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Edwards says his back, not backing, gave out

WHATELY — Jonathan Edwards says he had been averaging 1,000 miles a week of crisscrossing the state in his campaign for lieutenant governor, a race he quit earlier this week because of severe back pain.

“My doctor said that spending four or five hours a day in the car was not good for me,” Edwards said Wednesday.

The Whately selectman, one of five Democratic hopefuls seeking the lieutenant governor post, and the only one from western Massachusetts, says he had probably collected about half the signatures needed by the end of April to get on the September primary ballot and most likely had 200 to 300 convention delegates, enough to make it likely that he would have had the 584 delegates at the June state Democratic convention needed to get on the primary ballot.

Those confident feelings weren’t enough to stop the pain, which the 50-year-old, four-term selectman said had started around January and was only worsening.

When he woke up to attend the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 23, “I was in intense pain and thinking about whether I could survive the parade.”

March-ing with Holyoke City Council members, he had to keep bending over and stretch to relieve the pressure on his nerve, and “It was tough to keep a smile on your face. You can’t be in agony, and you can’t be short tempered.”

Edwards was forced to skip events afterward “because I couldn’t bear the pain anymore” and the following day, attending an event in someone’s house in Salem City Council, his left leg “completely crumbled” when he tried to put his foot down on a step, and he collapsed again when returning to his own home in Whately that night, falling back onto the cement floor of his garage.

“There was no strength in my left leg,” said Edwards, for whom the nerve in his herniated disk had led to a pinched spinal column, probably resulting in sciatica in his left side, according to his physician.

Although he began physical therapy a couple of times a week, Edwards said, he had to cancel recent appearances, including a labor council dinner in Ludlow and a Democratic unity breakfast event in Attleboro where he knew “I could have stood up (to speak) for two minutes, but I couldn’t have worked the room.”

Edwards said he was forced to make the “adult decision” that it wasn’t fair to his supporters to continue his first campaign for statewide elected office “to have me sitting around waiting for a back that might not get better in time for me to do what I need to do to get on the ballot. Ethically, I can’t continue; physically, I can’t continue.”

Edwards, co-founder of the national, nonprofit firm SmartPower, admits that his campaign probably wasn’t doing as well as those of other hopefuls, including former state attorney general’s chief of staff Steve Kerrigan, but said that would likely have picked up once he had gotten his name on the primary ballot.

Edwards’ future: An involved observer

He said rather than endorse any of the other candidates, he plans to be simply an observer of the campaign. But he also promised to remain involved in issues that matter, such as energy issues and the declining projections for the state’s working-age population.

“The issue I was raising about population challenges, about job growth, I believe it was making other candidate think about those challenges and about how we can reverse that trend,” Edwards said. “I just hope that continues, because I will continue to be — when I’m able to be — out there, talking about these issues on a regular basis. I truly believe western Mass. should be a strong partner with the rest of state, instead of an afterthought.”

You can reach Richie Davis a rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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