Lynn mayoral candidate Kennedy wants to curb salaries, end residency requirement

By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / October 29, 2009

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She’s a Republican whose initials are JFK. A lawyer who no longer practices, she works part time for the MBTA Ride, driving senior citizens across the North Shore. Judith Flanagan Kennedy has run for public office three times as a write-in candidate, most recently winning the September preliminary for Lynn mayor.

Since the victory, Kennedy and incumbent Edward J. Clancy Jr. have been locked in an intense campaign over who is the better choice to lead Lynn, the state’s ninth-largest city, with almost 90,000 residents. The two have clashed over taxes, residency requirements, and old-line party politics.

The race hit a fever pitch this week, after Kennedy asked Lynn police to investigate whether Clancy violated state election law by attaching a copy of her signature to one of his campaign fliers, indicating she favored raising property taxes.

Her campaign manager, Dennis M. Liberge, also resigned last week after Kennedy was made aware of his conviction of conspiracy to distribute cocaine 17 years ago in Maine. Kennedy declined to comment on the resignation.

Her write-in campaign started in July after the death of former Mayor Patrick J. McManus, who was running to regain his old seat. Kennedy had run a successful write-in campaign for Lynn School Committee in 1991 and one she lost for the Republican nomination for Essex County Clerk of Courts in 2000.

McManus supporters “came to me because of my expertise,’’ said Kennedy, 47, who took over the former mayor’s campaign headquarters next to a bait shop in Wyoma Square. “As we talked about things, my candidacy emerged.’’

Kennedy said she is not a replacement candidate. “I had thought about running myself last March, but I didn’t think I could raise enough money. . . . I did not want to see an unopposed mayoral race.’’

The race has become intensely partisan. Clancy, a former Democratic state representative and senator, is touting endorsements from the Lynn Democratic City Committee and Senate President Therese M. Murray, his former Beacon Hill colleague.

But Kennedy said party politics shouldn’t be a factor. “The mayor’s job is nonpartisan,’’ said Kennedy. “I think people have gotten past labels.’’

Kennedy has supported key Clancy initiatives. She has voted in favor of city budgets he has submitted, including the current one, even after she lost a last-minute attempt to slash $243,000. “To vote against it would have been an exercise in futility,’’ she said.

She voted to relocate power lines from the Lynn waterfront, a major economic development project promoted by Clancy. She would like to see any new development include an outdoor concert venue, similar to the Comcast Center in Mansfield. “I think it would be a great place for a performing arts center,’’ she said. “It’s a poor impression now, when people drive into Lynn and see overgrown lots and an abandoned hotel.’’

Kennedy - whose campaign slogan is “JFK For Mayor’’ - chuckles at the irony of having the same initials as the Bay State’s most revered Democrat. “I made a promise to someone a while ago that I would be a Republican,’’ she said, declining to name the person. “I tell people it took me 34 years to marry a Kennedy.’’ She and her husband, Kevin, a manager at Fidelity Investments, live in East Lynn with their children, Colin, 13, and Mia, 11.

This JFK appears to have Republican views on the role of government and fiscal policy. She opposes the residency provision of the city charter, which requires city workers to live in Lynn. “I feel strongly that government should not dictate where people should have to live to do their job,’’ said Kennedy, drawing a sharp distinction with Clancy. “But I know that if I am elected, I will have to follow the charter.’’

She also wants to rein in salaries at City Hall. A city ordinance adopted in 1988 gives city department heads, including the mayor, the same benefits as workers in AFSCME Local 3147, which represents city clerks, health inspectors, and others. An included benefit is educational incentive pay, which boosts salaries for employees with college degrees, including the mayor.

Kennedy thinks department heads should not receive raises, or incentive pay, tied to a union contract. “I want to get department heads out of that arrangement,’’ she said. “I think some people see public service as a way to make money. This education incentive is a prime example.’’

Of her 10 years on the City Council, Kennedy is most proud of her work to have meetings broadcast on local cable television. If elected mayor, she’d like more city boards to hit the local airwaves. “If people can see and view things going on, that’s the purest form of information,’’ she said.

Kennedy would like to hire more fire and police officers, but is unsure how to fund them, she said. One option would be to hire a grant writer to identify state and federal funds. Another is to eliminate discretionary spending from the city budget. “We’re not going to return to optimum levels right away, but I do think we need more police and firefighters,’’ she said.

Lynn Firefighters Local 739, which has sparred with Clancy over funding, has endorsed Kennedy. “We’ve always had a strained relationship with him,’’ said Matt Reddy, the union president. “Judy hasn’t promised us anything, but she has said she will sit down and listen.’’

Kennedy grew up in West Lynn, where her mother, Rita, still lives in the family home. Her late father, James, was a draftsman. Her parents did foster care, which taught her from a young age the value of helping others. “I saw my parents help people who were less fortunate. That’s a lesson that I carried forward.’’

When she graduated from Classical High School in 1980, she headed for Tufts University, the first in her family to go to college. She went on to the University of Pennsylvania Law School and specialized in condominium law at a Braintree firm for 14 years. But she stopped working full time after the birth of her second child, she said.

Three years ago, she took a $13-per-hour job as a weekend driver for Greater Lynn Senior Services. “I didn’t like practicing law. It was too much of a business, not a service,’’ Kennedy said. “Driving stems from my love of helping people.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at