Last Spring, Eric Lesser took a leave from his Harvard Law School studies to run for a seat in the Massachusetts Senate. In September, he won the Democratic primary and will move on to the November election in his bid to represent First Hampden & Hampshire District.
Lesser, who had been a member of the HLS class of ’15, has spent his life working with public service leaders who change and shape communities. A native of western Massachusetts, he says his priority as State Senator would be economic development. He wants to attract new businesses to the region and better integrate the economy in his district to the economy in nearby Boston and New York.
“It’s a really critical time in our region’s history and our region’s future,” Lesser told Harvard Law Today. “People are leaving because there aren’t enough good jobs, there isn’t enough opportunity. I think that this campaign provides a chance to talk about how we create that opportunity, how we create those jobs, how we bring middle class growth to places like Springfield and Chicopee and Ludlow, which are some of the towns in my district.”
In the November election, Lesser will face Republican Debra Boronski and Independent Mike Franco.
He got his start in politics in 2002 while he was in high school, a time of deep recession in Massachusetts that included significant education cuts in his hometown of Longmeadow. Lesser led a coalition of parents, teachers and students to pass a budget override. They knocked on every single door in Longmeadow, and as a result, he said, they protected those teacher jobs in jeopardy to make the school system as good for his sisters and future daughter as it was for him.
“It was an early lesson for me that people who care about their community can come together and change it,” he said.
Lesser worked with Congressman Richard Neal and Senator Ted Kennedy while he was a student as Longmeadow High School. Since then he’s worked on several campaigns, including the 2008 governor campaign Deval Patrick ’82 and the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama ’91, while he was studying government at Harvard College. After the primary, Lesser became the Ground Logistics Coordinator, where he kept track of luggage for Obama’s staff and the reporters who traveled with him, often to multiple cities a day.
“We went to 47 states, we travelled 200,000 miles, and my claim to fame was that I never once lost a bag,” Lesser joked.
David Axelrod, former Senior Advisor to the President, hired Lesser after the election as his special assistant. Working just steps from the Oval Office, Lesser kept Axelrod’s schedule and organized the information coming into the office from Congress, researchers, the media and others.
It was while working on the Obama presidential campaign and at the White House that Lesser decided he wanted to go to law school. He observed that to engage on a substantive level with politics and public affairs, and to be involved in lawmaking, “it’s important to actually know how laws work and how reports and legal systems and legal texts are interpreted and how precedents are set.”
He chose Harvard Law School because he saw that it “values public service and values the role that public service plays in improving communities and improving people’s lives.” He added, “I admire the work that Elena Kagan has done and Dean Minow has done to make Harvard Law School a place where people can come and develop their skills as public leaders.”
Lesser found that he needed to take time off from Harvard Law School to campaign. “To run a campaign an hour and a half away from Cambridge requires more than 100 percent of my time, not to mention being a family man with a newborn daughter,” Lesser said. His wife Alison, a lawyer specializing in family law, attends many campaign functions, and his daughter Rose is always a big hit on the campaign trail.
He only has 11 credits left before graduating, and Lesser hopes to finish his law degree once the campaign’s over. “The State House is only a few T stops from Harvard,” he said.