Joan Vennochi

The strength of the old boy network in Massachusetts

Representative Bill Delahunt is the only member of the Massachusetts delegation who has not endorsed a candidate for US Senate.
Representative Bill Delahunt is the only member of the Massachusetts delegation who has not endorsed a candidate for US Senate.
By Joan Vennochi
December 3, 2009

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IT’S ENDORSEMENT deja vu all over again. Nearly all the guys are with the guy.

Seven male members of the Massachusetts delegation - Representatives Barney Frank, Stephen Lynch, Edward Markey, Jim McGovern, Richard Neal, John Olver, and John Tierney - like their colleague Michael Capuano in the race to win the Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy.

Representative Bill Delahunt has yet to endorse.

The only woman in the Bay State delegation - Representative Niki Tsongas - backs Attorney General Martha Coakley. If Coakley wins next week’s Democratic primary and takes the general election, she will be the first woman to represent Massachusetts in the Senate.

“Fascinating,’’ blogged WBZ political analyst Jon Keller, after former Governor Michael Dukakis gave his first endorsement blessing since leaving office nearly 20 years ago to Capuano. “The only major Massachusetts elected official who has seen fit to endorse the only woman in the field for US Senate is . . . the only major female elected official . . .’’

Of course, Dukakis probably felt as much pressure from the speaker of his house - his wife, Kitty, a Capuano backer - as the Massachusetts delegation felt from Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of their House and also a Capuano supporter.

Fascinating it all is, and familiar, too. In the Massachusetts presidential primary in 2008, nearly all the leading male politicians backed Barack Obama, upsetting a circle of prominent women who backed Clinton. In the end, Clinton overwhelmingly won Massachusetts, but the gender divide left a bitter taste.

What’s happening in 2009 is a reminder that in Massachusetts, the definition of progressive politics allows the Democratic political establishment to maintain the highest levels of elective office as a mostly-men’s club.

Massachusetts has sent only four women to Congress and two of them followed their husbands.

Edith Nourse Rogers, a Lowell Republican, won election in 1925, following the death of her husband, and served until her death in 1960. Niki Tsongas, also of Lowell, was elected to the House in 2007. Her husband, Paul Tsongas, served in the House from 1975 to 1979 and in the Senate, from 1979 to 1985. He retired from the Senate after he was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1997.

Margaret Heckler, a Wellesley Republican, was the first woman from Massachusetts elected to Congress without a husband preceding her. She served from 1967 to 1983. Representative Louise Day Hicks, a Democrat from South Boston, won election in 1970. She was defeated in 1972 by Joe Moakley, who ran as an independent and switched his affiliation back to Democrat.

It’s not surprising that Capuano’s colleagues would stick with him in this contest. Once again, it illustrates the strength of the old boy network in Massachusetts politics.

If Delahunt goes with the rest of the delegation, he would be the last piece of that network to fall Capuano’s way. He’s also considered one of the closest to the Kennedy family.

When Ted Kennedy Jr. announced that he would not endorse anyone in this special election, he said he might feel differently if a close personal friend - “one of the Bill Delahunts or the Ed Markeys of the world’’ - was in the running.

But Delahunt also has a background as a longtime prosecutor with an innovative approach on women’s issues. During his tenure of nearly two decades as district attorney of Norfolk County, he developed the first prosecutorial unit focused on domestic violence in the United States.His prosecutorial background gives him some reason to be sympathetic to the cause of a prosecutor such as Coakley, who is trying to learn the language of lawmaker in a short period of time.

Coakley is an imperfect female candidate running against three imperfect men. Now, it’s up to the voters to decide whose imperfections they want to overlook - and in the process, whether they want to make history. The men of the Massachusetts delegation are happy to repeat it.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at

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