In the News
Woburn Daily Times Chronicle
Retired Lexington detective enters race for Kaufman's seat
By PATRICK BLAIS
WOBURN - When 70-year-old State Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) shocked supporters last November by revealing he would not seek re-election, lifelong Lexingtonian Joe Lahiff realized an unexpected opportunity had arisen to pursue a late-blooming passion for political life.
In the following weeks, the retired Lexington police officer, who has close ties to Woburn through his employment at city-based human services provider NuPath, seriously considered whether to chance a run for the veteran legislator's 15th Middlesex District seat.
Kaufman, who next November will step down after serving for 24-years on Beacon Hill, represents constituents in all of Lexington and in Wards 1 and 7 in Woburn.
As someone completely new to the world of elected politics, Lahiff admittedly struggled with many nagging doubts about seeking to replace such an effective legislator, including questions about whether a soft-spoken family man with a gentle demeanor could contend with a candidate pool that was sure to include more seasoned and outspoken contenders.
But eventually, the dreamer in Lahiff silenced those concerns.
"Helping people is just part of my personality. It's what I was raised to do…I made the decision so fast, I realized I hadn't even asked my wife. That was the scariest part of it," he joked. "She jumped on board immediately, and it's been nothing but a great ride since."
"I'd like to have this job, hold onto it as long as possible, and get good at it. I'm not interested in using it as a chance to get to the next level," continued Lahiff. "I don't bring the baggage of a lifelong politician. I'm looking at things with a fresh set of eyes, and I'm a soft-spoken person and a great listener."
Reflecting on his candidacy during a recent interview at The Daily TImes Chronicle office, Lahiff is facing some stiff competition in what is thus far slated to be a four-way race to become the Democratic nominee for the State House position.
Also vying to replace Kaufman are Lexington Selectman Michelle Ciccollo and Mary Ann Stewart, a former Lexington School Committee member who serves as a parent representative on the state's Board of Education.
Lexington's Matthew Cohen, who is currently employed at the State House as a budget analyst, has also recently entered the race.
Today is the last day for party-affilliated candidates to pull nomination papers to run for a state office.
A call to serve
According to Lahiff, his deep roots in Lexington, combined with his more recently established work and charity connections to Woburn, uniquely qualify him to represent the interests of both communities within the 15th Middlesex District.
Since 2014, the former Lexington Police detective and school resource officer has worked as the director of asset management at NuPath Inc., a non-profit agency dedicated to serving people with disabilities that is headquartered on New Boston Street.
He is also a member of Woburn's Host Lions' Club, where he serves on the organization's Board of Directors and has thoroughly enjoyed experiencing unique Woburn traditions like its annual Halloween parade.
Lahiff's career trajectory from the law enforcement field to the non-profit sector as a maintenance chief might appear to outsiders as odd, but according to the Lexington High School graduate, the transition falls right in-line with his lifelong desire to help those in need.
"I have a passion for supporting people who literally can't speak for themselves. I spent my career protecting people, and this really isn't that much different," he explained. "I'm also a contractually-oriented person. I'd prefer to read a contract [or procurement offer] over a novel. It's a quirk in me."
It was Lahiff's unusual zeal for contractual clauses and similar legal agreements that first sparked his interest in political life as a casual observer of Beacon Hill deliberations.
Specifically, after joining the Lexington Police force in 1989, he became involved in the force's collective bargaining units, an association that eventually led to his selection by his peers as president of the patrolman's union.
As he subsequently progressed through the police ranks and became a detective, he also went on to lead the detectives and sergeants union.
"Throughout my career, especially as a union guy, I found myself on Beacon Hill quite a bit," recalled Lahiff. "I was thoroughly enthralled watching legislation take shape. I had a driving desire to be part of it all."
According to the State House hopeful, if elected to office, he plans to begin working immediately towards legislation that will redouble the state's efforts at addressing a regional drug and opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives over the past decade.
Like many in the area, Lahiff, who last spring lost a close family member to drug addiction, has been directly effected by the opioid crisis. Though supportive of some of the state resources steered towards combating the issue, the former school resource officer is especially concerned about the lack of direct support for child and teen drug prevention programs.
Citing one possible education asset, the retired law enforcement officer believes many cities and towns aren't taking advantage of their fire department veterans, who as medical responders, are serving right on the front-lines of the crisis.
"As a school resource officer, I spent every waking moment working as a member of a team to keep our kids safe, and in the five years I was in the school system, we never lost a single student," he said.
"I think we've seen a slow defunding of school resource programs, and the legislature needs to [restore that funding]. I don't think the message is getting down to the kids. And just one try can kill you," he added.