In the eyes of likely senator-to-be Adam Gomez, incumbency can breed inefficiency.
Gomez toppled Sen. James Welch in the Sept. 1 Democratic primary. Welch has been in office representing Springfield and neighboring communities for a decade and a half, facing a single opponent across three successful state representative campaigns and fending off any challenges en route to five terms in the Senate.
That all changed this time around. Gomez, a Springfield City Councilor who got his political start in neighborhood groups and one of the state’s most vocal advocacy groups, beat Welch by a 5-point margin in the state Senate’s Hampden District.
“The fact of the matter is that there’s disparities and various things that exist, and we have a senator who’s been there for quite a long time,” Gomez said in an interview with the News Service. “Being the senator — it’s a big job, but I think sometimes, when you’re in a seat for a long time, sometimes you become complicit. Not that you aren’t working, I’m not saying that, but your constituents don’t know who you are after a time.”
No Republican or third-party candidates are on the ballot for the Nov. 3 general election, so barring a successful write-in campaign, Gomez will join the Senate in January as the only Democrat to have defeated a member of his own party.
A Springfield native, Gomez, 37, grew up in the city’s North End — what he described as “one of the poorest districts in Massachusetts” — and still lives there today with his partner, Miriam, and three children, Nevaeh, 14, Adam Jr., 11, and Milani, 3.
After attending Westfield State University, he worked “odd jobs” to make ends meet, including at a local YMCA where he met Miriam, at a micromarketing business he owned, and at the Bilingual Veterans Outreach Center his father runs.
One of his earliest forays into the public sphere came when he was an organizer with Neighbor to Neighbor, a coalition of people of color, immigrants and workers. The group joined with residents of the North End to successfully fight backagainst then-Hampden County Sheriff Mike Ashe’s proposal to relocate an addiction treatment program his office runs into their area.
From there, Gomez started organizing with Raise Up Massachusetts, a statewide group that has led the charge in recent years for minimum wage increases, paid family and medical leave benefits, and a potential income surtax on wealthy earners.
In 2015, Gomez challenged incumbent Springfield City Councilor Zaida Luna for an at-large seat and won every precinct in the city, according to a Springfield Republican report. He holds that position to this day.
“He’s made me a better city councilor,” City Council President Justin Hurst, who has served alongside Gomez for five years and backed his Senate race, told the News Service. “He’s made me a better City Council president. He’s someone that I oftentimes look to for advice because he sees it through a different lens than most people.”
Hurst recalled Gomez standing at the forefront of the push for marijuana legalization in Massachusetts and advocating to attract the industry, both dispensaries and grow sites, to Springfield.
In recent months, Hurst said, Gomez has been vocal about “ensuring that western Massachusetts is not left out” of the COVID-19 response and helped bring free testing sites to the region. Gomez also sponsored a council resolution asking the Legislature to implement a vote-by-mail system and supported a citywide ban on facial recognition software.
Gomez may not be the only Springfield city councilor bound for the Legislature: fellow Councilor Orlando Ramos, whom Gomez said is “like a brother,” won the Democratic primary for the Ninth Hampden District seat being vacated by Rep. Jose Tosado. Ramos faces unenrolled candidate Robert Underwood in the general election.
The council president praised Gomez for his commitment to achieving police reform, which emerged in the weeks leading up to the primary election as a central issue for lawmakers across the country amid national protests.
During the Senate campaign, Hurst said, Gomez helped write a letter to members of a legislative conference committee urging them to include more substantial reforms to qualified immunity in their final compromise version of a bill.
“For him to take a leap of faith and say, ‘you know what, I know this is what’s best for Springfield,’ and coming out with it in a letter to the conference committee, where Carlos Gonzalez — a representative for his ward — was included, that took a lot of courage,” Hurst said. “He’s going to be a leader. He’s not going to go along to get along at the Senate level. He’s going to draw the line in the sand if he has to. From my standpoint, we need those types of vocal leaders in the Senate.”
Gomez’s track record of activism factored into the campaign beyond police reform. He strived to build a “grassroots approach” from knocking on every door possible, he said, hoping that high-profile congressional primaries would help drive out more voters eager to see a change on Beacon Hill.
Two years after progressive challengers unseated long-serving incumbents in the State House and in Congress, Gomez would join the Senate as an outlier: he was essentially the only candidate to run a successful campaign to the left of a sitting Massachusetts lawmaker this cycle when criminal charges were not involved.
Six other candidates the Progressive Massachusetts group backed against Democratic incumbents who track closer to the political center lost, many by double-digit margins.
Gomez outlined support for a range of progressive priorities that have gained little traction among Beacon Hill leaders, such as legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to acquire standard Massachusetts driver’s licenses and a bill that would freeze public college tuition and fees for five years.
While Gomez said he wants to learn more about arguments for and against the so-called Safe Communities Act, which would limit local law enforcement’s participation with federal immigration authorities, he cited a resolution he authored for the Springfield City Council dubbing the city a “sanctuary city.”
“If you have not committed a violent crime, if you haven’t committed a high-profile crime, we should be able to make sure that we’re keeping families together,” Gomez said, later adding, “I don’t have a problem with making Massachusetts a sanctuary state.”
Asked how he could secure action on proposals that often die quietly without votes, Gomez said his work will be different because the debate affects him more personally than it does some of his potential colleagues.
“I’m a person that needs the CHERISH Act,” Gomez said. “My community needs a little bit of assistance when it comes to figuring out how we’re going to pay for school and get to that next level. We know that a college education is so important. That degree, that diploma from high school, those are passports out of poverty.”
Gomez has already caught the eye of one of the left’s most prominent figures. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren formally endorsed him among a batch of down-ballot candidates across the country she said are “ready to fight for bold reforms and put people first.”
“During this crisis, working families need real leadership in Boston, and that’s what Adam will bring,” Warren wrote on Twitter. “I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with him in this fight.”
Of the 31 state-level candidates the Warren Democrats group has backed so far, only two are from the senator’s home state: Gomez and Lowell’s Vanna Howard, who is also in line to win her seat without a general election opponent after defeating Rep. David Nangle in the primary.
Gomez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, would become the first-ever Latinx candidate elected to the Hampden District Senate seat. Only two people of color currently serve in the 40-member Senate: Democratic Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Republican Sen. Dean Tran. Chang-Diaz does not have an opponent in her re-election bid, while Tran will face Democratic candidate John Cronin of Lunenburg in the general election.
For Springfield, a city where nearly half of the population is Hispanic and fewer than three in 10 residents are white, his win is a significant step toward equitable representation. Hurst said it would bring a new voice to the enormous range of legislative issues that have acute impacts on people of color.
“It will add a perspective that I think folks might not have considered had he not been in,” Hurst said. “He can speak from experience. He can speak from the experiences of his district. He can speak from the experiences of the city, the residents of the city.”
“There is no substitute for having someone that has experienced it and lived through it,” he added.