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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The Globe, the Times and RFK’s papers

Robert Kennedy

There’s been a pretty interesting development in the battle over Robert Kennedy’s papers. The New York Times reports that members of Kennedy’s family are unhappy with the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, and may move the papers to George Washington University.

The story also says the family decided on March 1 to release 63 boxes of papers, some of them “dealing with Cuba, Vietnam and civil rights, [that] are classified as secret or top secret.”

These would appear to be the “54 crates of records” that the Boston Globe revealed last January were being withheld from all but a few favored historians. At that time, Robert Kennedy’s son Max placed his foot firmly in his mouth, telling the Globe’s Bryan Bender that he’s all for openness except in those cases when he’s not.

“I do believe that historians and journalists must do their homework, and observe the correct procedures for seeking permission to consult the papers, and explain their projects,” Max Kennedy was quoted as saying. Max’s boffo performance led me to bestow a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award upon him recently.

In the Times story, there is no mention of Max. Instead, another of Robert Kennedy’s sons, former congressman Joe Kennedy, emerges as the family spokesman, and he comes off as considerably more diplomatic than his younger brother.

A search of the Globe and Times archives shows that the family’s March 1 decision to release the papers was not reported prior to today’s Times story. That suggests a deliberate strategy of working hand in hand with Adam Clymer, the retired Times reporter who gets the lead byline today. Clymer, you may recall, is the author of “Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography,” a respected though admiring treatment of the late senator published in 2000.

All in all, fodder for a follow-up by Bender.

Library of Congress photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Push comes to shove

Since yesterday, we have received a thorough airing of the shoving (tripping?) incident involving John McCormack, a reporter with the conservative Weekly Standard, and Democratic operative Michael Meehan, who’s working for Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley. As we should. Even allowing for exaggeration, Coakley’s reaction was oddly passive. (Boston Globe coverage here; Boston Herald coverage here.)

But there are also a few stories floating around that we haven’t heard much about, and that political reporters might want to look into today:

  • Supporters of Republican candidate Scott Brown are mocking Coakley’s claim that Brown groupies have been “stalking” her. But independent candidate Joe Kennedy has posted a message on his Facebook page alleging the same thing, saying that he’s gone so far as to report threats of violence to local police. Obviously the Brown campaign is not involved. But what exactly is going on?
  • Brown has been caught telling a blatant untruth with regard to his claim that he was “unfamiliar” with the tea-party movement. Talking Points Memo has posted pictures and videos. (Correction: Talking Points now says the Brown campaign has provided evidence that Brown did not say he was “unfamiliar” with the tea-partiers.)
  • Despite claims by Brown supporters that the Coakley campaign has engaged in anti-Brown push-polling, I have yet to see a single account by a person with a name. On the other hand, there are numerous credible accounts of people receiving vicious anti-Coakley calls; here are a few. Again, I doubt very much the Brown campaign is actually involved. But why has there been no coverage of this sleazy tactic? And why has Brown said so little?

One of Brown’s attempts to hide from his record is getting a thorough airing: his claim that he had nothing to do with his own bill that would have allowed hospital workers to refuse to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. Yvonne Abraham and Joan Vennochi let him have it with both barrels in today’s Globe.

Update: In the comments, Scutch points to this story from the Watertown Daily Times in upstate New York. Apparently the aforementioned John McCormack creeped out congressional candidate Dierdre Scozzafava sufficiently that her husband notified police.

The Senate race and the media

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the national attention being paid to the Massachusetts Senate race has more to do with a simplistic media narrative — and one outlying poll — than it does with Republican candidate Scott Brown’s actual chances of winning.

Quick thoughts on the Senate debate

Three quick thoughts on last night’s Senate debate:

• It was by far the best and most energetic performance I’ve seen from the major-party candidates, Martha Coakley and Scott Brown. They really had a chance to mix it up, and though we learned nothing new, it was interesting nevertheless. Apparently Brown has decided he’ll live or die with his sneering references to “constitutional rights.”

• Joe Kennedy struck me as fringier than he has in previous appearances — especially the WBZ debate, where he was quite good. This time, he came off as Ron Paul with an even worse haircut.

• Two cheers for moderator David Gergen, who did an excellent job except for a longish segment in which he kept insisting that the candidates support cuts in middle-class benefits. What does the Gergen agenda have to do with the Senate race? Coakley finally put him in his place by reminding everyone of the tens of billions of dollars spent on Wall Street bailouts.

John Carroll’s got a nice take on the debate. And MassLive.com notes that “Massachusetts” is misspelled in a new Coakley ad attacking Brown (via David Bernstein).

Is there any evidence of anti-Brown push-polling?

I find myself wondering whether I should have passed on claims that someone is involved in push-polling targeted at Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown. In the case of those anti-Martha Coakley calls, I have specific examples from people I know. The anti-Brown calls amount to no more than a rumor.

If you have received a push-poll call aimed at damaging Brown, please post some details. If you want to be taken seriously, use your real name.