JFK's, O'Neill's Seat Attracts Wide Field
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 3, 1998; Page A8
BOSTON For the first time in 50 years, the storied congressional seat once held by John F. Kennedy and House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. is up for grabs and Boston politicians are grabbing from all directions.
Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II's decision to vacate the legendary 8th District seat has sparked a cavalcade of interest from nearly two dozen prospective competitors. They range from a former Boston mayor who was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican to a controversial radio talk show host criticized for on-air discussions of, among other topics, penis enlargements.
"We are about to witness the political equivalent of World Federation Wrestling," said Massachusetts Democratic consultant Mary Anne Marsh.
With two days before the filing deadline, the field of contenders has grown to include several millionaires, two members of the Socialist Workers Party, two Boston City Council members, at least two Republicans and a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, among others. The surprise entrance this week of former mayor Raymond L. Flynn into the five-month sprint for Kennedy's seat, after a brief spin as gubernatorial candidate, was the most recent addition to a packed, high-profile race.
The eclectic 8th District, which covers Boston and several mostly urban communities, is considered the most deeply Democratic and political district in the state.
Beloved by working-class Bostonians and tainted by scandal, former mayor, governor and felon James Michael Curley passed the mantle of the then-11th District to John Kennedy in 1946. He was followed by O'Neill. The Democratic relay continued with Joseph Kennedy after O'Neill retired in 1986. Kennedy, however, decided to withdraw from politics this year shortly after his brother, Michael, died in a skiing accident on New Year's Eve.
The district runs through the blue-collar city of Chelsea and upper-middle-class suburb of Belmont as well as the liberal academic enclave of Cambridge and nearby cities of Watertown and Somerville. It also spans half the neighborhoods of Boston proper, from its Italian American North End and Irish American Charlestown to the working-class families of East Boston and Allston-Brighton and the predominantly black community of Roxbury.
"The people in the 8th District have always expected their representative to take a free and unfettered stand for working families, senior citizens and those on the outside of power," said Kennedy, who has close ties to several of the candidates and intends to endorse the Democratic nominee. "It's a hotbed of knowledge and political activism."
Michael Goldman, a Kennedy adviser and Democratic political consultant for congressional candidate Marjorie Clapprood, agreed: "It has intellectual and working-class neighborhoods, each of which have perceived themselves to be heirs to the true Democratic credo. You'd have a better shot at getting elected as a Druid than as a Republican in this district."
To run in the September primary, each candidate must turn in 2,000 signatures by Tuesday. In such a heavily Democratic district, the Democrats' primary victor can consider next November's general election little more than a formality.
Flynn is widely considered to be at the head of the vast pack, if for no reason other than name recognition and seniority. Remembered locally as a mayor who patrolled Boston in a beat-up station wagon and, less kindly, as the Vatican ambassador photographed holding an umbrella for the pope during a rain storm, Flynn gave up a gubernatorial campaign with few funds and poor publicity for a race in which he clearly felt he could better flex his muscles. Or, as one local newspaper columnist put it, he decided to "give his flagging political future a kind of Viagra jolt."
"Flynn is a formidable candidate," said state Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, who himself decided against a run at the seat. "He has made a career of other people underestimating him."
In joining the race, Flynn stepped on the toes of former state representative Susan Tracy of Brighton, long considered a leading Democratic contender and hard-working former Flynn aide. Tracy recently came out as a lesbian and, along with Flynn, is expected to jostle for the limelight against radio personality and former state representative Clapprood.
Beltway spectators will recognize at least one other possible contender: Peter Galbraith, until recently ambassador to Croatia and son of Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith.
Still others considered respectable 8th District contestants include former state senator George Bachrach of Watertown, a Democrat who placed second after Kennedy in 1986; Somerville Mayor Michael Capuano, a seemingly honest mayor in a city with a legacy of corruption; and City Councilor Thomas Keane, who rules the affluent roost of Boston's Back Bay.
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