At labor breakfast, Dems pummel Trump while girding for primary

Markey, Kennedy both attend; rep leaves before speeches

THE POLITICAL BACKDROP to Boston’s Labor Day breakfast stayed mostly in the background, as Democratic speakers ripped into President Trump but avoided saying anything about the more fraught US Senate race on the horizon.

“This country is divided. And it’s undeniable that Donald Trump is exploiting that to his evil benefit,” said US Sen. Ed Markey, who said the nation’s true division is the “wealthy few against the working many.”

When introducing Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and decrying Trump’s attacks on her, Louis Mandarini, president of the Greater Boston Labor Council, said, “I hate that S.O.B., the president.”

Despite a unified antipathy toward Trump, the Massachusetts Democratic party could endure further disruption itself in the 12 months leading up to next year’s primary, where two candidates have already launched campaigns against Markey and a third prominent challenger, US Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, is making moves to get in the race.

Markey, who is in campaign mode even though he’s not sure who all his opponents will be, came closest to asking the crowd for votes when he told them he views the card that allows him to vote in the Senate as akin to a union card.

“I will have your back on the Senate floor every single day I am there,” said Markey, who said there has been a “tsunami of solidarity” with organized labor recently.

Kennedy’s presence was felt in the packed ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel.  A large banner reading “Kennedy for Senate,” hung from a balcony as Kennedy worked the room, shaking hands and speaking with International Association of Fire Fighters Secretary-Treasurer Ed Kelly and others, and then departed before the speeches began. A reporter for WCVB Channel 5 tweeted a short video of Kennedy greeting supporters holding up what appears to be an identical banner.

Congressman Joe Kennedy spoke to Ed Kelly, general secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and others at the 2019 Greater Boston Labor Council’s Labor Day breakfast. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

Kennedy plans to decide in a few weeks whether to challenge Markey. Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney and Democrat who launched a Senate bid earlier this year, also glad-handed and spoke to labor leaders at the Back Bay hotel. Steve Pemberton, a businessman seeking the nomination, was unable to attend because of a family emergency, according to a political aide.

A recent online poll commissioned by Education Reform Now Advocacy and obtained by CommonWealth found that Kennedy holds a 17-point lead over Markey, and the other two candidates are currently mired in the single digits. But Markey, who attended another labor rally right after the Park Plaza event, said his campaign decisions don’t hinge on Kennedy or any other candidates, and he is invigorated like never before.

“I’m going to be running regardless of who runs, and I will be running on the issues that I have been fighting for, which are immigrant rights, the Green New Deal, gun safety laws, health care for everyone,” Markey told reporters. Markey, who was first elected to the US House in 1976 and has served in the Senate since 2013, said, “Donald Trump has brought out a fight in me that is unprecedented. I am made for this moment to fight Donald Trump every single day.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, whose endorsement will surely be sought in the Senate race as well as the presidential contest, explained to the union crowd his view of how Democrats have faltered in recent years, enabling Trump to seize victory.

“Locally, when we work together we achieve great things, but nationally, Democrats and labor – we took our eye off the ball. We didn’t carry a positive message, and we certainly didn’t speak to everyone. In 2016 Trump filled that void with false promises and wedge issues. We lost Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. We lost the White House,” said Walsh. “We have a president who’s written off half of the country. We can’t afford to do the same. And if we do, we’re going to pay a steep price for it.”

A former labor leader himself in Boston’s building trades union, Walsh rallied union officials and Democrats to do more in the 2020 election.

“Who will be left to speak for you when all of your rights are gone? The labor movement and Democrats are working people’s last hope, so we need to start acting like it,” Walsh said. “For all the unions out there, a check and an endorsement just isn’t enough. It’s going to take educating your members about what’s at stake in this election. For elected officials, it takes more than just snappy tweets to make change. It takes judgement and balance, the hard work of bringing people together, and the courage to tell people the truth, not just what they want to hear.”

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Monday’s breakfast also served as a big goodbye to Rich Rogers, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, the host of the annual event. Rogers, who has held the post for nearly 16 years, will not seek re-election to the post in December.

“You are leaving at the peak of your game,” said Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.