Decade of Service: Sen. DiDomenico Reflects on 10 Years in the Legislature

The journey over the past decade for Sen. Sal DiDomenico has been a whirlwind of starting out, moving up and being a helper for his community.

However, as he celebrates 10 years in the State Senate this year, he said he is always taken back to his late father’s flower shop in Cambridge, where DiDomenico’s professional mission statement of ‘I want to help people’ was formed as he watched his dad pull levers and work connections in the area to help people that needed it most.

“A lot of people used to come into his flower shop and ask for help for any number of things,” said DiDomenico. “He had friends in politics and he would call them and try to get help for people. I saw that and I wanted to be that person too – the person who could call and get help for people. When I first got elected to the State Senate he was so proud. I can still see his face the night I got elected and he was so happy. I’m very lucky to have had such great support networks from my family, my wife, my kids, my friends and my mom and dad.”

It was from that point that the fire to fight for communities was instilled in DiDomenico – and though he worked for some time successfully in the hotel and hospitality business – his fire for politics didn’t cease. After a time as the Ward 3 Everett City Councilor, he decided to run for the open seat in the State Senate for the district representing Everett, Chelsea, Charlestown, and parts of Cambridge and Allston. It was a risky move, but it resulted in a win. Now, after a decade of advocacy at the highest levels as he has risen to the upper leadership of the State Senate as Assistant Majority Leader, he finds himself at the table for almost all big decisions in state policy.

“Being at the table where decisions are made in the Senate is a great place to be for my district,” he said.

But DiDomenico was adamant to stress that he doesn’t just bring himself and his own opinions to that decision-making table. He said he has made a point out of getting to know the heart-and-soul of the communities he represents and to understand what each needs – taking that to the table to make sure it’s heard by those in power.

“A lot of what I do is not rocket science,” he said. “I actually go into the communities and talk to people and know their names. I feel what we do in the State House comes from what is happening in the communities I represent. A lot of what we do comes from advocates in my district.

“The louder voices get access, but the people who don’t feel they have a voice don’t push it when they hit a barrier,” he continued. “Those are the people I want to speak for – those people who feel like government isn’t working for them. I want to show them our toles is to help people and their voices are heard by me. It all goes back to that simple phrase I’ve always carried with me, that being ‘I want to help people.’”

Relying on a dedicated support network from each of his communities – a network that has always included his family close by his side – he has marched towards that goal in pursuing important legislation that he has always felt was the right thing to do. That is especially true of education funding, early childhood education and school lunch options.

Some of his landmark legislative achievements in the last 10 years include:  Breakfast After the Bell, Community Investment Tax Credit and Extension, Social Worker Safety, Pre-Registration for Youth, Early Ed & Out of School Time Capital Fund, Safe and Supportive Schools, E-bike Regulations, SNAP Gap Common Application, Language Opportunities for Our Kids, Life the Cap on Kids, Youth Tobacco Prevention, Health Care Equity for Foster Children, and Children with Medical Complexities.

Nothing has been as close to his heart though as education and the battle for more educational funding equity – an issue that was hopefully resolved last year with the signing of the Student Opportunity Act. DiDomenico said his advocacy and role in getting that multi-year bill passed was one of his crowning achievements in the past 10 years.

“I fought for our students to not just get their fair share, but more than their fair share because of the inequities our students face,” he said. “They need more than other students need…We all know it’s a great bill for kids and teachers, but over time we’ll see a huge change in how we educate our kids because we have the resources to do it. In Everett, Chelsea and Charlestown, we have a lot of obstacles. There are a lot of things we need in our communities that other communities don’t have to deal with. To me, to change funding formulas without taking into account these challenges wasn’t right, but we finally fixed that.”

The education piece has also filtered into pre-school and early childhood education, where DiDomenico has been a leader on the issue for some time. That has been recognized by many advocacy groups who have awarded him for his efforts – something that can seem casual but in fact is very unique.

His drive to expand Head Start and get pre-school for every three-year-old in the state is an effort  – along with expanded child health care – he calls his “baby” in terms of issues.

Those efforts have many times crossed over with advocacy for senior citizens – working on both issues with community-based organizations to get proper funding so those groups are care for.

“A big part of my job is working within my communities with community-based organizations that are on the front lines every day and supporting them by making sure funding gets to them to do their work,” he said. “Having these long-standing relationships even before I was in the Senate has helped me advocate for them in putting policies they want in place and getting resources for them.”

Those relationships transitioned well to provide COVID-19 relief through those organizations directly to the residents – something DiDomenico said has been the primary focus of his office for the last 10 months. He said he and his staff have been in close contact with leaders in Everett, Chelsea and Charlestown to assist them in COVID-19 responses. That has included advocating for the use of the EnVision Hotel in Everett as a COVID isolation center paid for by the state and utilized by all three communities. It’s also included close collaboration with Gov. Charlie Baker in mobilizing resources like food and, in the case of Chelsea, deploying the National Guard. It’s also included Facebook telethons to raise money to help all three communities with essential needs during the pandemic.

Much of this work, however, he said could not be done without the help of his staff at the State House. He said his staff is unique in that there is very little turnover and those that come to work for him rarely leave. In fact, two of his staffers have been with him since he walked through the doors of the State House 10 years ago.

“We haven’t had a lot of turnover in 10 years,” he said. “I’ve had 10 staff members in 10 years. That’s pretty remarkable…That’s incredible and plays well to my constituents because they are experienced and know what our communities need and who to call to get things done. They get things done because of relationships we’ve built over time both inside and outside the State House.”

Some of those senator-plus-staff achievements show up in small issues that are resolved behind the scenes, but others show up in the State Budget. Those recent accomplishments include:

•Education:  $9.725 million

•Environment, Parks and Substance Abuse Prevention: $280,000

•City Upgrades: $2.5 million

•Transportation Infrastructure: $12.2 million

•Public Safety: $1.15 million

•Children, Families, Veterans and Seniors: $1.5 million

•Housing and Small Business Relief: $2.5 million

All told, that equals out to more than $82 million in recent months, DiDomenico said, and is a credit to his time in the Legislature and the advocacy of his dedicated staff – not to mention the strong relationships he enjoys with key members of the communities in his district.

In the end, the 10-year journey has changed so much about DiDomenico and he said it boils down to just loving his job.

“I love hotel work and I love that industry, but I can tell you by far the State Senate is the best job I’ve had in my life,” he said. “It’s a privilege to serve. I love being a state senator and hope to do it a long, long time.”

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