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Lunch with Cindy: Satisfactions, frustrations

UPDATED, May 6: YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, the high bidder at Brackett School’s recent online auction, won a private State House tour and lunch with state Sen. Cindy Friedman.

Cindy Friedman
"I’ve been really lucky as a senator to be at the table and part of the process."


Friedman, a Democrat, represents the Fourth Middlesex District, comprising Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Woburn and four Lexington precincts, and is serving her second term.

At lunch this week at the Tip Tap Room on Beacon Hill, Cindy ordered the Caesar salad and Susan the Tip Tap salad (baby greens/blue cheese/pecans/cranberry-herb vinaigrette). During their meal, Cindy discussed her role. 

Helping peoples’ lives, either individually or through legislation, is the most satisfying part of the job, she says.

“I never say to myself, ‘This work doesn’t matter. It does matter. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t, but it always matters.’

“For example, someone recently sent me an email, saying it was difficult to get treatment for her child who suffers from bipolar and substance-abuse disorder. I told her we’re working on it, and also asked if I could make a phone call. And I did. I’ve been really lucky as a senator to be at the table and part of the process,” she says.

Friedman calls her most significant accomplishment as senator the recent opioid bill that she sponsored and negotiated with the House.

This bill provides additional tools to address the opioid crisis, and establishes the Commonwealth as a national leader in the fight against this epidemic. Provisions include “increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, exploring tools to reduce harm and save lives, expand education and prevention efforts, and address the high rates of co-occurring conditions of substance use disorder and mental illness,” according to her website.

Major frustrations

However, the job has its challenges.

“There are no easy solutions. So we take things one step at a time. I’m OK with one step at a time, because we make incremental progress.

“What’s frustrating is that we do something, and then no one wants to do any more, because they say we already did it, even though we did only one round, and more rounds are needed. For example, last year’s big criminal-justice bill accomplished some great things, such as eliminating mandatory minimums [prison sentences], bail reform and raising the age of maturity.

“But there’s a lot more to do, such as in juvenile justice. However, other legislators don’t want to do it. They say it’s already been done and want to do other things, so we must wait for another cycle.”

Friedman also says it’s frustrating when she realizes how little people know about state and local governments, because we no longer teach civics. “Everyone focuses on the national government, but it’s the state and local government that has a huge effect on people’s lives.”

“The problem with laws and legislators is that we have to legislate for the outliers. We create and pass laws, because something has happened that needs our attention, for example pharmaceutical costs that have gotten so out of control that we have to do something. We can’t have perfect legislation, so we have to keep iterating.”

Another frustration is “the notion that we’re to get everything right the first time. This makes you afraid to do something because if you make a mistake, you may not get reelected. It’s real navigation.”

In addition, given the current national administration, “we must now work to protect Massachusetts’ laws. We put money in the budget to protect reproductive health, protect immigrants from ICE. which we didn’t have to think about before, and work to protect student loans.

Main focus areas

Friedman focuses primarily on health care, education, transportation and housing, which are all related, she says. Specifically, Friedman is:

Her background

Friedman’s previous professional roles helped pave the way for her current position.

Immediately before becoming a state senator, she was chief of staff to Sen. Ken Donnelly, before he died in 2017, serving as his primary sounding board and adviser.

She was previously director of hardware and software groups at Picture Tel for the Room Systems. Managing hardware and software engineers in problem solving helped develop Friedman’s analytical and problem-solving skills, a vital component of her job.

Friedman started her career as a public school teacher in Amesbury and then moved to Concord, where she was a leading advocate for greater access to civics education and increased public school funding so that every student can have an equal opportunity for success.

Her future

“My big focus is on health care. I want to help create a health-care system that’s saner, better and more effective, that provides the right care, at the right time, in the right place and at the right cost.” 

This profile, which includes opinion, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Friday, April 19, 2019. It was updated May 6, to correct background.

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