Three Democrats are on the primary ballot in the 5th Hampden District of the Massachusetts House, which covers all of Holyoke. The incumbent, Aaron Vega, is not seeking reelection.
With no Republicans or independents in the running, next week's election will likely determine who's headed to Beacon Hill.
The three candidates all have some tie to the House: Pat Duffy is the current legislative aide to Vega, Pat Beaudry has previously worked for state lawmakers, and David Bartley's father was House speaker for several years in the 1970s.
One question during a recent debate, televised on Holyoke Media, was how the candidates would work to connect with Black and Latino residents. About half the city's population identities as Latino, but none of the candidates do.
"My legislative aide will be a Latinx, Spanish-speaking person," said Beaudry, who currently works with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. "We're going to make sure that whether you speak English or Spanish, you're going to have access to your state representative's office."
Bartley said he would do something similar. And Duffy offered a different strategy.
"Making sure I'm learning, listening, reaching out," Duffy said. "I know the city well enough to know who I'm not hearing from."
The issue of how to improve conditions at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home came up during a subsequent debate, also on Holyoke Media. More than 70 veterans died while testing positive for COVID-19.
Bartley, a long-time city councilor, said the facility is under-funded, compared to the state-run veterans facility in eastern Mass.
And Bartley pointed a finger at the departing Aaron Vega.
"If somebody can tell me why the current incumbent voted for budget after budget after budget, knowing that Chelsea, with a fraction of the population, receives $6 million more a year than the Soldiers' Home — that's an unsolved mystery," he said.
Duffy, who has Rep. Vega's endorsement, said any legislative remedies coming from ongoing investigations will be her first order of business if elected.
Beaudry said he favors renovating the Soldiers' Home, and holds state officials responsible for not acting sooner.
All three candidates have been raising funds at a good clip, compared to other contested House races in Hampden County. As of the end of July, Beaudry had taken in $20,000 this year, Duffy more than $13,000 and Bartley at $11,000.