Arena offers ‘a little bit more energy’ for 2nd Franklin


Staff Writer
Published: 10/10/2018 8:28:58 AM

GILL — On the November ballot, John William Arena of Mount Hermon will be listed as the Democratic candidate to represent the 2nd Franklin District.

But around the district, which also includes Orange, Athol and five other Franklin County towns, as well as four in Worcester County and part of Belchertown, the 23-year-old candidate challenging incumbent independent candidate Susannah Whipps is known as Johnny Arena.

Arena, who attended Northfield Mount Hermon School and graduated from Amherst College in May with a bachelor’s in political science, may not have the brash approach of Casey Pease, the University of Massachusetts junior from Worthington who unsuccessfully ran in the crowded Sept. 4 primary in the 1st Franklin District. He refers to his opponent, for example, as “Ms. Whipps.”

But Arena, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, also touts the energy he seeks to bring to Beacon Hill.

“I was really impressed, even going up to the primary, with new people stepping in lately,” he said, pointing to Boston City Counselor Ayanna Pressley’s primary defeat of longtime incumbent Michael Capuano in the Seventh Congressional District, and even to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s failed attempt to win the Democratic nomination for President in 2016.

“These newer voices, or fresh faces who haven’t been seen in politics for a while, have really ignited a lot of excitement and involvement,” said Arena, who’s been “interested in politics for a very, very, very long time,” and worked in 2015 as a summer intern for Rep. Claire Cronin, D-Easton. “I fell in love with it.”

But the following year, when he was approached by Democrats about running for the seat held by then-first-term incumbent Whipps, he took the advice of a family friend who’d gone into public office and advised him to stay in school and graduate before seeking elected office.

Later, a course in “community engagement” gave students an opportunity to attend town meetings in Amherst, but Arena asked whether he could instead attend meetings in Orange and Athol.

“Being able to see the level of passion that so many people in their district have for the towns, and seeing that in contrast with the harder economic situation we have going on out here, was difficult,” he said. “There’s a lot of faith in what can be and a lot of frustration in what is. And I really wanted to at least give people an option of letting me help bridge that gap.”

This year, when the opportunity came around again to run after his this May graduation, Arena says, “I really think the 2nd Franklin District would be served very well by a representative who treats the position as a full-time job, so I decided throw my hat into the ring.”

Whipps, he says, has been doing work at her family flood-control manufacturing business Whipps Inc., of which she is a co-owner and has worked as the contracts administrator for the company founded by her parents in 1977.

Arena says that he finds it “completely understandable” that Whipps is doing work for the family business, where she acknowledges she does still review company contracts.

“That family has done so much for our district,” he says. “I’m all for the health of Whipps Inc. It’s been a tremendous force in our local economy. I don’t blame her for a second, turning whatever attention she did to the family company. But I think if she were to stay working at her family company, her district would be served well by somebody who would be in the (legislative) office full-time.”

Arena said Whipps has done “a good job, and I think the district is in a decent place. It’s just kind of on cruise control. We’re not falling backward, but I wouldn’t exactly say we’re vigorously climbing. The biggest value I want to bring is my young energy — somebody who can run around, serving as a full-time representative, beng able to do the job without other responsibilities or obligations.”

He acknowledges that running against an incumbent with strong community ties in Athol and Orange, the hub of the 2nd Franklin District, will be a challenge.

“It’s no secret, I’ve got an uphill battle in this campaign. Both in name recognition and financially, it’s David and Goliath in this particular race, but I’ve been getting face-to-face with people” at events around the district.

Arena says the common theme around the diverse district is the need for economic revitalization through expansion of broadband, which he says is “paramount” in building businesses. Other key focuses are the need to expand public transportation and making sure the region’s public schools are getting their fair share of state funding.

He adds, “I think we just need a little bit more of a spark, a little more involvement, just a little bit more energy in Statehouse. I think we’re right before the top of the hill there, but to get to the other side and start doing well, having our local economies thriving again, we just need a little more of a push in Boston.”

“I think I can bring that with my young energy,” Arena says. “I hope I can.”

The 2nd Franklin District includes Erving, Gill, New Salem, Orange, Warwick and Wendell, as well as Petersham, Phillipston, Royalston and Templeton in Worcester County, plus a section of Belchertown in Hampshire County.


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