Capuano begins bid saying record best mirrors Kennedy’s

By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / September 19, 2009

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US Representative Michael Capuano, casting himself as the ideological heir to Edward M. Kennedy, officially launched his US Senate campaign yesterday with a dig at Attorney General Martha Coakley for what he said is a politically timid record and a jab at Boston Celtic co-owner Stephen Pagliuca for his past support of George W. Bush and other Republicans.

The six-term Somerville Democrat made clear he was staking out the liberal ground and would portray himself as the experienced Capitol Hill insider in what is now a three-way battle for the Democratic nomination. He was introduced at his Boston press conference by US Representative Barney Frank and showed no hesitancy in calling out his opponents as more conservative.

“No other candidate has a record that more closely mirrors Ted Kennedy’s positions on the most critical issues facing our nation and our state,’’ Capuano said, citing his stands on the Iraq war, health care, the economy, and various other issues.

Capuano singled out Coakley, the leader in the early polls, for having remained silent on major issues, such as the Iraq war, even though she is a major state political figure and had her eye on a Senate seat as early as 2004 when US Senator John Kerry was running for president.

“It is perfectly OK to be a little cautious and conservative,’’ Capuano told reporters after his speech. “But I think it is always difficult, on the most important issues of the day, the most defining issues of the day, to remain silent. When you step into the arena, you have an obligation to speak up.’’

Neither Coakley nor her spokesperson responded directly to Capuano’s comment. Her press aide, Alex Zaroulis, said the attorney general will rely on her record “of fighting for the people of Massachusetts and getting things done.’’

“Martha’s campaign is about working for the people of Massachusetts, not about labels,’’ Zaroulis said.

Capuano also highlighted Pagliuca’s support of Bush and Republican Mitt Romney, his friend and venture capitalist colleague at Bain Capital, whom he supported in his effort to unseat Kennedy in 1994. The congressman said that while he thought a “fresh and bold face’’ was good for the campaign, he doubted Democratic voters would be drawn to Pagliuca because of his Republican ties.

“It will be a difficult, a very steep hill to climb for someone who supported George W. Bush for president,’’ Capuano said. Pagliuca donated $1,000 to Bush in 1999, at the beginning of his first presidential campaign.

Pagliuca tried to defuse the issue immediately. “The donation in 1999 to then-candidate Bush was the worst $1,000 I ever gave at the request of a friend,’’ he said in a statement released to the Globe by his campaign.

His spokesman, Will Keyser, said Pagliuca voted for Democratic nominee Al Gore over Bush in the 2000 presidential election.

Frank went further in his criticism, saying Pagliuca’s touting of his abilities to provide “technocratic answer to our problems’’ ignores the fact that much more is needed to tackle the complicated issues facing Washington, including a strong ideological commitment and an ability to work a complex system.

“Yes, it’s important for people to think out of the box, but you got to know what the box looks like,’’ Frank said.

Meanwhile, Alan Khazei, cofounder of City Year and a longtime advocate for national service, took another step close to joining the race. He filed papers in the Senate to form a campaign committee yesterday and said he would officially announce his campaign next week.