Newton mayor announces run for Senate seat

Warren is 4th Democrat to challenge GOP’s Brown

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By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / May 10, 2011

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Sixteen months into his job as mayor of Newton, Setti Warren has announced he will challenge US Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, for his seat.

Warren, 40, becomes the fourth Democratic in a field that has yet to attract well-known candidates to challenge Brown. But Warren’s ties to Senator John F. Kerry and former president Bill Clinton — he worked for both — give the Iraq war veteran powerful connections in the Democratic Party establishment.

In a slick video announcement posted on his website yesterday, Warren tried to counter the concern that he is virtually unknown to most voters by comparing himself to Brown.

“I’m probably about as well known as Scott Brown was at this point two years ago,’’ Warren says at the beginning of the five-minute video, speaking from the lawn of his boyhood home in Newton, where he now lives with his wife and daughter.

In the video, Warren also echoed some of Governor Deval Patrick’s successful campaign themes, highlighting notions of “shared values’’ and “shared responsibilities.’’

Warren said in a phone interview that the state and the nation are at a crossroads and that Brown has made the wrong decisions about jobs, health care, and Head Start funding. He also criticized Brown for questioning the science behind climate change.

Running for Senate could cause Warren problems in his hometown. He said during the election that it would take six to eight years to get Newton back on track and that he planned to run for a second term. Alderman have already accused Warren of abandoning them as he flirted with a Senate run. US Representative Barney Frank, a fellow Democrat who represents Newton, has said that “the timing is bad’’ because it would be unrealistic to believe Warren could devote full attention to both the city and a campaign.

Warren said he had been contemplating a run for Senate the past several weeks and informed his staff yesterday morning, before his announcement was posted online.

“When I was campaigning for mayor, I fully expected to serve out my term, and I know others felt the same way,’’ Warren said. “But we are, as I said, at a crossroads right now. We have a lot at stake for the state of Massachusetts and this country.

“We’re going to make sure that my agenda that I started last January of 2010 continues. I have an excellent staff, a great team, and we will be focused on moving the city forward.’’

In Newton political circles, the news was greeted with some disappointment and criticism, but also accolades for his short tenure.

“We would never have succeeded in making Newton a member of the state’s Green Communities program without Mayor Warren, but there’s a tremendous amount more work to be done in the city,’’ said Alderman Deb Crossley. “A lot of things have been started but not finished, and we’re going to need all hands on deck.’’

Crossley and Alderwoman Amy Sangiolo said constituents had approached them, saying they were displeased with the idea of Warren running for Senate. “We had a dinner in Ward 4 over the weekend, where a lot of people told me how disappointed they were,’’ Sangiolo said.

Warren was elected mayor in November 2009, the first African-American popularly elected as mayor in state history, according to his campaign.

Warren worked in the Clinton administration from 1996 through 2000, serving part of the time as special assistant in the office of Cabinet affairs. In 2000, he became New England director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In 2004, he worked in Kerry’s presidential campaign and then took a job in his Senate office as a liaison to the small business community. Warren, who enlisted in the Navy Reserve after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, served in Iraq in 2008 as an intelligence specialist.

Kerry, in a statement, called Warren “a very close friend and enormously capable and determined public servant,’’ but stopped short of endorsing him.

Brown’s political adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, declined to discuss Warren. “Scott was elected to do a job, and his focus is going to be on the economy and cutting spending,’’ he said. “There will be plenty of time for politics later.’’

Democrats have coveted the seat since Brown drew national attention with his upset victory over state Attorney General Martha Coakley in the January 2010 special election to replace Senator Edward M. Kennedy. But several potential candidates with better name recognition than Warren — including Patrick and Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy — have said they are not interested in running.

In addition to Warren, three candidates have declared: Bob Massie, a former lieutenant governor nominee; Alan Khazei, cofounder of City Year; and Marisa DeFranco, a Salem immigration lawyer. Several polls have named Brown, who has raised more than $8 million, the state’s most popular politician.

A Suffolk University/7 News poll conducted last month indicated Brown would easily defeat Warren in a head to head match-up, 52 percent to 9 percent.

Glen Johnson of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Sarah Thomas contributed to this report. Bierman can be reached at