It’s all about the people

 

Greenfield Recorder 04/20/2012, Page A01

What drives Rep. Paul Mark to serve

People often ask me about the next generation of local political leaders and whether I believe we have a pool of local talent worthy of becoming the next Stan Rosenberg, Steve Kulik or Jay Healy.

Well, believe it or not, I may have found one over, of all things, a plate of sushi at Greenfield’s China Gourmet restaurant.

“I’ve always loved politics,” 2nd Berkshire Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said in between bites of his miso soup. “I never really saw myself running for office, but I’ve been involved with it, on some level, since I was a kid.”

That was 1988, when then 8-year old Mark became entranced by former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ bid for the presidency against then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

“I remember he (Dukakis) marched in the Fourth of July parade that year and I was standing on the street with a bunch of people and he came over and shook my hand,” Mark said. “I was hooked and I remember being very disappointed when he lost later in that year.”

Mark began getting involved in political campaigns, and worked for Bill Clinton’s campaign at age 16. But it was a personal turn of events three years earlier that would alter his political ideology forever.

“My father got laid off from his job and everything changed,” Mark said. “I remember we didn’t have any hot water for four months because we couldn’t afford a new water heater.”

“Those were tough times, but they taught me a lot,” Mark said. “It helped shape a lot of the beliefs I still hold today.”

Among those beliefs is the importance of hard work and perseverance, that led Mark to take a lineman repair position at Verizon while finishing his education at night — a move that he says grew out of another political epiphany of sorts.

“I was involved in the union at Verizon and in 2002 they announced a layoff,” Mark said. “I remember looking around that room and seeing my father, a lot of guys who were facing the same challenges he did at almost the same age. It was then that I decided it was time to go back to school.”

And that he did, obtaining associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, law and doctorate degrees between the years 2005 and 2010. After passing the bar, Mark began looking at possible jobs in the FBI and the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, when Denis Guyer announced that he was leaving the 2nd Berkshire District to return to the private sector.

The rest, as they say, is history, but with a new twist — now that the Massachusetts Legislature has altered Mark’s district to include the town of Greenfield, one of nine Franklin County communities in a 16-town district that is the third largest in Massachusetts.

“I definitely do a lot of driving,” Mark said. “But I make sure to spend time in every town, which is the only way to find out what’s really going on and what’s on people’s minds.”

Technically, Mark doesn’t represent Greenfield yet, and won’t until the election this coming fall, one where he is currently running unopposed.

And yet, he’s still in Greenfield on most Tuesdays, meeting with residents and getting a feel for the issues that are important to them.

“People are still worried about the economy, jobs, school funding, regional school transportation,” Mark said. “A lot of the towns that I currently represent have the same concerns.”

But what happens when the needs and concerns of Greenfield end up at cross purposes with another large district town like Dalton?

“I have never had an instance where two towns were competing for the same dollars,” Mark said. “But if that happens, you have to take a step backwards and make sure to do all you can to make sure the resources are distributed evenly and in the best way possible.”

Mark says he thinks some of the ethics issues that are affecting state officials are the result of too much time spent inside the beltway.

“I think people come to Boston with good intentions and they get caught up in the idea of being there,” Mark said. “When I’m back here at home, I’m just Paul. But when you are in Boston it is ‘representative this,’ and ‘chairman that,’ and if that’s all you are exposed to, it has to go to your head, and you starting believing you are more important than you really are.”

“Coming back here keeps you grounded and that’s the best part of the job, meeting people,” Mark said. “There are days when I feel like a little kid in this job because it’s really exciting being able to learn new things and helping make people’s lives a little bit better.”

If he keeps that focus, my guess is he’ll be living that boyhood dream for many years to come.

Chris Collins, a Greenfield native, is a former staff reporter for The Recorder.