LOWELL -- Mike Lake says he's driven by a passion for public service.
"My dad died when I was 5 and my sister and I were raised by a single mom, but there are people in far worse situations than I dealt with. I was raised by a community," Lake, one of three Democratic candidates running for lieutenant governor, told The Sun's editorial board. "What kept me on the right path was public education, members of my church. Because I was raised by a community, I feel obligated and responsible to give back. It defines now who I am."
A native of Melrose, Lake, 35, said he is the first in his family to attend college, graduating from Northeastern University in 2002.
Lake has two Democratic rivals for lieutenant governor in the Sept. 9 primary -- Cambridge City Councilor Lelund Cheung and Steve Kerrigan, a former staffer to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and former state Attorney General Tom Reilly.
Lake said he is the most qualified candidate based on his breadth of experience.
He is the former director of development for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, where he raised a record-breaking $5.8 million "in an effort to end family homelessness and the cycle of poverty in Massachusetts," he said.
Lake is now CEO of Leading Cities at Northeastern University, where he collaborates with city leaders in the United States and other countries "to solve the challenges that communities face," he said.
On the campaign trail, Lake advocates for raising the minimum wage, cutting the income gap between the wealthiest Americans and middle class, reducing homelessness and increasing treatment for those afflicted by drug addiction.
Lake said the lieutenant governor's most important function should be acting as liaison for local elected officials and business leaders to the executive office. He said this relationship has been lost since former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray stepped down as Gov. Deval Patrick's second-in-command.
"The governor has done a remarkable job trying to fill both sets of shoes at the same time, and I'm sure it's been tough not having that partner. He's short-staffed," said Lake. "But I can tell you the people who are suffering, or negatively impacted most are those local leaders, mayors, city councilors across the commonwealth, who once used Tim Murray's office as their gateway into the governor's office.
"There are also those organizations and individuals dealing with veterans issues, and homeless issues, who no longer have the voice in the administration that they deserve," he added. "The governor can't do it all. That's another reason why the lieutenant governor's office is so important -- to be a partner to the governor."
Lake traces the importance of the lieutenant governor's job back to John Adams, who authored the Massachusetts Constitution.
"I challenge everyone on this, partly because I recognize the genius of John Adams when he wrote the Constitution to not rely on any one individual," Lake said. "The most important thing is the lieutenant governor's office was created with a lack of a job description, which to me is its greatest value because it is the only office that has the flexibility to meet the needs of the times."
Lake isn't shy about mentioning his close associations with prominent Democrats former President Bill Clinton and former Gov. Mike Dukakis. Lake served as special assistant for daily operations in the Clinton White House and has picked up Dukakis' endorsement in the lieutenant governor's race, he said.
Asked about his thoughts on the Market Basket crisis, where thousands of workers have walked off the job in support of ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, Lake said:
"Arthur T. Demoulas is the model for how CEOs should be running their businesses in this country," said Lake. "To build such a loyal employee base that they would sacrifice their own livelihood to stand up for management, the CEO ... It is something so unique in this country. We hear so much about employers mistreating their employees.
"This is a case where the employer was treating his employees with such honor, dignity and respect that they are willing to put it all on the line, just for him. That's not the narrative that we see in our country today. That's the way it should be."