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Birmingham will be tough to beat

MONDAY, JANUARY 14, 2002 — The big political news this weekend was Senate president Tom Birmingham’s formal announcement that he is indeed running for governor. That Birmingham’s event would be set-piece spectacle of epic scope was clear to me the minute I passed a gang of campaign volunteers congregating outside Katz’s Bagel Bakery in downtown Chelsea Saturday morning. Birmingham stacked the hall of the Shurtleff School with 600 supporters — many of them burly labor activists. The launch of Birmingham’s campaign represented the largest institutional undertaking by any of the candidates to date.

The campaign, orchestrated by Jack Corrigan, a former aide to Michael Dukakis, did a masterful job of portraying Birmingham as a human being, something his handlers have failed to achieve so far. Birmingham’s ace in the hole was his mother, Agnes, who delivered a touching introduction (touching, that is, to any observer who has a mother). The campaign followed up the event with a walking tour of Birmingham’s boyhood home, led by his younger brother Jim, a Chelsea firefighter. (Given that firefighters are akin to Hollywood movie stars these days, it’s surprising the campaign didn’t decide to showcase Jim on Saturday. Maybe they’re saving him for a public-safety television ad.)

As effective as Saturday’s event was, it nonetheless underscored a major question mark for the Birmingham campaign. The Sunday Boston Globe reported that "the heavy labor presence at yesterday’s event seemed designed to send a message to other candidates counting on union support, especially former US labor secretary Robert Reich." True enough. Joe Nigro, the secretary-treasury of the Boston Building Trades Council, even gave a rousing speech enumerating Birmingham’s feats on behalf of organized labor, including the nation’s highest minimum wage (a real achievement for the Commonwealth). Nigro ended his speech by saying, "Just imagine when Tom Birmingham is our governor."

Given that 51 percent of Massachusetts voters are not Democrats, the Senate president’s reliance on organized labor may be a liability in a statewide race. It’s hard to see Birmingham’s true record of achievement on labor issues serving him well in the battle for the suburban white-collar voters who make up the bulk of the electorate (an electorate that has voted for Republicans in three consecutive gubernatorial elections).

That said, the Birmingham campaign successfully introduced its candidate to state voters for the first time. The event received substantive coverage on local television and in both dailies. And television ads reinforcing the themes of the announcement began running this weekend. Make no mistake, Birmingham will be a formidable primary opponent for all the prospective candidates.

Issue Date: January 14, 2002

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