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Great Golden’s ghost!
Déjà vu in the 18th Suffolk. Also, Mitt Romney takes Spartanburg, and Maura Hennigan campaigns against herself.

THE VOTERS OF the 18th Suffolk — which includes a broad swath of Allston-Brighton and a sliver of Brookline — used to send liberals to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. This seemed logical, since the district includes parts of Harvard University, Boston University, and Boston College, and boasts a high concentration of students and recent graduates. From 1995 to 1998, Steve Tolman represented the 18th Suffolk in the House, earning a reputation as a progressive stalwart before moving on to the Senate. Before Tolman, the job was held by Susan Tracy, an out lesbian with staunchly liberal views.

Things changed in 1998, when five Democrats divided the electorate in the primary and Brian Golden, a conservative Catholic with a political identity to match, emerged as the top vote-getter. Some thought Golden, who enjoyed strong support in Brighton’s traditionalist Irish-Catholic enclaves, would be a socially conservative Democrat in the Tom Finneran mold. If only he had been. Instead, Golden was an opportunistic chameleon who worked for George W. Bush during the Florida recount, stumped for the president in New Hampshire four years later, and hammered John Kerry’s approach to Catholicism in a National Review interview. (Last December, Governor Mitt Romney rewarded Golden with an $82,500-a-year commissioner’s job at the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy.)

Now, with the March 15 Democratic primary fast approaching in the special election to replace Golden, it’s looking like 1998 all over again. Of the four Democrats vying for the party’s nomination, three are relatively liberal: Tim Schofield, Mike Moran, and Joe Walsh Jr., all of whom describe themselves as pro-choice and support full marriage rights for gays and lesbians. The other, Greg Glennon, a former legislative aide to Golden, represents the district’s conservative constituency (Brighton is also home to the Boston archdiocese’s headquarters) and wears his views proudly. During a recent candidates’ debate in Brookline, Glennon declared himself pro-life and, after acknowledging that Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land, plugged "reasonable restrictions" on abortion rights (e.g., "informed consent" and parental-notification rules). He also denounced the Supreme Judicial Court’s Goodridge decision, which legalized gay marriage, as bad jurisprudence, and suggested that freewheeling popular debate on the subject would be healthy for Massachusetts. (Makes you wonder if he noticed those GOD HATES FAGS signs outside the State House last spring.)

Glennon enjoys the dubious distinction of being a former Republican candidate. In 2002, as a third-year law student at Northeastern and a registered Republican, he pulled papers for a GOP congressional run against Mike Capuano; when Glennon failed to obtain enough signatures, his campaign was over before it started. In Brookline last week, Glennon downplayed his dalliance with Republicanism, attributing his stillborn congressional candidacy to a desire for "interesting life experience" and then segueing into tales of his labors for John Kerry in the Iowa caucuses. (Glennon did not respond to a request for comment for this article.)

With his unsettlingly intense demeanor — he looks like someone who’s taken way too much ephedrine — Glennon won’t be charming his way into the hearts of undecided voters. But overlap among his challengers means he could replicate Golden’s 1998 win. Consider Schofield, a diminutive, articulate, openly gay 35-year-old who served as treasurer for Golden’s primary opponent in 2002, Dave Friedman, and who works as a private attorney. He already boasts a bevy of left-ish endorsements, including nods from MassEquality, the Sierra Club, the Commonwealth Coalition, the Boston Teachers Union, and former Clinton labor secretary and gubernatorial phenom Bob Reich.

According to Schofield’s handlers, these political scalps prove their guy is the race’s true progressive. The candidate concurs, of course. "The progressive groups are supporting me because they know that I’m going to be with them all the time," Schofield says. "And it’s not just a question of where their heart is. You look at some of the groups that have endorsed me — the Boston Teachers Union and MassEquality, for example — they’re very strategic in how they allocate their support. And they wouldn’t have endorsed this campaign if they didn’t think we could win."

The voters may ultimately agree. Of all the Democrats in the race, Schofield seems most capable of presenting an articulate explanation of why, exactly, he is a liberal. (In the Brookline debate, he invoked the example of FDR and cited government’s obligation to check mounting corporate power.) Still, Schofield’s path would be much clearer if Michael Moran weren’t running. Moran — a political consultant who worked on the coordinated Democratic state-legislative campaign that sent Mitt Romney’s new Republican vanguard to ignominious defeat in 2004 — has sought this seat before, finishing second to Tolman in 1994 and second to Golden, by a scant 100 votes, four years later. An Irish Catholic with a working-class mien, Moran grew up in conservative Oak Square and once backed the death penalty. (He subsequently changed his mind.) He’s also a former staffer for Steve Murphy, the at-large Boston city councilor who became a symbol of retrograde Democratic conservatism during last year’s Suffolk County sheriff’s campaign (see "Winner’s Circle," News and Features, September 24, 2004).

In this race, however, Moran has emerged as something of a lefty firebrand, scoffing at Glennon’s opposition to gay marriage and demonstrating enough support for abortion rights to reap the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. Melissa Kogut, NARAL’s executive director, says Moran’s previous runs were key. "There are three great pro-choice candidates, and we really looked carefully at that seat," Kogut says. "We felt Moran was best equipped to defeat Glennon." Earlier this week, Moran received Steve Tolman’s endorsement as well. Yet along with its progressive slant, Moran’s candidacy also carries an undeniable whiff of nativism: a recent press release touting his endorsement by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO made four separate mentions of Moran’s "lifelong" residency in Brighton.

Walsh’s candidacy compounds the confusion. While Schofield and Moran clearly are jockeying for the same ideological space, Walsh, a 26-year-old communications director at Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, seems content to position himself a bit to their right. For example, he echoes the Clintonian call to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare," and urges caution on stem-cell research, warning that this new technology could prove dangerously unmanageable. (He supports research on adult-stem-cell lines, but says he’s "afraid to jump on board this bullet train that is embryonic-stem-cell research.")

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Issue Date: February 25 - March 3, 2005
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