Paul Feeney is a little surprised to be a candidate for the Massachusetts State Senate.
It’s not that the Boston Local 2222 member isn’t enthusiastic – he is, incredibly so – but running for state office this year wasn’t part of the plan.
In July of last year, Feeney, 39, stood on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to second the nomination of Vermont senator and erstwhile presidential contender Bernie Sanders, and to urge the liberal icon’s exuberant supporters to unite behind the party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Months prior, he’d walked the picket lines with his IBEW brothers and sisters working at Verizon, who were striking for fair wages and better treatment. And before that, he’d been on leave, running Sanders’ presidential campaign in the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Having gone back to his day job as a central office technician at Verizon, 2017 was supposed to be a return to normal.
But around Easter, Feeney’s phone started ringing. State Sen. Jim Timilty was planning to step down to take another job, and a special election would be held this fall to fill his seat.
“I was teaching a class at the Labor Guild School, run by the archdiocese of Boston,” Feeney said, “and state Rep. Paul Mark, [a member of Worcester, Mass., Local 2325], came to talk to the class about the importance of running for office. The thing is, labor has a lot of friends in government, but there aren’t many of us – actual union members – who’ve been elected to public office.
“So my wife and I talked about it, and I realized this opportunity is exactly what I’ve been talking about,” Feeney said. “I’ve always wanted to give back, and this state Senate opening is my chance.”
It’s not the first time Feeney has run for office. He served as a selectman, the New England equivalent of a city councilor or county commissioner, for the town of Foxborough from 2007 to 2010. But running to represent his neighbors on Beacon Hill in Boston is of a different magnitude.
Back in 2005, Feeney worked for Timilty, taking a leave of absence from his day job to serve as the senator’s chief of staff. “I know what the work entails,” he said, “It’s a huge job and an enormous responsibility, but I’m ready to give it everything I’ve got.”
Local 2222 Business Manger Myles Calvey, who is also a member of the International Executive Committee, says Feeney is exactly the kind of voice working people need in the State House. “Paul is a guy who gets things done, and he knows what it’s like to work for a living,” he said. “He’s a guy who understand the struggles real people go through, and that’s a perspective that’s not often represented in government.”
For now, Feeney is focused on collecting signatures from constituents of the Bristol and Norfolk district, located about 20 miles southwest of Boston, to officially get himself on the ballot. He’s also raising the significant amount of money he’ll need to compete in both the primary and general elections, scheduled for Sept. 19 and Oct. 17.
His primary opponent, for now, is Ted Philips, a legislative aide to a local member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Feeney is taking the challenge seriously and sticking to talking about why he’s running for the open seat.
“Our message is a simple one,” Feeney said. “I want to go to Boston to stand up for the middle and working class values that built this country. Working people want someone to fight for them, and I’m that guy.”
IBEW members and labor allies who want to help Feeney’s campaign amplify that message can visit his website, www.votefeeney.com.
He expects his many friends and volunteers from the Sanders campaign will be a large and motivated core of his election effort, but the labor community is already pitching in to help put one of their own in office. In May, Feeney was endorsed by three central labor councils in the district and he received the unanimous endorsement of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
“I can promise people one thing,” Feeney said. “Authenticity. I’m going to run as me – win or lose – and if I’m elected, I’m going to serve as me. In the meantime, I could use all the help I can get.”