Keating embarks on freshman orientation

Former DA faces humbling trip to Congress

Keating said that he was approaching the job with a pragmatic attitude and was going to focus on local issues first in his two-year term. Keating said that he was approaching the job with a pragmatic attitude and was going to focus on local issues first in his two-year term.
By Alan Wirzbicki
Globe Staff / November 7, 2010

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He has worked as a prosecutor, a legislator, even a mailman.

Now, as US Representative-elect William R. Keating packs his bags for Washington, he’s preparing for his debut in a new role: Beltway rookie.

In the harsh pecking order of Capitol Hill, a freshman member of the minority party wields little power. And coming to Congress has been a humbling adjustment for some members, as they quickly go from being the center of attention at home to one of 435 lawmakers clamoring for influence and attention.

Keating, a Democrat who was elected Tuesday after a hard-fought race against GOP state Representative Jeffrey D. Perry, said in an interview with the Globe that he was approaching the job with a pragmatic attitude and was going to focus on local issues first in his two-year term.

“I don’t think you go into a job being cynical, and I’m not,’’ he said. “The key to operating effectively is your ability to work with people. I think that’s something I’m very comfortable with.’’

But Keating acknowledged that it would be an adjustment from being a district attorney.

“I’m going from an executive position where I can say, ‘This is what we’re going to do starting today,’ ’’ he said. “But I also have a background where I realize what the legislative process is like.’’

Before his election as Norfolk district attorney in 1998, Keating served 26 years in the state House and state Senate, and he said his experience on Beacon Hill would help him accomplish his top priorities, which he said included getting funding for water-infrastructure improvements on Cape Cod and the Southfield economic-development project in Weymouth.

Keating, 58, is the first new Massachusetts representative since Niki Tsongas, Democrat of Lowell, was elected in 2007. But Tsongas entered Congress when Democrats held the majority. Republicans took control of Congress in Tuesday’s midterm elections, relegating Keating and the rest of Massachusetts’s all-Democratic House delegation to the legislative hinterlands.

Keating quipped that even though he had served as a Democrat in the heavily Democratic Massachusetts Legislature, he still understood what it was like to be in the minority. He was sidelined by former state Senate president William Bulger in the 1990s after challenging Bulger for the leadership position.

“Being a Democrat in Massachusetts, you’re not used to being in the minority,’’ Keating said. “However, in the aftermath of when I ran against Bill Bulger, I was in effect a minority — a very small minority.’’

Keating has not received committee assignments yet. Traditionally, Massachusetts representatives have tried to spread around committee memberships so the state is well-represented in each congressional fiefdom. Keating said he would seek a committee that allowed him to have an impact on the district, but wasn’t overly worried about where he ended up, a decision that is largely out of his control anyway.

“If there’s a void or hole in some important committee, and it would be important for the Commonwealth to have someone on that committee, that’s something I can do,’’ he said. “I understand the value of that.’’

Keating is one of only nine freshmen Democrats elected to the House this year, when Democrats suffered brutal losses. He said he thought the election showed voters wanted to see swift action on the economy.

“The message from voters across the country in this election is: people want results,’’ he said. “People are very fair, they don’t expect miracles, they understand those things, but they do understand that things can be done better.’’

Keating, who received a congratulatory call from President Obama after his election, said he thought that the president needed to be more engaged as a public spokesman for Democratic priorities.

“I gather and believe that he’s going to be much more public and much more defined about what his objects and goals are,’’ Keating said. “I honestly believe he’s going to have more of an emphasis on going directly to the American citizens.’’

In the meantime, Keating is winding down his office and helping his successor as Norfolk district attorney, Michael W. Morrissey, settle in.

He said he had not begun hiring congressional staff or found a place to live in Washington, a task that has vexed some lawmakers.

One Utah representative, Republican Jason Chaffetz, sleeps on a cot in his office. And Keating’s predecessor, Representative William D. Delahunt, was known for sharing a rodent-infested group house with three other Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where he slept in the living room.

Keating, however, seemed unenthusiastic about making similar arrangements.

He said that he and his wife, Tevis, were still working out a budget.

“We’re going to try to see what’s affordable,’’ he said. “It’s pretty darn expensive down there.’’

Alan Wirzbicki can be reached at