery revenues.
"Our cities and town rely on this money; it's a huge piece of municipal aid," she said. "Anything New Hampshire does certainly affects our area more than others because of our proximity to the border."
Freda said more study must be done on how the state could prevent people from falling into debt if online lottery goes online, where new games could be initiated with a few taps on a screen.
Credit cards are not currently an accepted form of payment for Massachusetts Lottery products, and Sweeney said they would not be used for online sales, according to the Sun Chronicle.
Fitchburg City Councilor and Democratic state Senate candidate Michael Kushmerek said he supports online lottery "with some reservations."
Bringing lottery online could expose more young people to potentially addictive forms of gambling, he said.
"You have to be careful to have safeguards in place to provide both intervention services and education, particularly to younger individuals before they come of gambling age," said Kushmerek.
Online lottery's greater accessibility is also a boon for the state as people who are limited in their ability to travel, naming elderly people and those without a vehicle, could purchase lottery tickets online.
Kushmerek said he worried about the impact of online lottery on local convenience stores that "contribute to our economy, provide jobs and contribute to our tax base."
He tossed out the option of capping on the number of lottery games a person could play online in a given period of time. To continue playing, that person would have to purchase a ticket at a physical retailer, he said.
"That allows some of those brick-and-mortar stores to retain some business," he said.
Democratic contender Michael Mahan, a member of the Leominster Planning Board and trustee of Fitchburg State University and HealthAlliance Hospital, stopped short of endorsing a cap on online game play.
Mahan said the state doesn't currently limit the number of cash transactions a person can make for lottery tickets at a retail establishment. He is "not even sure that's a business the state wants to get into, because it would be hard to monitor."
Mahan said he believes that if "we do this right the whole system can work well."
Mahan said that while "we need to be realistic in the fact that we know this is going to head online -- all commerce is moving online," he worries about the impact online lottery would have on small businesses.
Mahan said municipalities could use the aid they receive from lottery sales to help local convenience stores.
"You could make sure that those business have sidewalks, or that their street is well-paved," he said.
An alliance of six retail locations Save Our Neighborhood Stores decried the proposal for online lottery in a statement to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection, saying the introduction of iLottery will "decimate foot traffic in their stores and present numerous other challenges to the already struggling business owners."
In an emailed statement, Republican Fitchburg City Councilor and Senate candidate Dean Tran said his first priority as state senator would be to encourage economic growth.
He said that he supports the use of technology to increase convenience and efficiency while being mindful of "unintended consequences."
Careful study, Tran said, must be done on any proposal for online lottery to see whether it would "adversely impact mom and pop stores and brick-and-mortar retailers, which are a key foundation to economic growth in our district."
The only candidate who seemed to oppose online lottery was Democrat Sue Chalifoux Zephir, a city councilor-at-large in Leominster.
Chalifoux Zephir said she's critical of the pitch made by Goldberg and Sweeney that online lottery would appeal to a younger demographic. She said millennials she knows don't have extra money to spend on lottery tickets, naming student loans as a prohibitive expense.
"I'm not sure if they had discretionary income they would spend it on lottery," she said.
Adults ages 35-79 are significantly more likely to play the lottery than those under 24, according to a 2015 study by the University of Massachusetts School of Public Heath and Health Sciences.
Chalifoux Zephir said the state needs to search for new sources of revenue beyond the lottery, reiterating her support for the Fair Share Amendment, the "millionaire tax" wherein those with incomes over $1 million would pay a 4 percent surtax.
"It's my understanding that our state Lottery has produced record amounts of cash for the state," she said.
Lottery sales fell 2.7 percent in fiscal 2017 compared with the year prior, according to the state Lottery Commission. But at the same time, lottery profits rose for the third consecutive year to an all-time high of more than $1 billion in fiscal 2017. Those profits are divided up and given as aid to each of the commonwealths 351 municipalities.
Chalifoux Zephir joined the chorus of lawmakers cautioning of the effects of online lottery accessibility on those prone to addiction.
"It would really hurt people who have problems with gambling; if people just have a credit card that they're using to gamble online, they could overspend," she said.
The Democratic primary is scheduled for Nov. 7, the same day as municipal elections in Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner. The special election will be held on Dec. 5.
For Immediate Release
October 7, 2017
Sue Chalifoux Zephir Calls for Return of Commuter Rail Service to Gardner, Expanded MART Bus Service, Local Road & Bridge Repairs
Gardner, MA — Standing at what was once Gardner’s commuter rail station, candidate for State Senate Sue Chalifoux Zephir today called for the return of MBTA commuter rail service to Gardner, along with other transportation improvements in North Central Massachusetts.
“The transportation system in North Central Massachusetts just isn’t working, and we need a real plan to fix it,” said Chalifoux Zephir. “If we want to reduce traffic and create good jobs, we must invest in better public transportation and repair our crumbling roads and bridges. That’s why I support the Fair Share Amendment and will campaign for its passage next year.”
The Fair Share Amendment is a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the 2018 ballot. It would create an additional tax of four percentage points on annual income above one million dollars, with the revenue dedicated to transportation and public education.
“In the State Senate, I’ll fight to make sure that this new money reaches our district to fund everything from roads and rail trails to bridges and buses,” continued Chalifoux Zephir. “We also need transformative investments, starting with extending daily commuter rail service on the Fitchburg Line to Gardner, with faster and more frequent trains.”
Passenger train service to Gardner ran from 1851 until 1960 and again from 1980 to 1986. The track on the Fitchburg Line of the MBTA commuter rail, which currently ends at Wachusett Station in West Fitchburg, remains in place at the former Gardner rail station.
“North Central Massachusetts deserves reliable commuter rail service riders can count on every single day, better schedule options for reverse commuters, and the return of commuter rail service to Gardner,” Chalifoux Zephir said. “With the MART garage right next door to the old Gardner train station, we can also use a rebuilt train station to expand bus service for families across our region, including more evening bus service for students and workers who need transportation beyond traditional commuting hours.”
In addition to serving as a Leominster city councilor for eight years, Chalifoux Zephir is Executive Director of Ginny’s Helping Hand, a community-based food pantry that serves individuals and families across North Central Massachusetts. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Assumption College and her MBA from Simmons College, and previously worked in public television as a production and business manager. Sue is married to Ed Zephir, a local business owner, and is the mother of three grown girls and a first-time grandmother to six-week old Winnie.
“As director of the local food pantry Ginny’s Helping Hand, I’ve met families who must spend their entire paycheck on car repairs after hitting a pothole,” said Chalifoux Zephir. “Excessive traffic and a lack of transportation options are holding back our economy, and costing families money and time. We need bold solutions and a comprehensive regional transportation plan in order for North Central Massachusetts to grow without gridlock.”
From Sentinel & Enterprise
By Julia Sarcinelli
LUNENBURG -- The three Democratic candidates hoping to fill out the state senate term of Jennifer Flanagan held a candidate forum to answer questions from the community Sunday night at the Lunenburg Library.
The candidates are Sue Chalifoux Zephir, Michael Mahan and Michael Kushmerek. Flanagan has left her senate seat to serve as the governor's appointee to the Cannabis Control Commission.
All candidates started by discussing issues that are important to them, such as health care, education, infrastructure and the opioid crisis.
Chalifoux Zephir described herself as "a business woman who gets things done," adding she has worked primarily in the non-profit sector and is "not afraid to take on the status quo."
Mahan said public service has always been a "calling" for him due to his family's history in it and added he is dedicated to giving back to the communities of central Massachusetts.
Kushmerek, along with Mahan, has worked with Flannagan before and said he would like to continue the work she has done, especially concerning mental health.
One audience member asked what set each candidate apart from the others.
Chalifoux Zephir said something that sets her apart is she supports increasing the minimum wage to make sure people who work minimum-wage jobs can have families and make a living.
Mahan said, "I'll bring a new perspective and a fresh voice," adding he has not held office before, unlike Chalifoux Zephir and Kushmerek.
Kushmerek highlighted his history with the Fitchburg City Council, for which he has served as president since 2016, and said he would focus on collaboration and bipartisanship.
An audience member asked the candidates what they would do to help the opioid crisis.
Kushmerek and Chalifoux Zephir brought up GAAHMA in Gardner, an organization that offers substance-abuse services, and said they should keep looking at taking a more holistic aproach.
Mahan said he had friends overdose this year and said we should expand the drug court model and give people the opportunity to the right access of health care.
The primary election will be held Nov. 7 in Fitchburg and Leominster for the municipal elections and the special election will be Dec. 5.
From Sentinel & Enterprise
A letter published in the Sentinel & Enterprise on Wednesday stated that state Senate candidate Sue Chalifoux Zephir wouldn't "shake things up" at the Statehouse simply because she is a Democrat.
But I feel Sue is already shaking things up in the race to replace former Sen. Jen Flanagan. She is the only candidate to publicly pledge not to serve on the City Council and state Senate at the same time. And, Sue has called on the other candidates in the race to take the no-double-dipping pledge.
Sue's also refused to accept campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry and their lobbyists, because she feels strongly that we need to get big profits out of our health care system.
I know Sue wants to go to the Senate to strongly push Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to invest in the working families of North Central Massachusetts. She'll take on prescription drug companies and big insurers to bring down the cost of health care. And Sue supports the Fair Share Amendment, that will invest in our schools and repair our roads and bridges.
If you want to "shake things up" at the Statehouse, I think the choice is clear: Vote Sue Chalifoux Zephir on Nov. 7 and Dec. 5. That is what I intend to do.
From Leominster Champion
Candidate for State Senate Susan Chalifoux Zephir has announced that upon election to the Senate, she would no longer serve as a Leominster City Councilor at Large.
“I am in this race 100 percent because this election is a critical opportunity to help local families in our part of the state,” Chalifoux Zephir said. “We need to shake things up if we’re going to provide more state aid for our schools, attract good paying jobs, and get control of skyrocketing health care costs that are hurting our seniors.”
The deadline to finalize the Leominster City Council ballot had already passed when Sen. Jen Flanagan announced she was stepping down and the Nov. 7 special primary election was scheduled. As a result, Chalifoux Zephir’s name will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot in Leominster as both a candidate for state Senate and a candidate for City Councilor at Large.
“If I am fortunate enough to be elected to the State Senate, I pledge not to serve on the City Council,” Chalifoux Zephir said. “I hope my fellow candidates will join me in pledging not to serve in two elected offices at the same time.”
From Leominster Champion
By David Dore
Leominster At-Large City Councilor Susan Chalifoux Zephir announced Thursday, Aug. 31 that she is running as a Democrat for the Worcester and Middlesex state Senate seat recently vacated by Jennifer Flanagan, who has joined the state Cannabis Control Commission.
“Cities and towns across our region each have their own unique strengths and challenges,” Chalifoux Zephir said in a statement. “I look forward to meeting as many people as I can, listening to their concerns, and earning their support. As an eight-year elected official in Leominster, I have consistently focused on attracting quality jobs to our communities and investing in our schools. Good schools and reliable transportation infrastructure are key to successful, sustainable economic growth and good jobs.”
Chalifoux Zephir cited addiction treatment and prevention as critical to the long-term health and vibrancy of the communities in the district, which consists of Berlin, Bolton, Fitchburg, Gardner, Lancaster, Leominster, Lunenberg, Sterling, Townsend, Westminster, and Precincts 1 and 2 in Clinton.
“As a mother of three girls, I know the important work begun by Sen. Flanagan must continue to ensure that people who need addiction treatment receive it,” she said. “Opioid addiction in Massachusetts is a crisis that threatens an entire generation.”
Chalifoux Zephir ran for state representative in 2008 and mayor in Leominster in 2013. She rejoined the City Council in 2016 after a two-year absence.
She serves as executive director of Ginny’s Helping Hand, Inc., a community-based food pantry in Leominster, as well as a trustee for the Leominster Public Library and a board member of the Leominster Education Foundation. She previously served on the Board of Directors for Our Father’s House in Fitchburg, which provides emergency and transitional housing to those in need.
Chalifoux Zephir got her bachelor’s degree from Assumption College in Worcester and her MBA from Simmons College in Boston. She worked for many years at the WGBH Educational Foundation in Boston as a production and business manager.
Married to local business owner Ed Zephir, she is the mother of three grown girls and has a 5-week-old granddaughter, Winnie.
Chalifoux Zephir is the third Democrat to announce a run for the state Senate in recent weeks, joining Fitchburg City Council President Michael Kushmerek and former Leominster Planning Board member Mike Mahan. On the Republican side, Lou Marino of Fitchburg is the only candidate to announce as of Tuesday, Sept. 5.
Another at-large Leominster city councilor, Claire Freda, said last week she is running as an unenrolled candidate, according to reports. Freda did not return a text message sent Friday, Sept. 1 by the Leominster Champion about her campaign before press time.
Flanagan, a Leominster resident, resigned from the Senate Thursday, Aug. 31, eight days after Gov. Charlie Baker appointed her to the five-member board that will regulate the recreational and medical marijuana industries in Massachusetts.
The deadline to submit nomination papers to local registrars of voters for the Nov. 7 primary is Tuesday, Sept. 26, with the last day to fire certified nomination papers with Galvin’s office being Tuesday, Oct. 3. The special election to fill the seat will be held Tuesday, Dec. 5.
From Telegram & Gazette
By Cyrus Moulton
LEOMINSTER — City Councilor at-Large Susan Chalifoux Zephir announced today that she is running for the Massachusetts State Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jennifer Flanagan.
“Cities and towns across our region each have their own unique strengths and challenges,” said Ms. Chalifoux Zephir in a press release. “I look forward to meeting as many people as I can, listening to their concerns and earning their support.
Ms. Flanagan is giving up her seat representing the Worcester and Middlesex District, which includes the municipalities of Berlin, Bolton, Clinton, Fitchburg, Gardner, Lancaster, Leominster, Lunenburg, Sterling, Townsend, and Westminster, after being selected by Gov. Charles D. Baker Jr. to serve on the state Cannabis Control Commission.
A special election will be held Dec. 5 to fill the seat. Michael Kushmerek of Fitchburg and Michael Mahan of Leominster have also announced plans to run for the post.
Ms. Chalifoux Zephir, a Democrat, is executive director of Ginny’s Helping Hand Inc., a community-based food pantry that serves individuals and families across Central Massachusetts. She also served on the Board of Directors for Our Father’s house, an organization based in Fitchburg that provides emergency and transitional housing to those in need.
Ms. Chalifoux Zephir is a trustee of Leominster Public Library and is on the board of the Leominster Education Foundation.
She received her bachelor’s degree from Assumption College and her MBA from Simmons College, and previously worked in public television as a production and business manager. Ms. Chalifoux Zephir is married to Ed Zephir, a local business owner, and is the mother of three grown girls and a first-time grandmother.
Ms. Chalifoux Zephir said that as an eight-year elected official in Leominster she has consistently focused on attracting jobs and investing in local schools.
“Good schools and reliable transportation infrastructure are key to successful, sustainable economic growth and good jobs,” Ms. Chalifoux Zephir said.
Ms. Chalifoux Zephir also cited addiction treatment and prevention as critical to the long-term health and vibrancy of communities.
“As the mother of three girls, I know the important work begun by Sen. Flanagan must continue to ensure that people who need addiction treatment receive it,” Ms. Chalifoux Zephir said. “Opioid addiction in Massachusetts is a crisis that threatens an entire generation.”
From Sentinel & Enterprise
By Peter Jasinski
LEOMINSTER -- At-large City Councilor Sue Chalifoux Zephir is the fifth candidate to announce candidacy for the seat state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan who resigned today to become a member of the state Cannabis Control Commission.
"Cities and towns across our region each have their own unique strengths and challenges. I look forward to meeting as many people as I can, listening to their concerns, and earning their support," Chalifioux Zephir said in a statement she released Thursday.
An eight-year veteran of the City Council, Chalifoux Zephir has served as an At-large Councilor since 2015, served in the same capacity from 2009-13, and also represented Ward 4 from 2007-09. She also ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Mayor Dean Mazzarella in 2013, gaining 42 percent of the vote, and attempted a run for the state House of Representatives as a Democratic candidate in 2008.
She will run for the seat as a Democrat.
Chalifoux Zephir cited her experience in attracting quality jobs to area communities and investment in local schools and transportation infrastructure as qualifying her for Flanagan's senate seat.
She also referred to addiction treatment and prevention as being concerns of hers in her Thursday statement.
"As a mother of three girls, I know the important work begun by Sen. Flanagan must continue to ensure that people who need addiction treatment receive it," she said.
"Opioid addiction in Massachusetts is a crisis that threatens an entire generation."In addition to her work as an elected official, Chalifoux Zephir is also the executive director of Ginny's Helping Hand food pantry, a trustee of Leominster Public Library and a board member of the Leominster Education Foundation.
She holds a bachelor's degree from Assumption College and earned an MBA from Simmons College. Chalifoux Zephir previously worked in public television as a production and business manager prior to becoming an elected official.
Her announcement came just two days after fellow At-large Councilor Claire Freda said that she would also be running for Flanagan's seat. The two join Fitchburg City Council President Michael Kushmerek and Fitchburg State University and HealthAlliance Hospital Trustee Mike Mahan, both Democrats, who announced their candidacies last week.
Fitchburg Republican Lou Marino announced his intention to tun for the seat last year.
A primary election was set by Secretary of State William Galvin for Nov. 7, the day of municipal elections in Fitchburg and Leominster. The special election will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 5.