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Lesser Is More Than Meets the Eye

Tracking the Former Kirkland House Tutor's Path to the State Senate

President Obama congratulates Lesser in Jan. 2011 on his acceptance to Harvard Law School.
President Obama congratulates Lesser in Jan. 2011 on his acceptance to Harvard Law School. By Courtesy of Eric Lesser
By William C. Skinner, Contributing Writer

When newly elected Massachusetts State Senator Eric P. Lesser ’07 arrived at Harvard from his hometown of Longmeadow, Mass. in the fall of 2003, his career in politics was well along its way.

“Eric has always been focused on public service. He practically came out of the womb focused on public service,” said Jake C. Levine ’07, who first met Lesser in high school when they served together as U.S. House of Representatives Democratic pages during the summer of 2001.“When he was sixteen, he prevented the jobs of 40 teachers from his hometown from being cut due to a lack of funding by organizing a massive door-to-door campaign. His campaign slogan when he was elected high school class president was ‘The Lesser of Two Evils.’ Even his AOL screen name was ‘prezboy007.’”

At Harvard, Lesser continued his political engagement, jumping into numerous programs at the Institute of Politics. In the spring of 2004, Lesser’s freshman year, Lesser, Levine, and Peter P.M. Buttigieg ’04, now the mayor of South Bend, Ind., co-taught at Baldwin Elementary as part of CIVICS, a joint program offered by the IOP and the Phillips Brooks House Association that sends College students in teams to teach civics classes at local public elementary schools.

Lesser’s friends say that they remember how well he connected with fellow IOP members. That coalition building has taken Lesser from Harvard to the Obama presidential campaign, the White House, and last month to victory in the First Hampden and Hampshire Senate district in western Mass. Lesser, who is also a former Law School student and former Kirkland House tutor, will begin serving on Beacon Hill in Boston on Jan. 7.


As he jumped into the campus political scene, Kirkland House residents say that Lesser also applied a trademark enthusiasm to House life.

“Eric was a house patriot right from the beginning,” said Kirkland House Master Tom C. Conley. “He identified with the house. He made it more than just a residence; he made it a locus communis.... He was always excited about something.”

One of Lesser’s legacies at Kirkland is “The Ode to Kirkland,” which he wrote during his junior year.

“It was the night before Housing Day, and I was overcome with pride in Kirkland House. I had been talking with my roommates about it, and I just sat down and in a flow of consciousness typed out this little ode,” Lesser said. “I shot it out to everybody on the Kirkland open list at about 1 or 2 in the morning and declared in the email that we have to study this and learn it and sing it tomorrow when the new freshmen come for the welcome reception."

Though Lesser’s undergraduate days are long gone, the Ode has survived.

“The Ode has become the identificatory lyric Kirkland House,” Conley said. “It stayed with him and is now being passed on from one class to the next and people sing it at every House gathering. It is absolutely unique.”


In November 2006, Lesser’s enthusiasm for politics led the College senior, who was serving as president of the Harvard Democrats, to a local rally headlined by Deval L. Patrick ’78, the soon-to-be governor of Massachusetts, and then-Senator Barack Obama.

“I sent out an email ahead of time to the Dems open list, only expecting twelve or so people to show up, twenty at the most. When I arrived at the T station to go to the rally, there were about a hundred people all gathered, most of whom I had never seen before,” Lesser said. “We all went together and that is when I first started to realize that [Obama] was something special.”

Obama’s speech at the rally inspired Lesser to join Obama’s nascent presidential campaign the next spring. Each weekend, as his classmates counted the days until Commencement, Lesser and a few other volunteers would head north to New Hampshire to organize for Obama.

“We would go up there, there wasn’t even an office when we first started. We would all meet at a bar in Manchester and strategize and hang out,” Lesser said. “I kept going and going and going, and each time I went up I brought more and more people.”

Lesser said he dropped his plans to write a thesis due to his commitments to the campaign. After graduating in 2007, he took a job to work on the New Hampshire advance team as one of the early full-time staffers for the Obama presidential campaign.

Within a few months, Lesser said senior campaign staff began to recognize his commitment and promoted him to the national advance team.

“I was essentially the equipment manager for the reporters, staff, and the Senator traveling across the country on the plane,” Lesser said. “I made sure that their bags went where they were supposed to go.”

The new position came with the privilege of traveling with the future president for much of the campaign. Lesser’s efforts caught the eye of other campaign staff, including his future boss, David M. Axelrod, then-Senator Obama’s senior campaign strategist.

“Right from the start I gleaned that Eric was very committed, very capable, and endlessly energetic,” Axelrod said. “When it came time to pick an assistant for the White House, I figured that if he could get my bags from the airplane to the hotel room and all over this country without losing them, he could probably get me from one place to another in the White House.”

Axelrod also said that Lesser was a central figure at the White House and made an effort to build relationships with fellow staffers.

“Eric was so friendly and so warm that he knew everybody. He knew everyone’s assistant,” Axelrod said. “Oftentimes I would hear about what was going on not from the Chief of Staff or from the President but from Eric. He was like a news service for me.”


In the fall of 2011, after spending more than two years at the White House, Lesser left the West Wing to return to Harvard to study at the Law School and serve as a Kirkland House tutor with his then-fiancé, now wife, Alison F. Silber.

Law Professor Joseph W. Singer said that he noticed a distinguishing characteristic in Lesser  that differentiated him from many of his other students.

“He was not only smart but has a lot of practical wisdom. It’s not something that everyone has,” Singer said. “I think he had a sense of not just how to analyze legal issues but understands how they work in the real world. I think he understands human nature and he impressed me with his thoughtfulness and his good judgment.”

As a Kirkland House tutor, Lesser was able to take on a new role in the House community by serving as a mentor to many students and the director of “Conversations with Kirkland,” a speaker series that brings public figures to Kirkland House to engage with House residents and affiliates.

“Eric was able to connect Kirkland residents with internships in politics and helped them get on this campaign and on that campaign, and Alison was an outstanding pre-law tutor,” Kirkland House Master Verena A. Conley said. “They were some of the finest tutors we have ever had.”


In January 2014, on the final stretch towards graduating from Harvard Law School, the State Senate seat in Lesser’s home district opened. After more than a decade away, Lesser said that he decided it was time to return home and run for the seat.

Lesser, Silber, and their recently-born daughter Rose packed their bags to move back to Lesser’s parents’ home in western Mass. to start the campaign. Before he left, Lesser decided to bring a little bit of Kirkland with him in the form of his new campaign manager, William L. Morrow '15-16, a Kirkland resident and one of Lesser’s concentration advisees.

“When he called and asked me if I wanted to take a semester off to work as his campaign manager, I said absolutely. No doubt,” Morrow said.

From the get-go, Lesser had many supporters from the Harvard community, including former University president and Economics professor Lawrence H. Summers, who worked with Lesser at the White House.

“Eric has enormous energy. He is very thoughtful, committed to making the world a better place, able to subordinate his ego, is loyal to his friends, [and] decent to his adversaries,” Summers said. “I told people who I asked to support Eric’s campaign that supporting him now might as well be as close as they get to what it would have been like to support Barack Obama when he was in his 20s.”

When asked about what the future holds for Lesser, Levine reiterated the importance of the people of Longmeadow in Lesser’s life.

“I think he really feels excited and comforted in a way to be back home and represent the people that he has really grown up with,” Levine said. “I am pretty confident that he will be somewhere representing the people of his community and working on behalf of his community.”

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Harvard Law SchoolKirklandFront FeatureState Politics

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