On Monday afternoon Ben Downing is inside Mi Pueblito Restaurant in East Boston picking up some tacos for lunch.
“The chicken jalapeno here is also really good,” Downing tells me as he pays for his lunch.
It’s been a busy morning for the Western Mass native that served 10 years as a State Senator from Pittsfield before stepping down in 2017 to work full-time in renewable energy.
Downing has been on the phone all morning tapping into his network of supporters, potential donors, friends and family.
On Monday morning Downing released a video announcing he is formally entering the 2022 race for Governor of Massachusetts.
“Growing up in Pittsfield, I lived what it meant to be an afterthought in the state’s political power circles,” said Downing. “Now, as an East Boston resident, I’m part of a new community just as familiar with being written off. From one side of Massachusetts to the other, I have spent my life in communities that have had to fight harder than they should to get fair representation, equitable access to resources, and attention from Beacon Hill. So I know what a difference state leadership makes. And I know we need better than what we are getting right now.”
Downing was one of the youngest state senators ever elected in Massachusetts history in 2006 at the age of 24. During his tenure at the State House Downing emerged as a leading climate advocate.
Downing moved to Eastie five years ago with his wife, Micaelah Morrill, and are raising their two young sons Malcolm, age 3, and Eamon, age 9 months, in the neighborhood. However, Downing’s roots in Eastie are strong and the family got their start in the neighborhood at the turn of the last century. In fact, there’s a hero square on the corner of Sumner and Cottage Street in Jeffries Point that was dedicated by Mayor Martin Walsh in 2019 in honor of Downing’s great great-granduncle Albert Henry Downing of Eastie who died during World War I.
While living in Eastie Downing has seen first hand the inequities that have existed for quite some time but have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the major issues right are going to be the COVID response and the lessons we’ve learned from COVID,” said Downing. “What did it expose? What did it show? I think what it showed was something a lot of us already knew existed. We have these widening economic and racial gaps in Massachusetts around income and wages, around wealth and gaps between communities in parts of the state that have grown and have benefited from economic growth in recent decades. So the focus will be how do we close those gaps, how do we address economic and racial justice and, while doing that, take the urgent steps that we need to take to address climate change. We know that the most scarce resource when it comes to climate change is time. We only have really a decade here to take the steps we need to build a sustainable society and I don’t think our actions at the state level have reflected that.”
Downing argues that most of the uegrency over climate change has percolated up from members of the legislature, there needs to be more sense of urgency from the executive branch of government.
“We need more of a sense of urgency,” said Downing. “We know communities like East Boston, Chelsea and even Pittsfield were targeted for the development of fossil fuel infrastructure and have the asthma rates and other public health indicators to reflect that. We know a transition to a clean energy economy and the spillovers from that are positive. We have more jobs to create by putting solar on roofs, building energy storage, doing energy retrofits of homes, building offshore wind—there’s a lot of jobs there.”
Since 2017 Downing has served in a leadership role at Nexamp, a leading renewable energy company. In that role, Downing led efforts to improve accessibility within the green economy, expand to new markets outside of the northeast, and deploy cutting-edge energy storage solutions here at home. He serves on the board of the Environmental League of Massachusetts and is a leading advocate for climate action in the Commonwealth.
“I’ve come away from Nexamp more optimistic,” said Downing. “The naysayers will say, “Oh it’s big pie in the sky stuff” and it’s not going to really do anything with the economy. I think the most exciting thing for me is to see the solutions that we have to climate change that are at our fingertips–whether that’s solar energy efficiency, battery storage, offshore wind–they’re there to be tapped. What’s been missing is leadership that’s ready to tap into that potential and set a higher standard for all of us. All too often you see Governor Baker echo talking points from the real estate lobby and others who say these will cost too much and slow down development. We’ve heard those concerns every step along the way when it comes to the climate change debate in Massachusetts. But every step along the way those talking points have been proven wrong. Yes, there are costs but the benefits far outweigh the costs. We’ve seen that time and time again and the great thing about these jobs is they will be done in Massachusetts, the work has to be done here, and they’re good blue collar jobs that can be done in every corner of the state.”
Another focus said Downing will be to invest in transportation that can help cut down on carbon emissions.
“A big part of addressing climate change issues is making transit more reliable and you look at governor Baker’s record; it’s a record of cutting the budget at the MBTA,” said Downing. “We need to increase ridership and make it more reliable but we need to do the same with the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) because the BRT just isn’t relevant but we need it to be. We need people to see that as a viable option that gets them out of their cars. It is a significant undertaking but it’s that much tougher to do without leadership from the corner office.”
As a state Senator, Downing represented the largest district in the state, comprising 52 cities and towns. Over a decade in office he led legislative efforts to accelerate our clean energy development and respond to climate change, rebuild our urban and rural economies, reduce poverty and hunger, strengthen our state ethics laws, and expand protections for transgender individuals.
“I’m running for Governor to build a fairer, stronger Massachusetts,” said Downing. “I believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish here. But the leadership needed to unlock this potential is sorely lacking. As we recover and reimagine our future in the months and years to come, we need a Governor who sees, feels and understands the gravity of this moment and how we got here; who is not content with accumulating power but who is ready to use that power to respond boldly to the dire impacts of the pandemic, rising racial inequality, and the urgency of climate change.”