THE PITY OF Max Kennedy’s abrupt departure from the race to replace Joe Moakley in the Ninth Congressional District is that he represented the best hope to send a solidly pro-choice congressman to Washington. Kennedy had no record in his own right, but his spokesman described him as “unequivocally pro-choice,” and pro-choice groups planned to support him. In the wake of his withdrawal, voters who are progressive on choice and gay rights have no candidate who really shares their views, an especially big void given the way our “compassionate conservative” president has handled such social issues. George W. Bush has moved the whole government to the right — a move first signaled when he cut US funding for foreign family-planning clinics that even mentioned abortion.
Like the late Moakley, all three candidates posited as challengers to Kennedy — state senators Stephen Lynch of South Boston, Brian Joyce of Milton, and Marc Pacheco of Taunton — fit an economically liberal, labor-friendly profile that would be considered pretty left-wing in some parts of the country. But none warms the hearts of progressive activists in these parts, although neither Pacheco nor Joyce is as socially conservative as he’s been portrayed. Pacheco describes his position on abortion as supporting “Roe v. Wade with restrictions.” Joyce was staunchly pro-life at one time, though in an interview with the Phoenix last Friday — before Kennedy dropped out — he said he now feels that whether a woman has an abortion “should not be my decision, and I believe it’s not the government’s decision either.” As for Lynch, he’s no fan of either choice or gay rights. And Ray Flynn, who is now mulling an entrance into the race, has such a strong commitment to limiting abortions that he crossed party lines to endorse Bush in last year’s presidential campaign.
Abortion could make a political difference in the Ninth in a way it never has before. For the 28 years Moakley held the seat, he steadfastly opposed abortion, but his reputation as a sensible lunch-bucket Democrat and a winner of federal funding pushed the issue to the background in the district. Moakley came in before Roe v. Wade, and subsequent challengers never had the stature to challenge him.
But Moakley’s prominence in the district masked the changes that have taken place there since his election. As long ago as 1986, 55 percent of the district’s voters took the pro-choice position on a statewide ballot question that would have allowed the “legislature to prohibit or regulate abortion” and “halt public funding of abortion.” According to a poll in the June 10 Boston Herald, 80 percent of district residents support at least a qualified right to abortion. That means there’s room for a candidate to the left of the current crop.
“I believe that this field provides a real opening for other candidates to get in,” says Democratic consultant Michael Goldman. “A pro-choice, progressive man or woman who could raise money would be absolutely devastating in this field.” Says Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist, “The Ninth Congressional District is a suburban, progressive, pro-choice district, and with Max Kennedy out of the race, there’s a huge vacuum waiting to be filled.” The question is: who will fill it?
BRIAN JOYCE, who represents Milton and parts of Canton, Randolph, Avon, Hyde Park, and Jamaica Plain in the state senate, could conceivably emerge as the progressive choice. In his June 8 interview, Joyce said he has been contemplating his position on abortion ever since he voted against the death penalty as a state representative in 1997. He made that decision against advisers’ warnings that he’d never be re-elected (at the time, law-and-order sentiment dominated in the wake of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley’s rape and murder), but he has won every election since. The lesson Joyce says he took from this was simple: vote your conscience and things will work out.
Joyce described himself to the Phoenix as pro-life in his personal views, but he added, “Do I want to impose those views on others? The answer is no.” He says that he was moved toward his new position by the plight of friends who, after raising one severely disabled child and learning that a second child would be similarly disabled, decided to end the pregnancy. “My view is I would have reached a different decision from what they did,” he says — but the experience made him realize that he thought such decisions should be a family’s alone.
Joyce did vote against the buffer-zone bill passed last year, which prevents abortion protesters from blocking access to abortion clinics. But he says that decision was prompted by First Amendment concerns distinct from his position on abortion. “I was trying to scream to the high heavens that this is a free-speech issue,” says Joyce. “I thought that this was the very liberal position.”
Joyce has already gained a reputation as friendly to gay rights; he’s sponsored and supported bills providing domestic-partner health benefits for state employees. And at the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association annual dinner this spring, he spoke out against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) recently filed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, which would prohibit the state from offering gay and lesbian couples the same access to health and other benefits as straight couples. Of the candidates who have expressed interest so far, only Joyce attended Pride festivities last Saturday. “He’s been very open-minded,” says State Representative Liz Malia of Jamaica Plain, adding that she’s not endorsing anyone yet. “He’s really come forward on gay and lesbian issues.”