Velis hopeful for a better 2021

WESTFIELD – Like most people, state Sen. John C. Velis is looking forward to focusing on the positive in 2021.

When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s, Velis had one thing to say: “2020 – see ya!”

Velis reflected on 2020 and its challenges last week and said the worst part of the year of the coronavirus was the social distancing and isolation.

State Sen. John C. Velis attends a POW/MIA ceremony at Pine Hill Cemetery in the fall of 2020. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

“I miss people,” he said. “For most politicians, people are the reason you do the job. I love people and cannot wait to get back to seeing everyone in person.”

Velis won the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District senate seat not once, but twice during the pandemic. Since his first swearing-in in May, Velis has attended every senate session – which were extended through the entire year – virtually.

He said with the distribution of vaccines, he hoped the COVID-19 spread would begin to slow soon and he could go to Beacon Hill once again.

“I cannot wait to get to Boston in-person,” Velis said, noting that he was very happy he ran for the seat when former Sen. Donald F. Humason Jr. became Westfield’s mayor. Prior to his election in 2020, Velis spent seven years as Westfield’s state representative. As senator, he has 10 additional communities to represent in the Massachusetts Senate, and he is learning a lot.

“The 2nd Hampden and Hampshire district is a microcosm of the Commonwealth,” he said. “There are rural towns and big cities, and each have its own challenges and complexities.”

Velis said 2020 brought a variety of issues throughout the district, from broadband concerns in Tolland to problems in Holyoke where absentee landlords are allowing drug dealers to take over apartment buildings.

Velis said while Westfield is his hometown, he promised the residents of all 11 district communities that he would represent each city and town as if he lived there. For Velis, that has meant pushing himself beyond his comfort zone and surrounding himself with good staff.

“I have to credit my staff,” he said. “You’re only as good as your staff.”

Velis listed off the challenges COVID created in 2020, including combatting the virus itself and the safety of healthcare workers and other frontline employees, education, the economy, unemployment and the budget. And although it’s a new year, these challenges will continue, he said.

Velis said the current budget was passed just before Christmas instead of the spring and talks for the Fiscal Year 2022 budget – as well as bill filing – will begin soon.

And although Velis said there is much work to be done and he was dismayed at how long the local budget process took and said the latest federal stimulus was “unnecessarily delayed,” he is hopeful that a lot of good was done in 2020 and even more is in store for 2021.

“There is a lot of good happening in government right now,” he said. “Massachusetts, whether you love the politics, hate the politics or are indifferent to the politics, has passed a lot of bills to help people.

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