PITTSFIELD -- Mike Lake doesn't shy away from declaring himself "the most progressive candidate" for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

"The title of liberal Massachusetts is something we shouldn't be apologetic for," said Lake, the former United Way director of development in the Boston area and current president and CEO of the Leading Cities organization.

"Massachusetts has led on a great number of issues," he said, "most recently on health care. I think our finest days are yet to come, and we need to continue leading."

During a recent visit to The Eagle, Lake voiced support for a living wage for low-income workers, graduated income taxation in the state, a single-payer health system, and for more assistance for homeless families. He also favors repealing state legislation allowing casinos, which will be a question on the November ballot, and wants to see an overhaul of state regulation to benefit small businesses.

Lake said his commitment to public service developed after his father died unexpectedly at age 36 and relatives, neighbors, public school teachers and others in his native Melrose stepped in to support him and his family.

"I was raised by a single mother, but I was supported by a community," Lake said. "That gave me an appreciation for what a community can achieve."

Because of that support, "I was first in my family to go to college," he said, "and I was later appointed by President Clinton as a special assistant for White House day-to-day operations. To think I could start off where I did and end up walking the halls of the White House is a pretty remarkable thing. I attribute all of that to the community and the opportunities I was given, chief among them my education."

Lake said he earned five degrees simultaneously from Northeastern University and noted that Northeastern offers a work and classroom format that is "a pioneer in cooperative education," and "exactly what people need in the 21st century."

He favors an emphasis on education that is both theoretical in nature and practical in providing "real work experience," not only at the college level but in high schools as well.

While at college, Lake also met and was inspired by former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis to consider public service. He said Dukakis later became a mentor and has endorsed him in his current campaign.

His job in Washington, along with his work with the United Way, helping to raise $5.8 million to combat homelessness in the Boston area, and later as CEO with Leader Cities, uniquely prepared him to serve as lieutenant governor, Lake said. Leading Cities is a growing network of partner cities around the world seeking to address issues common to urban centers.

"Frankly, I am the right leader at the right time with the right experience," he said.

"There are so many challenges in the 21st century," Lake said, adding that what is required is the creation of partnerships involving government, private companies, nonprofits, educational institutions and citizen groups.

"You have to, or should, engage all these stake-holders from the beginning," he said. "I'm the only candidate who has such breadth and depth of experience working with public-private partnerships."

He said his role with Leading Cities allows him to view issues not only as a resident of Massachusetts, but from an international perspective as well.

Concerning the minimum wage, Lake said he would advocate one higher than the $11 an hour wage passed during the current legislative session, which doesn't fully take effect until 2017.

If the minimum wage had been indexed to inflation since 1968, he said, it would already be higher than $11 an hour. If it were linked to worker productivity, Lake said, it would now be $22 per hour, and if linked to soaring executive compensation it would be $66 an hour.

Lake said he favors a Medicare-style single-payer system, in part because it would slash the overhead that results in large part from private insurance firms billing patients and collecting payments. Those costs can amount to 25 to 38 cents of every dollar spent on health care, he said.

He labeled casinos as a spur for the economy in Massachusetts "a broken solution," and contended casino gambling would cut into the state lottery revenue, which helps to fund education, and saddle communities with additional costs to combat criminal activity and social ills, such as gambling addiction and family bankruptcies and breakups.

Lake advocated strong support for programs to battle homelessness, especially cost-effective measures such as issuing small temporary grants to allow families to remain in their homes during a financial crisis, rather than paying to house them at a shelter or a motel.

Concerning income tax burdens, Lake said that, because the state lacks a graduated income tax option, lower income earners pay about 10 percent of income on average, compared to about half that percentage for the highest earners. He favors expanding circuit-breaker or earned income credit programs to equalize those percentages.

Lake said that as lieutenant governor he would like to assume a "chief marketer role" for the state and work on negotiating with his peers in other New England states on collaborative passenger rail service projects. He also would like to serve on a standing committee to review business regulation for updates and general streamlining.

In the Sept. 9 Democratic Primary, Lake faces Cambridge City Councilor Lelund Cheung and Steve Kerrigan, a former longtime staff members for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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