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Investing in small businesses, during and after the crisis

Op-Ed: Investing in small businesses, during and after the crisis

By Joe Gravellese, candidate for State Representative

Small businesses are the backbone of any community. A just and equitable revitalization of areas like Revere Beach, Route 1 Saugus, and downtown Chelsea requires strong, locally-owned businesses, which not only add economic vibrancy to a community, but also provide a bulwark against displacement. The need to support small businesses is now even more urgent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Here are some ways I’ll fight for local entrepreneurs if elected State Representative on September 1: 

Making permanent reforms that give more flexibility to small businesses 

In the wake of COVID-19, local governments got creative about green-lighting ideas for businesses that would normally require months of red tape.

Kowloon in Saugus and Easy Pie in Revere have hosted drive-in movie nights. Restaurants like Demaino’s, Dryft,  and the Hammersmith have expanded their outdoor patios, including occupying street or parking lot space to create more safe opportunities for dining. “To-go” cocktails are available for pickup at your favorite restaurants.

We need to make many of these short-term changes permanent, and give businesses the flexibility to try new, creative ideas. This includes making sure that licensing and permitting requirements are focused on public safety, and not on stifling competition. It also means continuing to monitor abuses of employment law, like noncompete clauses, which big businesses often use to depress innovation and competition. 

Investing in locally-owned businesses and workers

As a region, we must invest in thoughtful workforce development programs that train local residents of all backgrounds to participate in the 21st century economy.

This means ensuring that when the new Revere High School is built, it is equipped to train students for the jobs of the future, including space for robotics, biotechnology, and life sciences. It also means ensuring the school has a vocational and technical component to give more students access to career education.

Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus need partners at the state level to unlock investment in programs that support small food vendors, artists, and other unique enterprises.

When I worked in the Mayor’s office in Revere, I worked on projects to create a one-stop landing page for starting a business in Revere, and to create “e-permitting” to make the process of getting started easier and more convenient. We need to invest in additional resources like these to make the process of starting a business less daunting.

Creating Walkable, Vibrant, Accessible Spaces 

The best way to help small businesses thrive is to create safe, walkable, vibrant spaces, especially near transit. State-level grant funding has been crucial in upgrading infrastructure in key corridors like Broadway and Shirley Ave in Revere.

Continued upgrades to transit are also crucial. By strengthening bus service and reimagining the commuter rail, we will increase the number of neighborhoods with access to a workforce and a customer base.

Recognizing that internet is essential

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted both the necessity of the internet, and the gap in internet availability. Businesses need quality internet access to participate in today’s economy, and customers need the internet to connect to commerce and to jobs. But we can’t rely on monopolistic cable companies to expand internet access.

Several communities around Massachusetts, including Chicopee, have invested in community or municipal-owned broadband programs. Communities like ours should explore similar options to make sure our residents have access to the tools they need to participate in the economy.

Supporting green-collar enterprises

The working-class jobs of the future will be “green-collar” jobs in clean energy, or in retrofitting existing buildings. We need to invest in job training programs for these jobs, make sure local vocational schools and community colleges are equipped to prepare residents to move in to them, and ensure that Massachusetts rightfully emerges as a global leader in wind and solar technology.

Short-term COVID-19 relief

In coming months, small businesses will need continued support from the government to stay afloat. This means another round of small business loans to help businesses keep employees on their payroll and remain open. It also means continued state-level investment in PPE and sanitation supplies to provide to local businesses to allow them to operate safely. 

We need state-level support to ward off economic devastation, especially in hard-hit communities like Chelsea, where local leaders recently called on the Governor to provide additional support for programs like food and rental assistance. If the local workforce and customer base can’t afford to pay rent or for essentials, businesses will suffer, too.

Our region needed thoughtful investments in workforce training and community development even before this crisis – but now, as we recover, these efforts are more important than ever. I am committed to championing small businesses and local entrepreneurs if elected to serve the 16th Suffolk District. 

Joe Gravellese is a candidate for State Representative in the Democratic Primary election on September 1 in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea, Saugus).


Pass a “Career and Technical Education Act” in Massachusetts!

Half of all job openings in the 21st century economy are for positions that require training beyond a high school education, but do not require a college degree. We can help prepare students to fill these positions by passing the Career and Technical Education Act, as ten states have done.

The CTE Act would require state universities, community colleges, and similar programs to give credits to students who complete career, vocational and technical education classes taken during high school. This would help smooth the pathway and reduce costs for associates degrees, certificates, and similar programs that can put students on the pathway to good jobs.

Partnered with approaches I have already advocated for to expand access to vocational and technical education, such as expanding “dual enrollment” programs to let kids take classes at both traditional and vocational schools; ensuring a vocational component at the new Revere High School; and supporting the construction of a new Northeast Metropolitan Vocational School with more seats to reduce the size of the waiting list for vocational schools, we can create a more equitable education system that gives more students an opportunity to succeed.

Showing up and doing the work

When 2020 started, I never envisioned running for office. My involvement in politics has always been behind the scenes – from organizing for candidates, to working on legislation at the State House, to working on the nuts and bolts of making city government work more effectively at the Mayor’s office in Revere. 

But as I speak to voters around the district, it’s clear that we need leadership in government for whom politics isn’t about having their name on a sign or appearing at photo ops – it’s about showing up and doing the work.

Over the last five months, I’ve used this space to speak with you each week about the specific things I want to fight for if elected. From transportation, to education, to job training, I’ve laid out an ambitious agenda to stand up for the residents of Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus.

But leadership isn’t just about saying the right things, it’s about translating words into action. And I have a history of showing up, digging deep, and working behind the scenes to fight for change.

At the State House as legislative director for Rep. Lori Ehrlich, I mobilized a group of workers from all over Massachusetts to share their stories about how they were exploited by “noncompete” agreements – from sandwich shop workers, to a summer camp counselor, to people working in technology and scientific research whose opportunities to start businesses and pursue new ideas were limited by bad policy. 

By making the case directly to other legislators and to the public, we were able to build support for a bill that eventually prevented the worst kind of abuses of noncompete agreements.

I was also involved in organizing a coalition that fought for a law holding utility companies accountable for gas leaks. I was in meetings with powerful legislators and staff, directly making the case for why certain language was needed in the bill to make it effective. The end result was a bill that led to the repair of thousands of gas leaks, and further raised the profile of this important issue.

Turning the page to my time at the City of Revere, the work I did was also not glamorous, but it was important.

The day after Mayor Arrigo’s victory was confirmed, I sat down for a meeting with members of Revere’s Healthy Community Initiatives office. In that meeting in the basement of City Hall, the plan was hatched for the new Substance Use Disorder Initiatives office, which brought the city’s work to tackle addiction under one roof and gave it proper funding and support.

In the first months of the Mayor’s administration, I pushed every day in meetings to move this project forward, to apply for the grants needed to fund it, and to work with city staff to roll it out to the public. The end result was a new, vital city office that has contributed to a 40%+ drop in overdose deaths in Revere.

I was also involved in re-launching Revere’s Commission on Disabilities. The Commission hadn’t met for years, and had no clear direction. So I put out a call to hire new commissioners, and recommended the appointment of Ralph DeCicco to head up this work. Working with Ralph, we energized the commission and set it on a path toward ensuring ADA compliance at city facilities, creating more programming and support for youth with disabilities, such as Special Olympics and programs at Revere Recreation, and created a transparent and fair process for applying for handicapped parking spots.

My willingness to show up and do the work is also reflected in how I’ve run my campaign. Even as COVID-19 has upended traditional campaigning, I’ve worked hard to adapt. I’ve done over ten hours worth of virtual town halls and interviews where I answer questions and speak directly to voters. I’ve published a series of policy papers both in print and online for you to review. I’ve spent time in all three communities in the district, dropping literature and getting to know community leaders.

The series of endorsements I have received in this race – from trade unions, to the Massachusetts Teachers Association, to environmental advocates like the Sierra Club – stem from the fact that when these groups meet with me, they know that I’ve done my homework on the issues, have a deep conviction to do what is right, and have a work ethic that pushes me to keep on fighting for change, even when it’s hard.

When I started this campaign, I knew that nobody owed me anything – I’d have to work hard to earn each and every vote. I’ve tried my best to do just that, and I hope to earn yours by September 1.

Sierra Club Massachusetts Endorses Joe Gravellese for State Representative

The Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club – one of the nation’s foremost environmental advocacy organizations – has endorsed Joe Gravellese for State Representative in the upcoming Democratic primary on September 1st in the 16th Suffolk District.

“The communities of Chelsea, Revere, and Saugus are disproportionately impacted by environmental injustices and COVID-19,” said Jonathan Cohn, political director of Sierra Club Massachusetts. “The Sierra Club is proud to endorse Joe Gravellese, who will represent this diverse district and act on his commitment to stronger environmental enforcement, environmental justice, and 100% clean energy.”

“I’m grateful to have the Sierra Club in my corner,” said Gravellese. “Seven years ago I worked alongside environmental advocates like the Sierra Club to shut down a polluting coal plant in Salem, and pass legislation to hold utility companies accountable for gas leaks. They’ve seen firsthand that my commitment to environmental justice isn’t just an election year slogan – it’s a lifelong interest in researching, learning about, and acting on policy.”

“When it comes to addressing the environmental hazards in our communities, like gas leaks, the trash-burning incinerator in Saugus, and increasing storms and flooding, the advocates who know these issues best, like Sierra Club and Sunrise Boston, are backing my candidacy, because they know I have the passion, knowledge, and track record needed to make a difference.”

The full list of candidates endorsed by the Sierra Club this year is available at

Generational Responsibility: My Plan to Invest in Senior Citizens

I believe in generational responsibility. This means we all have the obligation to make the world a little bit better for the next generation. It also means we have the obligation to support senior citizens as they age. Fulfilling our generational responsibility to the young and to the aging requires shared sacrifice, but it is the right thing to do.

Earlier this year, I rolled out my policy for investing in youth. Today, I introduce my plan for supporting senior citizens if elected as your next State Representative on September 1.

Health care costs

One of the biggest issues facing all generations, but especially seniors, is healthcare costs. 

In November, the State Senate passed a bill to create more transparency around drug prices, and cap the price of critical medication like insulin. The House should pass similar legislation, and if elected, I will support it. 

There are bills pending that I have previously spoken in support of, which would allow for the import of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada, and for the bulk purchase and distribution of medications with widespread public health benefits.

Another needed bill, supported by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, is the Hospital Profit Transparency and Fairness Act. Big hospitals receive taxpayer funds, but shirk their responsibility to the community by closing hospitals in poorer areas, shuttering services, and raising prices. Right now, the public has no way of knowing how much these ever-expanding hospital groups are spending on things like marketing and executive salaries. This bill would require hospitals to be transparent about their holdings and their spending, and claw back public funds if they are spending egregiously on expenses that don’t improve the health of patients.


While housing costs are often framed as an issue for my generation, they are increasingly squeezing seniors, too – especially seniors on fixed incomes. Seniors who rent are seeing rents swallow up their incomes. Seniors who own will not feel the benefit of increasing property values, but do feel the pain of property taxes.

Massachusetts attracts smart and successful people from all over the country. This is a good thing, but those doing well here need to invest in the health and well-being of the rest of the Commonwealth. Closing tax loopholes, reversing tax cuts on the very wealthy, and shoring up the Community Preservation Act can help us invest in our decaying stock of public and subsidized housing, which many seniors and veterans rely on to have a safe home.

We also need to enact policies that will ensure that seniors and people with disabilities have a place to live. Chelsea has an ordinance requiring a percentage of new development be affordable, and it’s time Revere does the same – with a focus on housing for seniors and veterans, like the project on Shirley Avenue that has provided a supportive home for those who have served our country.

Additionally, in Revere, Mayor Arrigo successfully pushed for the adoption of a 10% residential exemption for low-income seniors. While a State Representative does not control this, I would use my platform to urge that this be expanded to 20%.

Seniors would also benefit from legislation to legalize “in-law” apartments. Allowing for the legal creation of small units to house an aging aunt, Nonna or Papa keeps families together and creates affordable housing that fits within the context of existing neighborhoods.


Massachusetts must ensure mobility for seniors, who may struggle to get to grocery stores, churches, and other public buildings.

This is why my platform for fixing public transportation is so important, as for many seniors, the bus or the train provides an essential connection to the community. 

Additionally, we must strengthen the future of paratransit programs like The RIDE. One idea already being piloted is partnering with ride sharing services for “on-demand” accessible rides. Something else we should consider is splitting The RIDE’s budget away from the T, and funding the RIDE separately as an essential service for seniors.

Building community for seniors

One of the heartbreaking things about COVID-19 has been seeing senior centers shuttered. While senior centers across the district are doing their best to stay connected through online programs, we’re seeing more than ever how vital these community-building programs are.

When senior centers eventually reopen, they need continued support. I will make sure support for elder services is at the top of my list of funding requests for Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus, and fight to keep these facilities safe and vibrant. Additionally, I will urge Mayor Arrigo to ensure that the long-discussed concept of a new, multigenerational recreation center for both youth and seniors comes to fruition as part of the Suffolk Downs development.

Investing in youth and seniors is part of our generational responsibility, and we need more elected officials who take this responsibility seriously – not just in their words, but in their policies. You can count on me to be a champion for generational responsibility if you vote to send me to the State House on September 1.

Revere DPW Union Local 880 Endorses Joe Gravellese for State Representative

Revere DPW Union Local 880 Endorses Joe Gravellese for State Representative

Revere DPW Union Local 880, representing the working people of the City of Revere Department of Public Works, has endorsed Joe Gravellese for State Representative. Local 880 is a member of AFCSME Council 93.

“We are proud to endorse Joe Gravellese for State Representative,” said Mike Cecere, president of Local 880. “Joe will be a champion for working people at the State House, and will always stand up for labor. He is from a family that understands the value of hard work, and he shows this in his own campaign.”

“Joe was part of the team in Mayor Arrigo’s office that invested in and supported the DPW, and was always a partner with us in working to make the city stronger,” added Joe Lake, Local 880 steward. “We look forward to having Joe fight for labor in the legislature.”

“I appreciate the support of Local 880 and the hard-working people of the DPW Union,” said Gravellese. “During my time at City Hall, I saw what a difference it made not only in how the city looks, but also in the maintenance of critical water and sewer infrastructure, to invest in talent, equipment, and facilities for public works. The Mayor put his support behind public works in Revere, and we need state-level leadership with the same priorities.”

Gravellese’s campaign has now been endorsed by nine labor groups; in addition to Revere DPW Local 880, he was previously endorsed by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 4, Tunnel Workers Local 88, Bricklayers Local 3, Iron Workers Local 7, Insulators Local 6, Roofers Local 33, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Boston Teachers Union.

Chelsea Ward 4 Democratic Committee Unanimously Endorses Joe Gravellese for State Representative

Joe Gravellese has been unanimously endorsed by the Chelsea Ward 4 Democratic Committee in his race for State Representative in the 16th Suffolk District. The district includes Precincts 2 & 3 of Ward 4 in Chelsea, in addition to precincts in Revere and Saugus, and a portion of Chelsea’s Ward 3.

“Joe has shown a sincere interest in getting to know the needs of the people of Chelsea,” said Attorney Olivia Anne Walsh, Chair of the Chelsea Ward 4 Democratic Committee. “He is running on a positive message of investing in communities like ours, and standing up for working people. All of our members voted to support him.”

“I’m grateful for the endorsement of the committee,” said Gravellese. “Chelsea has been hit hard by COVID-19, and needs fighters representing it in the Legislature as it recovers – people who care deeply about Chelsea, and are going to speak out loud and clear on the important issues facing its residents. It’s been inspiring spending time talking with Chelsea residents about the work we can do together to improve public health, invest in public transportation, and give all students of all backgrounds a high-quality education, from pre-K through college.”

The Democratic primary election for State Representative will be held on Tuesday, September 1.

A Humane Massachusetts: My Agenda for Animal Protection

Earlier this year, I was proud to be endorsed by Massachusetts Voters for Animals – the statewide advocacy arm of the animal protection movement. I have a long history of working with animal protection organizations, dating back to my time working as legislative director to Rep. Lori Ehrlich from 2013-2016.

While in that role, our office helped advocate for and sign in to law legislation that responded to the “Puppy Doe” incident, when a pit bull was found so badly abused that she had to be euthanized. The bill updated the state’s animal cruelty laws to hold abusers accountable.

I also worked on legislation allowing Good Samaritans to legally rescue animals trapped in hot cars, crack down on “puppy mills,” end the exploitation of wild animals in traveling shows, and stop the illicit ivory trade, which is funding overseas criminal enterprises and threatening elephants with extinction.

How we treat animals says a lot about our values. In addition to the inherent care we should have for living beings, research shows that a person who has committed animal abuse is five times more likely to commit violence against people. Strong animal protection laws are important to protect all of us.

We have more work to do to protect animals moving forward. 

There are still too many loopholes in the ivory trade that threaten the future existence of elephants and rhinos, and we need to support legislation to close them. 35,000 elephants per year are being slaughtered, putting them on a path to extinction – and the illicit ivory trade funds criminal and terrorist enterprises. Massachusetts can do its part to fight back against this.

Additionally, legislation is pending before the Senate currently that protects consumers and animals from unsafe practices by banning the sale of puppies and kittens under eight weeks of age, and ensuring safety standards at kennels. The pet trade industry is pushing back and attempting to water down these efforts, but the Legislature must work to protect both consumers and animals. 

Marge Peppercorn, a member of the Massachusetts Voters for Animals steering committee, said her organization was backing my candidacy because this campaign “stands out as a… strong advocate for the prevention of cruelty.” If elected, I will do my best to live up to these words and support strong animal protection legislation.

Joe Gravellese Named Moms Demand Action “Gunsense” Candidate

Joe Gravellese, candidate for State Representative in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea, Saugus) in the September 1 Democratic primary, has been awarded the “Gunsense Candidate” distinction by Moms Demand Action, a nationwide organization formed in response to the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings.

“The Gunsense Candidate program recognizes that we can have policy that respects individuals’ right to bear arms while also enacting sensible, bipartisan reforms that reduce gun deaths,” said Gravellese.

“Moms Demand Action pushes nationwide to close loopholes in completing background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals, and cracking down on unlawful gun trafficking. We’ve already adopted many of these steps here in Massachusetts, proving that it’s possible to balance these rights and responsibilities.”

“I’m honored to have the Gunsense Candidate distinction, representing that I will work against efforts by corporate lobbyists to roll back the sensible, effective policies Massachusetts has in place.”

While working at the State House as legislative director to Rep. Lori Ehrlich in 2013-16, Gravellese worked with Rep. Ehrlich to draft legislation and raise the issue of people on the national terrorism watch list being able to legally purchase firearms in Massachusetts. Ehrlich’s office went on to work on a comprehensive bill led by Speaker Robert DeLeo that eventually became law, which has helped keep Massachusetts annually among the states with the lowest rates of gun violence. In 2018, Massachusetts had the second lowest rate of gun deaths of any state, after Rhode Island.

In addition to the Moms Demand Action Gunsense Candidate Distinction, Gravellese has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Boston Teachers Union, six building trades unions, and Massachusetts Voters for Animals.

What We Need from the State To Help Recover from COVID-19

The 16th Suffolk District – Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus – is perhaps the district in this state hit hardest by COVID-19. As a candidate to represent these communities at the State House next year, it’s crucial to have a list of short-term and long-term priorities specifically geared toward helping our three communities recover from the health and economic devastation wreaked by this pandemic.

As a pressing, short-term need, we absolutely need emergency paid sick time for essential workers, like bus drivers, grocery store workers, and others who interact with large numbers of people every day. Right now too many people are placed in a position of having to choose between the health of themselves and others and their paycheck. Emergency paid sick time can help address this while we recover. We have a huge proportion of frontline workers in our communities, and they need this support.

While people are still struggling, we also need to properly fund emergency services for those in need, such as food banks and transitional housing assistance. I’ve volunteered regularly at Revere’s food banks for seniors, veterans, and Revere Public Schools families. It’s a staggering sight: hundreds upon hundreds of our neighbors struggling with basic necessities. This past year, we could have tripled state support to emergency food program likes the Greater Boston Food Bank for about $40 million. To put this number in perspective, Massachusetts sent out $37.5 million in income tax cuts to the top 1% of earners in the state last year – those making around $600,000 per year and above. We need to realign our priorities to deal with the urgency of this moment.

A medium-term need from the Commonwealth is assistance in dealing with unemployment in our district. We have a huge proportion of workers in the hospitality and service industries, especially in Revere and Chelsea. These workers are going to need help connecting with job training and other employment resources while we are still in this in-between phase of ‘recovering’ but still being wary of the virus, and cognizant of the fact that these industries could once again be easily damaged by a surge in cases. The sad and stark reality is that many of these jobs could struggle to come back for quite some time, as even if the state ‘opens,’ many people will be uneasy about doing things like dining out, staying at a hotel, booking a flight, or going to an entertainment facility. In Revere, Mayor Arrigo’s efforts in conjunction with the Strategic Planning and Economic Development department to launch the “Revere Works” program is a good start toward addressing these needs, and our communities will need state support to strengthen programs like these.

Medium to long term, we need a commitment to fully funding the Student Opportunity Act and making sure our schools can open safely. The economic recovery hinges on what we can do to support schools and childcare. Communities like ours desperately need stronger state action around pre-K and childcare, not just immediately in response to COVID-19, but moving forward. So many working people in our communities struggle to balance the time and cost commitments that come with childcare, especially while often juggling multiple jobs or facing long commutes. Many white-collar workers are waking up to the reality that service workers and others have been dealing with for a long time – the struggle of raising children while also having to work, without having adequate childcare available. For this reason, a just response to COVID-19 requires investing in our families, to help working parents be able to get ahead.

In the long run, we will also need a stronger commitment to environmental justice, which conveniently can help create working-class jobs in the wind and solar industry. It’s clear that environmental hazards and pollution contributed substantially to the COVID rates in Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus and we need to aggressively push for clean energy, put a halt to fossil fuel projects and other big polluters, and move to zero-waste policies.

Another way to create jobs and make our communities healthier is to repair and refurbish our public housing facilities; the crumbling conditions in these facilities helped contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

We will also need a commitment to an agenda that prioritizes public health moving forward in communities like ours – making sure our residents have access to healthy recreational spaces, safe walking and cycling routes, access to transit, access to healthy food, access to mental health services, and resources for youth. There is great work like this happening in Revere in the Healthy Community Initiatives office and Planning Department, but this work needs more funding and support. There are too many people involved in government right now who either don’t understand or don’t care about the importance and benefits of preventative public health work, and this blew up in our face when we were hit with a pandemic that fed off existing health challenges. Mayor Arrigo is doing his best to elevate the importance of public health in Revere, and bring along some of his counterparts in the city to join him in investing in having good, qualified people doing public health work – but it’s still a challenge to make this issue. Hopefully COVID-19 helps change the way people think about public health long-term; public health is an investment in public safety, just like law enforcement, firefighting, and public works, and should be treated as such.

With this year’s legislation session ending this month and with many of these issues unaddressed, it’s likely that the next State Representative will have to tackle some of these challenges right away when the new session starts in 2021. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work on these important priorities.