WOBURN - Though many political observers would likely deem his re-election chances a near certainly, State Rep. James Dwyer (D-Woburn) will not seek a sixth-term in office.
During an interview with The Daily Times Chronicle yesterday, the Beacon Hill legislator formally announced he will step down from his 30th Middlesex District seat after serving constituents in his hometown of Woburn and in neighboring Reading for the past decade.
Looking forward to spending time with his wife, Mary Ellen, and his four grandchildren, the father-of-two leaves the State House with no regrets.
"This is going to be it for me. To grow up and live in this community and represent it later on as a state representative, that's heady stuff, and I didn't take it lightly at all," said Dwyer, who will continue serving at the State House until voters pick his successor during elections next fall.
"I promised myself I'd always serve with my honesty, integrity and character intact. I think I kept those promises, but that's ultimately for the people to judge," he later remarked. "I don't have any regrets…I was blessed with so many wonderful supporters, and I could never repay them for the kindnesses they've given me."
The former Ward 4 Alderman, who for the past few months had been rumored to be considering the decision, began seriously reevaluating his future last spring, after his wife, Mary Ellen (Mimi), was diagnosed with her third brain tumor since he assumed office.
The former Assistant Chief of Juvenile Probation, who had planned on leading the quiet retired life with his spouse when friend Bryan Melanson convinced him to jump into local politics as a Woburn City Council candidate back in 2006, was also rocked last April after one of his closest colleagues at the state House, Arlington State Senator Kenneth Donnellly, passed away unexpectedly from brain cancer complications.
"We got elected at the same time and had a lot in common. When he passed away, it just kind of took something out of me. It wasn't the same," Dwyer recalled.
That loss, combined with his experiences over the summer as he watched his wife daringly endure a grueling five-day a week cancer treatment regiment, led to some deep soul-searching.
According to Dwyer, who credits his spouse's unfaltering confidence in his abilities for making possible his wild success as a juvenile probation officer and later as a politician, he ultimately concluded that life is far too precious and short to put his family life on the back burner any longer.
"I really thought about this over the holidays. It's a good time to step aside and enjoy our family and grandchildren," said the Wyman Street resident.
Already, at least one local resident, Woburn's Darryn Remillard, has announced his candidacy for the 30th Middlesex District seat. However, the political newcomer, a US Marine veteran, will likely face quite a few challengers in light of Dwyer's announcement.
According to the incumbent, who expressed a distaste for politicians who act as though they "own" a seat in the state legislature or any other elected office, he will not be making any campaign endorsements.
"An incumbent should step aside," the state rep. said matter-of-factly. "I know we'll have some qualified people running, and I'm going to let them do their own thing."
Prior to his political life, Dwyer served for 34 years in the Middlesex Juvenile Court system as a probation officer. It was a career, which though challenging and often heartbreaking, that permanently changed his outlook on life and further embedded his commitment to public service.
During his decades at the Middlesex County courthouses, Dwyer refused to allow the slow-to-change system to sour his aspirations of turning around troubled teens lives, and he is credited with originating the Lowell House Drug & Alcohol Juvenile Diversion Education Program.
He also collaborated with juvenile prosecutors to create the Woburn District’s Court’s Clean Start Program for first-time offenders.
"I went in there every day and did the best I could to alleviate people's pain. I saw so many parents walk through that door with so much hurt on their faces. I knew they were thinking, 'How did I get here?''" recalled Dwyer.
"But 95 percent of kids who walk through juvenile court, we never see them again. And when you're in the position to help somebody, you just do it. I was just lucky enough to be in that position," he added. "I'm proud to say a lot of these parents and kids keep in touch with me still. And when they say, 'Hey, I just had my first kid,', that's my reward."
The 68-year-old Woburnite, who began his later political career by winning election to the City Council as his hometown's Ward 4 alderman in 2006, stunned many by capturing the seat in the state legislature two years later by first defeating sitting State Rep. Patrick Natale (D-Woburn) in a Sept. of 2008 primary race.
He became the first challenger in three-and-a-half decades to defeat a Democratic incumbent state legislator in an election primary, he later cruised to victory in the general election. He has since been re-elected four times.
In his years in public life, Dwyer was always a “public figure” of sorts as he attended many Woburn political and social activities, as well as sporting events. He has always been on a one-on-one individual with nearly all his voters, as he constantly seeks the opinions and advice of his constituents.
Since first being elected to represent Reading and Woburn on Beacon Hill - his district also included a sliver of Stoneham until 2013 - Dwyer made a point to make sure he personally responded to every single phone call his office has received from a constituent.
The state legislator also shunned calls by Democratic loyalists to vote purely along party lines, and on at least one occasion, when he refused to reconsider his support for the sentencing reform bill known as Melissa's Law, Dwyer was penalized for his defiance by being pulled from the House's judiciary committee.
Under the legislation, which was signed into law in 1999, felons who have been thrice convicted of violent crimes are deemed ineligible for parole.
Named for Melissa Gosule, a 27-year-old Randolph resident who was slain by a paroled felon with more than two dozen previous convictions, Dwyer began lobbying for the bill after Woburn Police Officer John "Jack" Maguire was murdered by a violent con outside of Kohl's Department store back in Dec. of 2010.
"That was a proud day for me," said Dwyer of moment the legislation, which had for years prior appeared doomed, passed with a near unanimous vote.
Dwyer has always been involved in the Woburn community with a passion to serve with the Woburn Lions Club and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in helping those in the community who are less fortunate. He has also been associated with support for the Woburn Council of Social Concern and did serve on the Woburn-based NuPath as a director which has an outreach to assist developmentally disabled individuals live more independent lives.
(Editor-in-Chief James Haggerty contributed to this report).