By Madison Friend
Walking into Dan Donahue’s campaign office, the first thing you see is a fresh-faced 20-something in earbuds and a Holy Cross sweatshirt sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen. That’s Jack Green, campaign manager, and just like everything else in the place, he reeks of Worcester.
Good thing, too, because Worcester is what Donahue’s re-election campaign for state representative of the 16th district is all about – Worcester’s history, its people, their needs. Donahue, a 29-year old native of Quinsigamond Village, considers his history in the area one of his greatest strengths as a state representative. His father is a carpenter, his mother a public school teacher-turned-principal; they grew up around the corner from each other in – you guessed it – Worcester. Donahue attended elementary school at St. Mary’s on Richmond St. and high school at St. John’s in Shrewsbury, before earning his degree from the College of the Holy Cross.
“I went to college closer to my house than I did kindergarten,” he said, laughing merrily at a prospect that would horrify most teens. “I walked to my first day of classes.”
In his three years as representative, Donahue has been instrumental in planning and funding development and improvement projects across the district. He’s secured funding for Friendly House, ensured improvements to the Grafton Hill area and played a key role in the development of the new WRTA center.
He also works closely with Working for Worcester, a group of college students dedicated to improving recreational opportunities within neighborhoods across the city. As a Worcester college alum, Donahue says he knows how important it is to get students off their campuses, interacting with the community and students from other schools in the area.
Donahue says it’s important to protect students, as well, which is why he sponsored a bill during the last legislative session that would require colleges and universities in Massachusetts to institute programs to respond to sexual violence on their campuses.
“There needs to be a threshold response,” Donahue said, explaining that this bill was important because it would standardize the way colleges in the state respond to these types of incidences. “We especially need this in Worcester; we have 12 colleges. The response shouldn’t be different at schools in the same city.”
Donahue has worked in the community since graduation, first at the Juvenile Public Defender’s office, then as a campaign staffer during the 2010 governor’s race. He served as the political director for Lt. Gov. Tim Murray before he was appointed director of policy and assistant chief of staff to Worcester’s current mayor, Joseph Petty.
Donahue worked in the mayor’s office until 2013, when he announced his candidacy in a special election for the seat he now holds, State Representative for the 16th Worcester District. The position was vacated when John Fresolo, the previous rep, resigned amid an ethics investigation. In that election, Donahue fended off four Democratic Primary challengers before defeating Republican Carol. E Claros by a nearly 30-point margin. In 2014, he defended his seat in a close primary race against Joshua Perro; he ran unchallenged in the general election.
One of his most ambitious undertakings has been to secure funding for an overhaul of the sewage system along Rte 20. He admits that it may not be the most glamorous or exciting of projects.
“Government isn’t always sexy,” said Donahue. “It’s about the nuts and bolts.”
Nuts and bolts like responding to the needs of his constituents, whether they need a pothole fixed on their street or a library in their elementary school. For Donahue, that means being active in the community, getting to know the people, listening to their problems and helping to find solutions. He’s so committed to being accessible, he gives out his personal cell phone number and email address.
In his endorsement before the special election in 2013, Mayor Petty commended Donahue for exactly this dedication and community involvement.
“It’s a pleasure to endorse him. He’s a great kid. He’s smart. He’s compassionate. He understands issues. He does a lot of constituency work in my office and he gets back to people, which is what you have to do,” Petty said.