THE STATE'S Fifth Congressional District has been represented by an extraordinary succession of free-thinking Democrats since Paul Tsongas first took the seat from Republican control in 1974. Tsongas, Jim Shannon, Chet Atkins, and especially Marty Meehan, who is leaving office in midterm, brought an independent, entrepreneurial approach to the office that matches the district's own development from aging mill center to high-tech mecca.
Now five Democrats and two Republicans vie to succeed Meehan. On the Democratic side, we find Niki Tsongas -- lawyer, college dean, activist, and not incidentally Paul Tsongas's widow -- by far the most promising.
Tsongas is, of course, a famous name in the district, but Niki Tsongas has earned the chance to represent it in her own right. As dean of external affairs at Middlesex Community College, one of the gems in an uneven system, she helped raise the profile, reputation, and revenue of the school. A creative and pragmatic thinker, she makes up in commitment to the district what she lacks in elective experience. "I haven't held public office," she says, "but I've always served the public."
The Democratic candidates mostly agree on the issues, from supporting troop withdrawals from Iraq to capping carbon emissions to promoting early childhood education. Tsongas understands the concerns of voters in Lowell and Lawrence as well as in the bedroom suburbs that make up this diverse district. Notably, several well-respected members of Congress want her as a colleague. A freshman member needs such relationships to be effective. The Globe is pleased to endorse Niki Tsongas in the primary Sept. 4.
Among the two Republicans running, this page endorses Jim Ogonowski, a Dracut hay farmer and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. Ogonowski, a political newcomer, approaches the subject of combating terrorism not just as a person with 28 years of military experience but also as brother of the pilot of the American Airlines airplane that struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
Ogonowski favors tougher security standards for the country's most vulnerable chemical facilities and ports, and wants more government funding for improved security at railway stations. Though a Republican, he criticizes the Bush administration's decision-making that led to the invasion of Iraq and the lack of planning in its aftermath. Ogonowski would allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military without "don't ask, don't tell" rules. He said he opposes gay marriage but favors civil unions.
Ogonowski is a strong advocate of renewable energy and wants a farm bill that provides greater support for family farms and rural towns. He brings a refreshing willingness to view issues on their merits and not through an ideological prism.