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En garde, old guard
Tim Toomey boasts deep roots in his district, but opponent Avi Green says the landscape has changed

THE DEMOCRATIC primary contest between Tim Toomey and Avi Green has an abundance of compelling story lines. The Toomey-Green race is, at least in part, about the Old Cambridge and Somerville squaring off against the New: Toomey, the incumbent state representative for the 26th Middlesex District, has spent his entire life there, while Green is a Philadelphia native who moved to Massachusetts seven years ago. It’s also about what it means to be a Democrat in Massachusetts, and the implications of House Speaker Tom Finneran’s continued reign for the future of the state Democratic Party. Finally — and perhaps most important — Toomey versus Green is a case study in how gay-marriage advocates will reward conservative politicians like Toomey who back their cause on Beacon Hill. The first two subplots make this race interesting. But the last one could make it momentous.

BACK WHEN TIM Toomey was a kid in the 1950s, Cambridge was a very different place — a city where a policeman like Toomey’s father, Tim Senior, could rent a home and raise a family without breaking the bank. When Toomey recalls the way things used to be, before Cambridge gained the dubious distinction of having the most million-dollar homes of any American city, he grows wistful. "It’s sad, to be honest with you," he says. "Families that have been here for years.... What you’re spending on a house today, you could have bought a whole block a few years ago."

But traces of this bygone Cambridge linger on. Last Sunday, Toomey walked into Pugliese’s, a bar in Cambridge’s working-class east side, and got a rousing welcome. Rich Carfagno, a big, beefy man with a sizable paunch, took me aside and praised Toomey to the skies. "Tim Toomey is my man!" he declared between swigs of Bud Light. "I don’t care who Avi Green is. This is East Cambridge. I knew his father before he did!" Then John Randall — a bigger, beefier man with a slightly smaller gut — joined in. "We grew up together," Randall said of Toomey. "I remember when his dad was a city cop here. We know he’s going to win. He hasn’t lost yet."

Toomey offers this familiarity with the district — which he’s sharpened as a state rep since 1993 and Cambridge city councilor since 1989 — as his greatest strength. "I grew up in this district, in East Cambridge," he says. "I had family that was born in East Somerville, and some of my grandparents grew up in East Cambridge. Knowing the people, being involved, being part of the community — I think that’s the big difference. Having someone who knows the people, who doesn’t have to learn what the issues are." Recently, Toomey called on Green to file his donor records before Labor Day so the Cambridge and Somerville papers could examine them before the election. Green declined. But Toomey assures me that when Green’s records come in, they’ll reveal numerous donations from outside the district and (more ominously) outside Massachusetts.

Just being a hometown guy may not be enough. So Toomey is working to portray Green not just as a newcomer, but as a duplicitous newcomer. Take the issue of gun control. Green has hammered Toomey for sponsoring, as House co-chair of the Public Safety Committee, a 2002 bill that would have allowed some violent criminals to own firearms. Toomey claims that Green — by using this bill to paint him as anti-gun-control — is distorting his record. "We just passed a permanent ban on assault weapons," he says. "We have it in place through my leadership — I co-sponsored the bill and got it through the House — and the leadership of my co-chair, Senator [Jarrett] Barrios. During the DNC, we were honored in a press conference hosted by Sarah Brady. I don’t know how that can be squared with me being a strong opponent of gun-control laws."

(If Toomey is looking for people to vouch for his gun-control credentials, though, he may be disappointed. Back in 2002, the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence denounced Toomey's proposed legislation as a "dangerous measure," and the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald editorialized against it before it died in the Senate. Jerry Belair of Stop Handgun Violence says Toomey failed to act on recommendations from his group as the 2002 bill moved through the House, and is skeptical about Toomey's support of the recent assault-weapon ban. "He probably voted for the assault-weapon ban because it was going to pass," Belair says, adding that he views Toomey with "mistrust.")

Toomey also rejects Green's charge that he marches in legislative lockstep with House Speaker Tom Finneran, citing a few key votes - against the House's 2001 redistricting act, in favor of raising the income tax to 5.9 percent, and in support of full marriage rights for gays and lesbians at this year's constitutional convention - to bolster his case. "There's no question I support the Speaker, but we've had our differences, and probably will in the future," Toomey says. "I do shield my independence, and I think that's important."

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Issue Date: September 10 - 16, 2004
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