Former aide may seek Edward Kennedy’s onetime Senate seat

By Glen Johnson
Globe Staff / March 30, 2011

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One of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s former top staffers is considering a run for what Republican Scott Brown has rebranded “the people’s seat.’’

Democrat Gerry Kavanaugh of New Bedford, who was Kennedy’s chief of staff until 2001 after holding the same position at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said yesterday that he is weighing a campaign against Brown. The Republican stunned Democrats in January 2010 by winning the special election to succeed Kennedy, who had died the previous summer, but Brown faces reelection in 2012 to his first full term.

Kavanaugh said he could be interested in reclaiming the seat not necessarily for admirers of Kennedy but for the liberal Democratic ideals for which he stood.

“I’m thinking about it because I don’t think Senator Brown has represented the best interests of Massachusetts,’’ Kavanaugh said.

He cited Brown’s efforts last year to block an extension of unemployment insurance benefits unless they did not add to the national debt, and not before all Bush-era income tax cuts were extended.

Ultimately, President Obama extended the tax cuts to win congressional support for the extra unemployment benefits. Brown voted for the compromise.

“I don’t know what he was thinking, but there were thousands of residents adversely affected’’ by the delay, Kavanaugh said. He added: “Jobs, education, and health care: Anyone who holds this seat ought to be thinking about that every day.’’

The 57-year-old Kavanaugh is a native of Dartmouth. He has never run for elective office, preferring a background role to a public identity.

He started as a city planner in Keene, N.H., before holding the same job in Quincy and Salem, Mass. He worked for the BRA from 1989 to 1993, when he joined Kennedy’s Washington staff.

Kavanaugh helped run Kennedy’s 1994 and 2000 reelection campaigns and then served from 2001 to 2003 as policy director at the Democratic National Committee.

During the 2004 presidential race, he served as a senior adviser to then-Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. The role rankled aides to Senator John Kerry, who represented Massachusetts alongside Kennedy and ended up winning the Democrats’ presidential nomination that year.

Kavanaugh then set out on his own. He launched DCS Internet Strategy, a software firm that designs candidate websites and handles e-mail marketing, as well as Kavanaugh Software Innovations, which helps provide health programs for community colleges.

He and his wife, Colleen, also founded SouthCoast Connected, a nonprofit organization that develops and administers programs to reduce the high school dropout rate in that region.

“I’m somebody who understands what it’s like every day to make progress in Washington, how to work with local and state government, and how to meet payroll and create jobs,’’ Kavanaugh said.

His ability to raise money may be the biggest factor in deciding whether to go forward with a campaign.

Brown has more than $7 million in the bank, and some analysts have speculated he may spend $25 million on his reelection campaign.

“That’s a hurdle that any viable candidate is going to have to get over,’’ Kavanaugh said.

Other Democrats said to be considering a race include City Year cofounder Alan Khazei; mayors Setti Warren of Newton and Kim Driscoll of Salem; and US representatives Stephen Lynch and Michael Capuano. Somerville activist Bob Massie already declared his candidacy.

Glen Johnson can be reached at