Ranieri’s Success in the Political Arena Spanned 5 Decades
May 01, 2015 06:21AM ● Published by Kenneth Hamwey
When Bellingham voters go to the polls on Tuesday, May 5, to cast a ballot in the annual town election, one popular name will be missing—Dan Ranieri, who’s been a candidate on the local ballot 14 times in the last five decades.
Ranieri, who is now 64, ran for Park Commissioner in 1972 at the age of 20; he ran for School Committee eight times and for State Representative five times. That translates to 43 years, in which time he has run for public office 14 times and never lost.
“I will always be grateful for the trust given to me for all those years,” Ranieri said.
Voters at times have disagreed with Ranieri on various issues, but one fact remains—his success has been incredible. When he ran for State Representative in 1984 for the first time, he was a decided underdog, but won a Democratic primary that included six candidates. His victory over Franklin Republican Judy Hyotte gave him his first opportunity to serve at the state level. The district then included Bellingham, Blackstone and Franklin.
“I was interested in politics at a young age,” said Ranieri, “but I realized early on that no one does anything alone. You get things accomplished by finding common ground. During those five decades, I served with a lot of dedicated people and it didn’t matter whether they had an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ after their name.”
The key to Ranieri’s success isn’t based on some complicated formula. There’s no rocket science in the mix, but there’s plenty of common sense. “I made sure I was visible and accessible,” he said. “Also, I was never afraid to face opposition on a specific issue head-on. Today, decisions are driven by polls. People do evolve but the media might see that as a flip-flop. Public officials have to adjust and adapt to the changing political environment, but under no circumstances should anyone abandon their principles and values for political expediency. Many times, the best decisions often are not the easiest or most popular.”
Reflecting on his time on the Park Commission, on the School Committee and as a State Representative, Ranieri offers some interesting insight. “I was in college when I ran for the Park Commission,” he recalled. “I was coaching a Little League team and was urged to run. When I told my parents my intentions, they were surprised. Maybe shocked is a better word. The School Committee was different from other boards because it had separate powers, going back to the 1800s. State officials empowered School Boards to hire teachers and coaches and to have fiscal autonomy. After 1994, we no longer could hire teachers or coaches. Becoming a State Representative was ‘the greatest honor,’ because you worked for the support and confidence of people in other towns. I was very proud to play a role in the development of the Forge Park MBTA station within my district.”
Ranieri, whose last election victory was for the School Committee three years ago, has some advice for anyone mulling a campaign run. The advice is about impact and awareness.
“Candidates must be aware of the dynamics of the position they’re seeking,” said Ranieri, a native of Franklin who moved to Bellingham at the age of five. “They should understand contracts and state statutes. Do your homework and also understand what impact your decisions will have short-term and long-term.”
Ranieri admits he gets discouraged when people don’t want to get involved in the process. “Bellingham has 16,000 people and we often see a candidate running unopposed,” he said. “There were many times in the past when four or five candidates ran for one position.”
Ranieri’s last three years on the School Committee might suggest why residents are lukewarm to public service. As chairman, he and his colleagues negotiated a teacher contract that at times got nasty, increased sports fees and voted in bus fees, closed Macy School and approved a new Superintendent. “The key is trying to resolve situations before they become major issues,” Ranieri emphasized. “I give a lot of credit to the four members I served with the last three years, and also Superintendent Ed Fleury. It took courage to make some difficult decisions.”
Ranieri says that unwinding with colleagues after a public meeting where tough decisions were made was very enjoyable. “It led to developing strong social relationships with people who became your friends for life,” he said. “The most difficult part of being in public office was dealing with the personal attacks from people who aren’t fully aware of the issues or care to be. This fortunately is a small minority. I always discourage residents about getting their information from social media. I urge them to call their officials.”
A graduate of Worcester State University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, Ranieri was immediately hired to teach social studies and English at Medway High, where he worked for 11 years. He left education in 1984 when he became State Representative. After 10 years as a State Rep, Ranieri then took the reins as editor of the Legislative Bulletin, serving in that role for 19 years before retiring in 2011.
An aspect of public service Ranieri hasn’t forgotten is the people he served with. His list is lengthy but some of the names include Harold Maines, Eddie Desauliners, Bruno Santini, Henri Masson and Lynda Martel (all on the School Committee); Don Horan, Joe Spas, Willie Arcand and Betty Lowry (all Selectmen); School Superintendents Tony Minichiello, Peter Vangel, and Joe DiPietro; and former business manager Mike Reed Sr. “I also have enjoyed working with all the current town officials, both on the school and municipal side,” he said. “I could go on and on, but what was rewarding was that although we didn’t always agree, we respected each other’s views.”
Ranieri also credits his wife and family for their understanding of the time he spent away from home on various issues. The couple has three children and seven grandchildren. “The family is impacted by the job too,” he emphasized.
The most humorous incident in Ranieri’s career came at the State House. As a rep, he met with summer interns one morning and distributed an outline on topics he was to discuss. “The last sentence of the outline had a misspelling and it changed the meaning completely,” he noted. “I said that public service is the greatest vocation. Unfortunately, the word ‘vocation’ was misspelled. The‘o’ was an ‘a’ and the sentence read that public service is the greatest vacation. I poked fun at myself and the interns had a good laugh.”