Peake Announces Retirement From Long-held Legislative Seat

by Tim Wood
Sarah Peake announced last week that she will not be seeking re-election to the seat she’s held for nearly 18 years. FILE PHOTO Sarah Peake announced last week that she will not be seeking re-election to the seat she’s held for nearly 18 years. FILE PHOTO

State Representative Sarah Peake will not seek re-election when her current term ends Dec. 31.

The Provincetown Democrat is now in her ninth term representing the Fourth Barnstable District, which stretches from Harwich to the Cape’s tip. She said she is announcing her retirement now to give potential candidates for the seat ample notice that it will be open.

“I’m announcing now because in the next couple of weeks nomination papers will become available, and potential candidates need time to plan,” she said Friday.

Peake has steadily climbed the State House leadership ladder in her 17 years in office, and her retirement will be a loss to the district, said Yarmouth select board member and Barnstable County Commissioner Mark Forest.

“She’s had enormous influence for Cape Cod for quite some time,” he said. “That just doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of work.”

“It’s a big loss for the Cape,” added Cape and Islands Democratic Council President Ed McManus.

“It’s a huge loss of clout,” said Cape and Islands Senator Julian Cyr, D-Truro. “No one has done more for Cape Codders on Beacon Hill in the last 20 years than Sarah Peake. She’s been a real titan, not just for the Outer and Lower Cape, but really for the whole region.”

Peake’s retirement “will change [the region’s] access to leadership,” said Chatham Select Board member Michael Schell, who chairs the Chatham Democratic Town Committee. Cyr’s rising profile in the Senate, however, is a “compensating factor,” he added.

In an interview, Peake said she felt comfortable that the Cape and Islands delegation would continue to ensure that the region’s issues got the attention they deserved from the legislature.

“The Cape is in great hands with the current members of the delegation,” she said, adding that “the job comes with great responsibilities and I have taken those very seriously.” However, she added, “I’ve decided it’s time for me to step down and let someone else serve.”

Peake first ran for the seat in 2004 but lost to incumbent Shirley Gomes, a Republican from Harwich. Two years later Gomes did not seek re-election and Peake handily beat Republican challenger Aaron Maloy, becoming just the second Democrat to hold the seat. Peake often ran unopposed during her subsequent campaigns.

Cyr noted that Peake was a champion of marriage equality and leaves a “pretty historic mark” on the legislature.

“She ran as an openly LGBTQ person at a time when so few of us were in public office,” he said. She also ushered in a broader political realignment in the district. While Outer Cape towns like Provincetown and Wellfleet always leaned Democratic, the district’s largest towns — Harwich, Chatham and Orleans — were solidly Republican for decades. Her election signaled a more district-wide move toward Democrats. Forest noted that the demographics of the district shifted considerably during that time. “It’s going to be difficult for a Republican to compete for that seat,” he said.

Previously a member of the Provincetown Board of Selectmen, Peake was first elected to the seat in 2006 and is currently the second assistant majority leader in the House. She previously served as the third division floor leader, the House chair of the joint committee on municipalities and regional government and the joint committee on tourism, arts and cultural development.

She is also the Massachusetts legislative commissioner on the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission, the House co-chair of the regional transit authority caucus and helped found the rural caucus.

During her tenure, Peake said, she helped raise the profile of the district, which was previously perceived on Beacon Hill as a “playground for the rich with small needs.” State officials now understand “at a granular level” the challenges the district faces with the seasonal economy, housing problems and climate change issues.

Among the highlights of her tenure in office, Peake cited legislation that ensured the preservation of marriage equality; that abortions remain safe and legal; that Massachusetts has the strongest gun safety laws in the nation; and that Massachusetts is aggressively combating climate change. She was also instrumental in the creation of the Cape Cod and Islands Water Protection Fund, which provides a funding mechanism to help defray the cost of sewer projects on the Cape.

The fund has helped local officials leverage taxpayer dollars in support of wastewater projects, Forest said. He said he wasn’t sure if Yarmouth’s approval of $207 million to implement the first phase of its wastewater plan would have been approved without the assurance of underwriting from the water protection fund.

“That fund has been a lifesaver for us and others making significant investment in wastewater,” said Forest, who has long been active in Cape Democratic politics. “Her leadership in that has not only benefited her district, but benefited the entire Cape.”

Other local Democratic leaders agreed that Peake’s shoes will be hard to fill.

“She’s a very centrist, represent-all-the-constituents type of legislator,” said Schell. “I think she’s demonstrated that time and again.”

“Her ability to get our issues heard has been much appreciated over the years,” said McManus.

Forest noted that although Peake’s district encompasses the Lower and Outer Cape, many of the issues she’s worked on impacted the entire Cape.

“She’s probably one of the best representatives we’ve ever had going to Beacon Hill,” he said.

For Cyr, Peake was a mentor who taught him a lot about public service. The two partnered on many issues, including Cape Cod and Islands Water Protection Fund. Peake told him of her decision to retire several days before she made the announcement, he said.

“I got kind of emotional. I got kind of misty eyed,” he said. “She has been just an invaluable partner in representing the Outer and Lower Cape.” It takes an ability to forge partnerships in order to get anything done in the legislature, and Peake was good at that, Cyr said. Peake brought humility, wit, and kindness to the job, he said.

“I am going to miss her terribly, but I feel grateful that we have a whole other year together, nearly, to get things done,” Cyr said.

Peake said she plans to continue living in Provincetown with her wife Lynn and plans to enjoy the “wonders” the region has to offer, from beaches to arts and culture.

“I love the Cape, the Outer Cape specifically, so I have no plans to move anywhere,” she said.

Those interviewed said they anticipate several candidates will run for the vacant seat. The state primary is Sept. 3. The November election will see further changes to the Cape’s legislative delegation, with Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket Counties Representative Dylan Fernandez, D-Falmouth, running for the Plymouth and Barnstable State Senate seat, and Susan Moran, who currently holds that seat, is running for Barnstable County Clerk.