CAPE COD —His colleagues tell him he should take a plane, but about three days a week newly elected Cape and Islands state Sen. Dan Wolf makes the long drive into Boston from Harwich.
“You get used to the drive. The key is to try to avoid rush hour,” advised Wolf, who said that the ride relaxes him – despite taking interviews by phone while he’s on the road. “It’s better than flying.”
It’s not like Wolf has a hard time catching a plane – the Senator is CEO of Cape Air. Nonetheless, this is how Wolf begins roughly half his week, leaving his home in Harwich at 7 a.m. and strolling into the State House about an hour and a half later.
I took the train, which was running late.
By the time I found Wolf’s office, it was 10 a.m. and he was wrapping up a meeting with Cape Cod Commission’s Paul Niedzwiecki on wastewater, which Wolf sees as a crucial, regional issue for the Cape.
While waiting to introduce myself, I met Etta Goodstein, a Dennis resident who made the trip to Boston to pitch legislation. Wolf greeted Goodstein with a warm hug before shaking my hand and ushering us both into former Sen. Rob O’Leary’s office, Wolf’s temporary home until the State House shuffle of new and outgoing legislators settles down.
As he would in every other personal encounter throughout the day, Wolf listened attentively, nodding and occasionally glancing at his chief of staff, Seth Rolbein, to confirm a point or compare the discussion to issues he had been considering already.
“It’s a lot of listening, a lot of learning,” said Wolf, comparing his new life with his former job in the private sector. “This is, rightly, a very deliberative process. It’s a question of making sure you’re in touch with your constituents.”
Wolf has a lot on his plate. For the rest of the day we hiked around the State House, meeting a law student from Boston University and a couple other Cape constituents, attending a rally on youth jobs and, of course, attending the meeting of the Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development Joint Committee, one of nine committees to which the senator was appointed. Wolf was given an unusual amount of power when Senate President Therese Murray appointed him chairman of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and vice chairman of the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government.
“I think they were smart about how they did the committee assignments,” said Wolf, alluding to his two decades of knowledge and experience in the private sector, including founding Cape Air and working as a union organizer in Boston. The processes of the public office are still mysterious, he added, but he’s learning, and is about halfway through sitting down for one-on-one sessions with each Massachusetts senator. “It is disorienting being here for the first time, but I think that’s healthy.”
When Wolf isn’t in Boston, Rolbein takes care of the meetings and hearings while the senator makes his rounds in the district. Wolf has kept his job as CEO of Cape Air, a company he grew from the ground up, before giving it to the employees in 1995.
“I’m staying involved in a healthy way with Cape Air. It’s a way to stay in touch with things like health insurance, from the point of view of a business trying to buy insurance for employees,” said Wolf, who noted that other public employees lose sight of the private sector they are supposed to represent. He puts in between 10 and 15 hours each week at the airline. “I think we want legislators who are connected.”
Wolf also has an office in Barnstable Town Hall and two district managers - Sue Rohrbach in Barnstable and Jay Coburn in Provincetown. Accessibility is important to Wolf, who said he tries to be available to constituents between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. when on Cape.
“The days in the district are full. I’m not sure which part of this job I enjoy more yet, but I love being in the district,” said Wolf. “We’re getting a lot of input from constituents and from special issues out there.”
The issues you care about
Throughout the day, the Senator confronted issues important to the district. I shadowed him as he talked to constituents, experts and officials about tourism, wastewater, youth jobs, renewable energy and herbicides.
Environmentally minded, Wolf sees confronting the wastewater issue as a regional matter, vitally important to the Cape’s reliance on tourism. Though he acknowledges that timelines for building sewers don’t easily match up from town to town, he insisted that local governments could share services, and that, from a funding standpoint, the Cape would have more success as a unit.
Renewable energyand eating locallyresonate well with the Senator, too. Wolf talked about using capped landfills for solar energy, expanding aquaculture opportunities, like shellfishing, and providing more help to small, local farms who suffer under regulations made for larger enterprises. Though he was cautiously supportive of offshore wind, he doesn’t see land-based wind turbines as particularly fruitful on Cape. He wants to combine renewable energy opportunities with new employment and costs geared toward a modest income.
The first, low-hanging fruit, said Wolf, is retrofitting, which improves the efficiency of mechanical systems. On the same tack, he is against NStar using herbicides on their rights-of-way to control vegetation, though he is still attempting to find an alternative.
During the youth job rally, Wolf listened to the speakers, one of which was Gov. Deval Patrick, and linked the jobless to the seasonal need for Cape employees, and the loss of the Cape’s youth. He’s discussing the possibility of bringing Boston-area youth to the Cape in the summer.
“I think we should be looking closer than some of the traditional places that we import labor from,” said Wolf. “It’s difficult to watch a group of unemployed students, at the same time knowing the business community looks to bringing in labor every year, and not put the two of those realities together.”
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