The Ed Markey I know

Sen. Ed Markey at a rally for the Green New Deal. Photo (cc) 2019 by Victoria Pickering.

Now that U.S. Ed Markey has survived a Democracy primary challenge by U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, I want to offer a few observations. I didn’t say much during the campaign because I’ve never met Kennedy, and because it didn’t strike me that the outcome would make much difference in terms of policy. Kennedy probably would have made a perfectly fine senator. But, like many liberals and progressives, I didn’t think his decision to run against Markey made much sense except in terms of sheer personal ambition and a cynical calculation that the Kennedy name was all he needed.

I covered Markey for The Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn back in the 1980s, including his toughest re-election fight, in 1984. That’s when Markey decided to run for the Senate following Paul Tsongas’ announcement that he would be leaving because of ill health. At the last minute, though, Markey got cold feet, pulled out and announced he’d run for re-election to the House instead. Most of the Democrats who were running for Markey’s seat immediately dropped out. But Sam Rotondi, a state senator from Winchester, decided to stay in. (John Kerry won the Senate seat, by the way.)

Rotondi ran a spirited race, but the power of incumbency and Markey’s considerable skills as a politician were too much to overcome. You may have heard that the COVID pandemic put Kennedy at a disadvantage since he’s a better retail politician than Markey. That’s ridiculous. Markey is an excellent one-on-one campaigner and, at 74, his energy seems to be undiminished. And his rapport with young voters, always strong, may have been the difference.

There was a time when the sky seemed to be the limit for Markey. He was a leader in the nuclear-freeze movement of the 1980s, which sought to pressure the Reagan administration to negotiate a no-more-nuclear-weapons deal with the Soviet Union. Some people even talked about him as a future presidential candidate. But his decision to stay in the House in 1984 led to a lowering of his profile, although he continued to be a hard-working legislator in both the House and later the Senate. By the time Kennedy jumped in, Markey was kind of an after-thought, and the challenge forced him not to redefine himself, as lazy pundit spin would have it, but to remind voters of who he is.

The one development in the Markey-Kennedy campaign that didn’t fit what I know about Markey was when the parents of Danroy “DJ” Henry Jr. accused him of acting indifferently — even using the term “colored” — at a meeting over the 2010 killing of their son by a white police officer. There was certainly no reason to doubt the Henrys’  account, and I thought it might be the beginning of the end for Markey. For some reason, though, it seemed to have little or no effect.

What did have an effect, in my opinion, was Kennedy’s indefensible decision to attack Markey because internet trolls were saying hateful things about the Kennedys. I was stunned when Kennedy rolled that out at the third debate, and Markey seemed stunned, too. But Kennedy doubled down on it during the final days of the campaign. It came across as desperate, especially when Kennedy and his supporters also cried foul at Markey’s ad that mildly and humorously played off an old John F. Kennedy quote by saying, “With all due respect, it’s time to start asking what your country can do for you.” Given the events of the past four years, JFK would probably agree.

I found it interesting that Kennedy, who’d built a reputation for not relying on his family’s name, went all in and clung to Camelot like a life raft once it became clear that his campaign was in trouble. Unfortunately for him, the number of elderly voters who have side-by-side portraits of Pope John and JFK in their homes is considerably smaller than it used to be.

Frankly, Joe Kennedy never struck me as someone who’s comfortable in his own skin. He has much to contribute — but maybe he ought to consider whether elective office is really the right place for him to make that contribution.

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A crazy story about a fake poll in the Markey-Kennedy Senate race

This story from Elections Today about a fake poll showing Joe Kennedy with a substantial lead over Ed Markey is just nuts. Was it a “social experiment”? Was the Kennedy campaign involved in any way? I really hope someone gets to the bottom of this.

In case you were wondering, three non-fake polls show Markey with a healthy lead in the Democratic Senate primary.

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Racial justice and attack ads dominate the third Markey-Kennedy Senate debate

Photo (cc) 2020 by Dan Kennedy.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Two key moments bookended Tuesday night’s U.S. Senate debate between Democratic incumbent Ed Markey and his primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III. We probably won’t know for a few days whether either of those moments will matter. But with early voting under way and polls showing the race to be up for grabs, any edge could make a difference.

The first moment came early, when Kennedy brought up recent reports that the parents of Danroy “DJ” Henry Jr. had accused Markey of acting indifferently — even using the term “colored” — at a meeting over the 2010 killing of their son by a white police officer.

“You did nothing,” Kennedy said. “I have stood by that family for year after year through thick and thin.”

Presumably Markey, who has apologized to the Henry family, knew the matter would come up. But he seemed flat-footed, asserting over and over that he, Kennedy and Sen. Elizabeth Warren had all worked together to draft letters demanding an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

“When Congressman Kennedy says I did nothing, he knows it’s not true,” Markey said. “He knows it is a falsehood.”

But that merely created an opening for Kennedy, who retorted: “Let’s be very clear. It’s not my words that said you did nothing. It’s Mr. Henry’s words that said you did nothing.” Score one round for Kennedy on the crucial issue of racial justice.

The second moment came later. Markey complained that Kennedy’s twin brother, Matthew, is running a Super PAC — a campaign fund not directly affiliated with a candidate — that has been responsible for multiple attack ads against Markey.

Markey then speculated that Kennedy’s father, former congressman Joe Kennedy II, was helping to fund the Super PAC with money from fossil-fuel companies with which he’d done business.

“Is your father funding that Super PAC that is attacking me right now?” asked Markey.

“No clue, no idea,” Kennedy responded. He quickly tried to change the subject, pointing out that it was Markey who declined to sign a “People’s Pledge” keeping undisclosed outside money out of the campaign.

Markey lowered the boom: “I’m sure your father is watching right now. Tell your father right now that you don’t want his money to go into a Super PAC that runs negative ads.” As several people pointed out on Twitter, it might have been illegal for Kennedy to do as Markey had demanded, since candidates are forbidden from coordinating with Super PACs. Nevertheless, it was an effective bit of political theater.

And then Kennedy went too far, accusing Markey supporters of pushing social-media posts referencing Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated John F. Kennedy. Markey seemed genuinely offended at the accusation that toxic internet trolls were somehow tied to his campaign.

““No one affiliated with my campaign would ever say anything like that,” Markey said, dropping his voice. He added that it was “completely unacceptable.”

The debate, broadcast on WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and moderated by political analyst Jon Keller, was freewheeling, although much of it focused on small issues and even smaller differences between the two candidates.

With both candidates espousing progressive agendas, the campaign has come down to Markey’s legislative record, compiled during more than four decades in office, versus Kennedy’s contention that he would lead the fight for the values they share across the country.

“I have more than 500 laws on the books that have been signed by presidents,” Markey said. “That is what I do.”

Responded Kennedy: “The difference is: he’ll vote for it, I’ll fight for it.”

One particularly hot potato Keller dropped in their laps was a question about whether they would endorse a candidate of color next year against Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. It was an opportune moment, Keller said — not only is racial equity an issue that has risen to the top of the national agenda, but Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had just chosen U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a Black woman, as his running mate. But both men left the tin foil on the spud and tossed it harmlessly away.

“It’s impossible to predict the future. It just is,” Markey said. “You’re asking a hypothetical. Mayor Walsh is doing a good job.” Kennedy added, “Mayor Walsh certainly deserves a chance to make his case.”

The last day of voting (what we used to call primary day) is Tuesday, Sept. 1. Two Republicans are also seeking the Senate seat: Shiva Ayyadurai, a technology entrepreneur, and Kevin O’Connor, a lawyer. The Democratic and Republican nominees will face off to determine the winner on Nov. 3.

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The Globe’s early endorsement of Markey isn’t quite as early as it seems

It’s generally understood that when newspaper editorial boards endorse candidates, they do so as late as possible in order to avoid the perception that their news coverage will be slanted in favor of the endorsee. So I was surprised to see The Boston Globe endorse U.S. Sen. Ed Markey over his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, a full five weeks before the primary.

What gives? According to the Globe’s editorial-page editor, Bina Venkataraman, it’s later than it seems: mail-in voting will begin soon, so the Sept. 1 primary date is merely the last day that people can cast ballots. I’d honestly forgotten that, even though I’ve applied to vote by mail.

In fact, as David Bernstein recently pointed out at WGBH News, the two campaigns are engaged in furious get-out-the-vote efforts already. Huge numbers of Massachusetts voters are expected to take advantage of the mail-in option in order to avoid exposure to COVID-19 at the polls.

There’s still a dilemma, though. Because Markey and Kennedy will be campaigning right up until Sept. 1, the Globe’s news reporters will have to fend of complaints of bias for more than a month. The editorial pages at a quality paper like the Globe do not affect news coverage (for example), but try explaining that to the general public.

Should newspapers endorse candidates at all, or is that an outmoded custom? I’ve found that my students are dubious about the merits of news organizations’ telling people whom to vote for. But I think it can be a valuable exercise, especially in situations where an endorsement might really make a difference.

In this case, the Globe endorsement might matter. Markey and Kennedy hold similar progressive views, and readers will sit up and take notice that the Globe isn’t endorsing a Kennedy, as they might have been expected to do — although, as a longtime Globe reader, I can’t say I was all that surprised that they went with Markey.

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Markey edges Kennedy in first debate. But will youth and glamour win out in the end?

Photo by Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The tenor of the first encounter between Democratic senatorial candidates Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III was established right from the start.

Markey touted his policy initiatives on gun control, climate change and — somewhat unexpectedly — Alzheimer’s disease. Kennedy agreed with Markey on virtually everything, but asserted that more vigorous leadership was needed to stand up to President Donald Trump and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

“I have led and delivered for the people of Massachusetts,” Markey said, summing up his campaign during the closing moments of the hour-long debate, sponsored by WGBH News. Countered Kennedy: “We are at a moment of crisis for our country.” Legislating and voting the right way is “critical” but insufficient, he said, adding, “This is all about power.”

Other than the presidential campaign, few electoral contests are being watched more closely this year than the battle between Markey, the 73-year-old incumbent, and Kennedy, 39, a fourth-term congressman and a member of our most famous political family. (Note: I am unrelated.) It is a race nearly devoid of policy differences, and the winner of the Democratic primary on Sept. 1 is all but assured of election. Given that, will voters go with an experienced incumbent, or will they opt for youth and a touch of glamour?

I thought Markey had the better argument Tuesday night — and not just on experience. Despite his age, his energy was a match for Kennedy’s. Twice he brought up his co-sponsorship of the Green New Deal with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a young progressive star who has endorsed him. He touted successful legislation to reduce auto emissions and study gun violence. For good measure, he made sure to bring up his childhood as the son of a Malden milkman — not that citing one’s humble roots has ever had much effect when running against the patrician Kennedys.

Not everything went Markey’s way. Under questioning from moderators Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, he stumbled on his refusal to endorse the so-called People’s Pledge — a promise to keep outside money out of the race that he has supported in the past. Kennedy pounced, saying both candidates should agree to ban undisclosed “dark money.” Markey responded that he wanted to give progressive groups a chance to donate, and that their contributions would in fact be disclosed. It was hard to follow, but Markey came off as someone who was willing to shift on campaign-finance reform if he thought it would benefit him.

Kennedy also had the advantage in pressing Markey for voting “present” in 2013 on whether to authorize the use of military force after Syria unleashed chemical weapons against its own people. Again, the exchange must have been nearly unfathomable except to the few experts who may have been watching. But Markey’s insistence that he voted as he did as a way of pressing the Obama administration to provide more information came across as the sort of legislative arcana that can leave voters cold.

On the other hand, the fundamental premise of Kennedy’s case struck me as flawed. Does anyone really believe that the problem with Trump and McConnell is that the Democrats haven’t been fierce enough in holding them to account?

Markey has been overshadowed by his fellow Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren. But I covered Markey as a local newspaper reporter in the 1980s, and he seems utterly unchanged from the days when he was a national leader in the fight for a freeze on the development of nuclear weapons.

Fundamentally, Markey is the same person who was first elected to Congress in 1976 on the strength of a memorable ad. As a state representative, his desk had been moved out into the corridor on orders from Massachusetts House leaders, who were angered by his demands for judicial reform. “The bosses may tell me where to sit,” Markey said, looking at the camera. “No one tells me where to stand.”

There were a few subtle differences Tuesday night.

Both candidates favor Medicare for All, but Kennedy said he foresaw a continuing role for private insurance even if such a system becomes law. (He also invoked his uncle Ted’s 1971 proposal for single-payer universal insurance.)

Both spoke about actions they would take to reverse decades of economic discrimination against African-Americans, which, they said, affects access to housing and public transportation. But only Markey brought up the idea of reparations for slavery, which he called “the original sin in our society.”

Both favored bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. But Kennedy was willing to do so more quickly and with fewer conditions than Markey, who invoked the horrors that Afghan women have suffered under the Taliban.

So where do we go from here? According to a September poll conducted by The Boston Globe and Suffolk University, Markey trailed Kennedy by a margin of 42% to 28% — a wide gap that may have mainly been a reflection of the superior name recognition that any Kennedy enjoys.

With the race now heating up, Markey has a chance to reintroduce himself to voters and close that gap. The biggest challenge he faces is time. If he’s re-elected, he’ll be 80 before his next term ends. Ultimately, there’s not much he can do if voters decide to thank him for a job well done — and then move on to the next generation.

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Presenting the 17th Annual New England Muzzle Awards

Muzzles logo
Click on image to read the Muzzle Awards.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz (again) might consider running the other way when we try to present them with our coveted statuettes for dishonoring the First Amendment.

The 17th Annual New England Muzzle Awards are now online at WGBHNews.org and The Providence Phoenix. They should be up soon at The Portland Phoenix as well. This is the second year that WGBH has served as home base following 15 years at the late, great Boston Phoenix.

As always, the Muzzles are accompanied by an article on Campus Muzzles by my friend and sometime collaborator Harvey Silverglate. There are a couple of new touches this year as well: the WGBH design is responsive, which means it looks just as great on your tablet or phone as it does on your laptop; and WGBH reporter Adam Reilly, WGBHNews.org editor Peter Kadzis and I talk about the Muzzles on “The Scrum” podcast, which of course you should subscribe to immediately.

Peter, by the way, is a former editor of the Phoenix newspapers, and has now edited all 17 editions of the Muzzles.

Finally, great work by WGBH Web producers Abbie Ruzicka and Brendan Lynch, who hung in through technical glitches and my whining to make this year’s edition look fantastic.

Gomez-mania and its limits

Gabriel Gomez working the crowd
Gabriel Gomez meeting and greeting

Watching TV and following Twitter last night, I saw a lot of praise for Gabriel Gomez’s running a credible campaign and doing better than expected.

Really? Gomez lost by 10 points. Scott Brown lost by eight last November. Although Gomez didn’t have to contend with President Obama being on the ballot, as Brown did, a low turnout was supposed to help Gomez — and he certainly got that.

My guess is that Gomez got the bare minimum of votes available to virtually any Republican and failed to build on it at all. The fact is that he lost by a substantial margin to Ed Markey, an uninspiring Democratic candidate. (A fading Brown did better against Elizabeth Warren, a rock star compared to Markey.) The extent of Gomez’s defeat was right in line with most of the polls, so he most definitely did not do better than expected.

I doubt any Republican can win federal office in Massachusetts right now because congressional Republicans are so unpopular here. But Gomez didn’t help himself by claiming to be a moderate, taking clear stands against abortion rights and gun control, and then ludicrously trying to convince voters that he’d done no such thing.

Sorry, folks. A star wasn’t born last night.

Photo (cc) by Mark Sardella and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Dan Winslow brings his campaign to Danvers

Winslow in Danvers

U.S. Senate candidate Dan Winslow calls himself “the Dan with a plan.” I am the Dan without a plan. But I do follow Winslow on Twitter. So when I saw that he was heading for Danvers Square, I walked the block and a half from my house to see if we could connect.

Winslow, one of three Republicans running in the primary on Tuesday, was greeting voters and meeting supporters at New Brothers. We’ve conversed so much on Twitter that it was hard to remember that this was actually our first meeting.

Winslow is as ebullient in person as he is on social media, touting his endorsement by the Springfield Republican as representing a “clean sweep” of Massachusetts newspapers. (Most notably, Winslow has been endorsed by both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.)

Still, the polls suggest that Winslow — a state representative, former judge and a top adviser to Mitt Romney when he was governor — is running third, behind former U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan and venture capitalist Gabriel Gomez. The winner will square off against one of two Democratic congressmen, Ed Markey or Stephen Lynch, in a special election to be held in June.

Winslow’s hopes would appear to rest on low turnout (likely to be especially low given how little attention the campaign has received following the Boston Marathon bombing) and his get-out-the-vote effort. His profile as a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican is one that has traditionally appealed to independent voters in Massachusetts. But he’s not well known, and there are only a few days to go.

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy. Some rights reserved.

Michael Sullivan’s tired, uninspired debate performance

Dan Winslow and Gabriel Gomez at least seemed interesting in tonight’s Republican Senate debate, sponsored by WBZ and the Boston Globe. But Michael Sullivan, who’s way ahead in some polls, came across as old and cranky, a garden-variety right-winger who couldn’t even bring himself to support the gun-control compromise announced in Washington today.

It seems to me that either Winslow or Gomez could at least make the Democratic nominee — Steve Lynch or, more likely, Ed Markey — break a sweat. If either of them gets a chance, that is.

And, oh, the Massachusetts Republican Party has come to this: both Sullivan and Gomez attacked Winslow for being part of a governor’s team that raised taxes and passed Romneycare. If Willard Mitt Romney is now too liberal for Republican primary voters, then their candidate is headed off an electoral cliff.

Lynch staggers under weight of chip on his shoulder

I thought Ed Markey and Steve Lynch both acquitted themselves fairly well in the Democratic Senate debate last night sponsored by the Boston Herald and UMass Lowell. (Herald story here; Boston Globe story here.)

What really struck me, though, was their closing statements, in which they both emphasized their working-class roots. Lynch came off as bitter and resentful. Markey told a lovely, uplifting story about the Dominican immigrants who now live in the Lawrence home where his father grew up.

The contrast turned an otherwise-OK performance for Lynch into a lost opportunity. I’m surprised Lynch can walk upright with that massive chip on his shoulder.