Markey, Warren throw some political weight around
State’s US senators show unusual willingness to dive into contested primaries
IT WAS A BONE-CHILLING Saturday morning in late November, and Ed Markey was gripping the microphone as the wind whipped across the Chelsea Creek in East Boston behind him. Though the state’s junior US senator has been out front on a range of causes, he was not there to speak about his Green New Deal legislation or other issues of national reach. Neither did he come bearing news of some new federal funding he helped secure in Washington that would translate to help for a standing need in the neighborhood.
Instead, the longtime DC fixture was standing alongside the local state rep, Adrian Madaro, newly-elected Mayor Michelle Wu, and others to offer his endorsement of Lydia Edwards, a Boston city councilor who was in a Democratic primary face-off against a Revere school committee member in a special election for a vacant state Senate seat.
“In the same way that Michelle Wu is a transformational leader for the city of Boston, Lydia Edwards will be a transformational leader for the Massachusetts state Senate,” Markey thundered in the throwback style of a pol who first won office 50 years ago.
More recently, Markey endorsed Andrea Campbell in the three-way Democratic primary contest taking shape for attorney general.
It’s an usual level of engagement in races for lower office by the state’s two highest-ranking Democratic officeholders. Not only have Markey and Warren jumped in with endorsements, but they are doing so in contested Democratic primaries, something elected officials at their level often regard as off limits.
Scott Ferson, who served on Ted Kennedy’s Senate staff and now serves as a consultant for Markey, said the liberal lion did his best to avoid wading into contested Democratic primaries. “He consciously tried to stay out,” said Ferson, who added that the one exception might be a race where Kennedy had a clear personal connection to a candidate.
“The tradition was, you don’t get involved in primaries,” said Lou DiNatale, a veteran Democratic strategist. “You get burned if it’s a loss – it’s perceived as a loss for you. But these are different times.”
DiNatale said Markey, who rode the energy of young progressive activists to fend off a primary challenge from Joe Kennedy two years ago, “needs to keep the edge” by showing a willingness to buck some of the traditions of old-school political customs.
Markey seems to acknowledge the idea of now operating in different times.
“They’re leaders who will reaffirm our faith in a true justice system,” Markey said this week, referring to Campbell and Rahsaan Hall, whom he endorsed in the race for Plymouth County district attorney. “If we are committed to solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, that begins with electing eminently qualified leaders from the Black community.” Campbell and Hall are both Black, as is Edwards.
In endorsing Arroyo’s run for DA, Warren called him ”an experienced and compassionate public servant and attorney with an unwavering commitment to justice.”
Arroyo, a former public defender, said he also reached out to Democratic officeholders across the state – and was “thrilled” when Warren responded with a willingness to offer her endorsement. “She’s someone who has cared deeply about progressive criminal justice reform,” he said. “She’s someone who understands that our justice system does not work for everyone, especially when it comes to racial and class disparities.”
Warren also endorsed Edwards in her special election Senate primary, but has otherwise tended to steer clear of backing candidates in contested Democratic primaries in Massachusetts. Her campaign committee said she had strong ties to Edwards and Arroyo.
Warren knows something about the touchy business of getting involved in primaries in her home state. She was thrust into the middle of Markey’s high-profile 2020 race with Kennedy, where it would have been very awkward not to endorse her Senate colleague. Warren endorsed Markey, but also offered plenty of praise for Kennedy, her one-time student at Harvard Law School and an early backer of her presidential bid.As for Markey’s willingness to jump into contested Democratic primaries, he certainly has first-hand experience with the sharp elbows and bruised feelings those can bring.
“I’m an expert on that,” he said with a laugh following his Edwards endorsement speech alongside the Chelsea Creek.