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Massive Power Vacuum: Who Leads Next in MA?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


With the recent announcement that Mayor Menino won't be seeking another term in Boston, the state of politics in Massachusetts has been turned once again on its head since the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy, the departure of Representative Barney Frank, and the open Senate seat left by John Kerry's appointment to Secretary of State.

"What we've seen in recent years is basically the equivalent of political spontaneous combustion," said Mary Anne Marsh, the seasoned Democratic political operative with The Dewey Square Group in Boston. "For generations of politicians in Massachusetts, they saw no room at the top, with leadership positions entrenched for years. Now it's "electionpalooza."

Marsh was one of just several political experts in the state that GoLocalWorcester talked with to take a closer look at the power void left by the recent absence of the veteran politicians.  This follows Tuesday's GoLocalWorcester story examining the April 30th U.S. Senate special primary election for the seat previously held by John Kerry.  

"Massachusetts has suddenly gone from having limited options at the top for politicians to aspire to, to now having multiple options.  With all of the clout and expertise gone, there is an upside for the state with this breath of fresh air," added Marsh. 

Patrick and Warren -- Start of a New Guard?

Deval Patrick, elected as the Commonwealth's 71st Governor back in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, has announced he won't be seeking a third term in 2014.

Professor of Political Science Mark Miller at Clark University sees Patrick's star as just beginning to rise.  "Governor Patrick really is the new de facto Democratic spokesperson for the state of Massachusetts," said Miller on Tuesday.  He continued, "Looking at his performance at the Democratic National Convention last year, he really is poised for the national stage.  With all of the newcomers in Massachusetts emerging, he's both established himself -- and his track record."

Governor Patrick recently unveiled a proposal to generate $1.9 billion in revenue annually by raising the state income tax, while cutting the sales tax, in order to support transportation and education initiatives in the Commonwealth

Veteran Democratic political consultant Tad Devine sees Governor Patrick's agenda as indicative of the current political -- and electoral -- climate of the state.  "The recent financial downturn is still top of mind to here in Massachusetts.  I think the majority of residents feel strongly that investing in infrastructure and academic initiatives will only serve to spur job growth and economic development."

Senator Warren, who beat incumbent Scott Brown this past November to win her Senate seat with 53.7% of the vote, became the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Massachusetts, and is considered by many to be a potential new stalwart for Massachusetts Democrats.  

"Massachusetts lucked out with the election of Warren, and Joe Kennedy [III]," said Marsh.  "I think we'll be seeing the both of them for quite some time."  

Professor Miller took a slightly more conservative view of Senator Warren. "I think we're seeing [Senator] Warren taking a typically cautious and deferential approach, as most freshman members do," said Miller.  "She's being purposely neutral in the upcoming special election primary, but expect her to be more vocal once the party has a candidate."  

The End of the Menino Machine?

When Mayor Menino announced recently that he wouldn't be seeking a sixth term as Mayor of Boston, the 70 year-old was leaving a tenure of nearly two decades at the helm of the State's capital city.  So who is in contention for the upcoming election?  

"John Connolly has announced that he's running already, so that could give him a leg up," said Marsh, referring to the At-Large City Councilman elected in 2007.  "Marty Walsh could also be a very strong candidate," she added regarding the State Representative from the 13th District.   Also reportedly considering a run are City Councilors Rob Consalvo and Felix Arroyo.  Devine added that Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley was being talked about as being in the mix as well.  

Marsh indicated however that Boston residents will see Mayor Menino working diligently right up until the end of his service.

"The development of Boston, and its neighborhoods in particular, has been a particular cornerstone of accomplishment for Mayor Menino," said Marsh.  "I'd expect him to make several more important announcements in that area, as well as education.  He may have acknowledged his impending departure, but he's going to want to see his legacy secured right through to the end."  

State GOP Weighs In

Tim Buckley, Communications Director with the Massachusetts Republican Party, was reached for comment on the nature of the changing political landscape in the state on Tuesday.  "Look, the stage is not only set for new faces, but a new direction.  Just take the upcoming special Senate election --  you have two entrenched career politicians representing Washington being fronted by the Democrats with decades of contributing to DC gridlock between them, while we count among our candidates a first generation Cuban-American, former Navy Seal Gabriel Gomez, for example -- someone with an impressive background and a fresh perspective."  

"What's ironic is that we're refuting the false narrative that the Republican party is just old, white men," said Buckely.  "Women are taking a more active role in the party -- and in politics.  Take Representative [Keiko] Orrall in the 12th [Bristol] District.  There's a story about a young mother, active in the community, and heeding the call to public service as a Republican.  We have a number of women in leadership roles in the party -- Kirsten Hughes is Chairman of the [state] GOP, Katie Regan's the Chair of the [MA] Federation of Young Republicans, and Megan Dutra heads up the College Republicans."  

Looking to the future, Buckley said, "People are urging Charlie Baker to strongly consider another run for the Governor's seat."  Buckley noted that State Representative Kimberly Ferguson from neighboring Holden is a "rising star" in the party.  

Looking Ahead

Devine told GoLocalWorcester that he believed that economic issues will continue to drive debate and discourse in the Commonwealth.  "Look, we're a socially liberal state, as evidenced by support in the GOP for a women's right to chose, as well as gay marriage.  What we're looking at here at the moment, from a political standpoint, is whether or not Massachusetts is going to focus on investing in the future, and infrastructure and education, or is tax-cutting going to be solution.  I believe Massachusetts residents will continue to side with the former to move the state forward."

Looking at up-and-coming politicians in the state, Marsh noted that people to keep an eye include Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, State Senator Ben Downing from Pittsfield, and Mayor Lisa Wong of Fitchburg, who Marsh says has a "great turn-around story" to be told there.

With regard to the state Republican party, Marsh said, "You can't ever rule them out here.  With 16 years preceding [Patrick] of Republican Governors, the Democrats certainly can't take anything for granted."  


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