Kerrigan lists backers for Dem post

Rivals making calls, seeking support


The Democratic Party’s last nominee for lieutenant governor, Stephen Kerrigan, has moved aggressively in the past few days to project the image of a front-runner to replace Sen. Thomas McGee as chair of the party, accelerating an intra-party power struggle that has not yet dissuaded other would-be contenders for the post.

Kerrigan, in the few days since McGee announced he would not seek re-election as party chair on Sunday night, has published the names of 75 committed supporters on the state committee, and the list may be even longer.

Councilor Eileen Duff (left) | Former Lt.Gov. candidate Stephen Kerrigan [Photo: Antonio Caban/SHNS]

While it’s unclear exactly how many votes will be needed to secure the job, there are 420 members of the Democratic State Committee and insiders project that as many as 300 to 320 could be expected to turn up for the Nov. 14 party elections. If that holds, Kerrigan could be at least half-way to locking up the position.

Among Kerrigan’s supporters are former party chair Phil Johnston and the party’s current vice chairwoman Debra Kozikowski.

“It’s going great. The response has been amazing. It’s been great to connect with so many good Democrats. I’m just letting other folks know who my supporters are. Most of them very excited to have their support known, but math is a tricky thing and we’ll just see how it plays out,” Kerrigan told the News Service Wednesday.

The long-time party operative is not alone in the race. Democratic National Committeemen Gus Bickford and David O’Brien have also been among the more active seekers of the chairmanship, according to party members, and Gloucester Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff said she has her own commitments of support that make her feel good about where she stands.

“Steve loves to beat his chest. He needs a job,” Duff said. “The election isn’t for two months, so don’t get too excited.” She added, “My numbers are strong and exactly where we though they’d be.”

Kerrigan said, “I’ve never been a chest thumper in my life.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins and former Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong have also made phone calls to inquire about support, party members said.

Duff, who has been a vocal critic of Gov. Charlie Baker, said she began testing the waters even before McGee announced his intention to step aside because she “wanted to change the trajectory that the party was on” and will “take shots” at Republican Gov. Charlie Baker “when it is appropriate.”

O’Brien, who has served on the state committee since 1992 and the national committee since 1996, sent his own email to Democratic State Committee members Wednesday morning formally declaring his intention to seek the post.

The former chief fundraiser for Gov. Deval Patrick and campaign operative for John Kerry, Bill Clinton and Al Gore said in the letter that if elected he would be accessible, commit to the job full-time and not seek other elected office, and contribute 10 percent of the job’s $100,000 salary to the state party.

O’Brien described himself as a HeadStart graduate who worked his way through college with Pell Grants, work study and student loans. “All of this was made possible because Democrats like you stood up for the values of our party and fought for policies that helped families like mine,” O’Brien said.

Whoever wins the chairmanship will lead the Democratic Party into a two-year window when U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren will likely be on the ballot in 2018 for re-election and a popular Gov. Baker will presumably be running for a second term. Democrats on Beacon Hill are also pressing to put on the 2018 ballot a proposed surtax on incomes above $1 million.

McGee, who was elected chair in the fall of 2013, has appeared at times to struggle balancing the political demands of the party job with his responsibilities and the sensitivities of working in the State House as an elected official. The task of directly challenging Baker has often been left to the party’s executive director.

Kozikowski, who lined up early behind Kerrigan, cited his experience as a candidate for statewide office and a career that has included working for U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and running two inaugurals and the 2012 Democratic National Convention for President Barack Obama.

“I’ve known him for a very long time, since he was a young pup with Ted Kennedy doing constituent services and he was pretty good at it,” Kozikowski said. “It’s really a daunting position to balance both fundraising and policy and issues and the electeds and also being in the spotlight all the time. Steve really has covered all those bases.”

Asked to assess McGee’s performance in the role, Kozikowski said, “He’s tried to be thoughtful in the way he’s moved us as party. I think there have been times some of us may have been more vocal on a particular issue and there are some significant differences in policy and attitude toward government at the base between Republicans and Democrats and I think that those instances need to be highlighted in a way that is significant.”

Kerrigan said he wasn’t running to “do it differently than anybody else,” but said he wanted to stand up for the “priorities and principles of the Democratic Party that need a strong voice,” including opposition to the privatization of union jobs and lifting the cap on charter schools.

Beacon Hill Democrats cleared a path for the MBTA to privatize jobs and have been divided over charter school expansion.

Duff, in an interview with the News Service, said she wanted to challenge the other candidates to pledge to take a 15 percent to 25 percent pay cut and to use the savings to build up party staff and compensate the executive director.

Calling the $100,000 salary exorbitant, Duff said, “No one should be doing this for the money. They should be doing it for love of party.”

Asked about the challenge, Kerrigan said, “I’ll wait to get that challenge from her.”

O’Brien had earlier committed to a 10 percent pay cut, and Tompkins told WGBH on Tuesday that he would probably refuse the salary and use it to hire staff.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
As for the timing of the party election, Kozikowski dismissed the notion that the selection could be pushed back from the Monday after the Nov. 8 general election to give the candidates more time to court voters and avoid a distraction from the ongoing elections.

“The answer is it can’t be done,” she said, citing party bylaws and no time or push at this point to change them.