Two weeks ago, it was in Worcester, leading a discussion among Gateway Cities on development and education.
Last week, it was in Boston, chairing a meeting of the Metro Mayors Coalition on the subjects of state and local finance and transportation.
While City Manager Jay Ash’s leadership has been acknowledged by many for his impact on Chelsea, what may not be recognized locally is Ash is also having the same influence on statewide public policy issues.
“We all look up to him, both figuratively and literally,” mused Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, referencing both Ash’s physical and professional statures. “He’s accomplished so much in Chelsea; we want to know how he’s done it. Then we go to statewide meetings and see him leading efforts on issues like finance, public safety and transportation. Chelsea’s lucky to have him, but so aren’t the rest of our cities and towns.”
Ash is the immediate past president of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the regional planning agency that is responsible for planning and municipal supports for 101 communities in Greater Boston. He currently serves on the board of MassINC, a non-partisan, public policy think tank that focuses on state and municipal issues. He co-chairs the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute and is vice-chairman of the Metro Mayors Coalition, the latter even though he is a manager and not a mayor.
“That one is funny,” acknowledged Ash. “Last month, I was at a strategy session of statewide advocates supporting an infrastructure enhancement initiative that will be in focus over the next several months, and my name badge said ‘Mayor Jay Ash.’ There was more than one participant who had fun with that.”
Among Ash’s most recent statewide policy contributions are those that eventually led to State adoption of expanding gaming in Massachusetts, municipal health insurance reform (which is saving Chelsea $1 million a year and all the Commonwealth’s cities and towns more than $100 million a year), and public safety funding to allow both heightened prevention and intensive enforcement activities against violence.
“It’s great to show the rest of the state what we’re all about here in Chelsea,” commented Ash on one aspect of his statewide advocacy activities. “I also learn a lot that I can bring back home, and help to shape policies and programs that can have a tremendous impact on what we’re trying to accomplish here and wish for our state everywhere.”
In Worcester at the DCU Center, Ash was advancing efforts to spearhead legislation to promote transformative investments in 24 Gateway Cities, including Chelsea. Ash reminded the attendees from places like New Bedford, Holyoke and Springfield that the Gateway Cities host 15 percent of the State’s overall population.
“He was powerful in connecting the reasons why Gateway Cities matter with the initiatives we need to make sure we all reach our fullest potential,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, who once served as deputy city manager under Ash in Chelsea. “We need leaders like Jay looking beyond their own municipal boundaries because, at the end of the day, a healthy Commonwealth will lift the possibilities of all our communities.”
While many were off and planning for Christmas celebrations this past Friday morning, Ash led a morning meeting with Secretary Jay Gonzales, the State’s outgoing budget director, and Secretary Rich Davy, the State transportation chief.
“He’s a natural, one who gets the importance of good public policy and how it translates into helping cities and towns to better provide for their residents,” said Joel Barrera, deputy director of MAPC. “When you watched him work at meetings and see his command of the issues and inclusive approach in arriving at solutions, it’s easy to see why so many hope that he’ll consider putting his name on the ballot for higher office someday.”
“I don’t know about that,” responded Ash to a question about running for statewide office. “What I do know is I have a great job now, in a community I love, working with so many terrific people. I’m grateful that the City Council understands that Chelsea’s success involves more than just my efforts within our borders. I hope to continue to contribute to discussions that result in actions on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill, and then utilize those successes to improve upon what we’re all focused upon for Chelsea.”
“He’s right,” said City Council President Leo Robinson, about the Council’s support for Ash’s efforts outside of Chelsea. “We see his leadership statewide and hear from our peers around the state about the impact he is having. We know all that reflects positively back on Chelsea, and we see with our own eyes what an impact in means to all that we’re together accomplishing locally.”
In January, Ash expects to be at the State House lobbying for transportation finance action and emceeing a Gateway Cities initiative to promote economic development around the state.
“Both are important statewide issues that will have positive impacts, if successful, on Chelsea’s future,” said Ash. “I’m excited about that future and am grateful to be in a place where I can influence it, both here and around the state.”