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[This Just In]

What Marian wants


When the word went out that US Representative Joe Moakley of South Boston would not seek re-election because he had incurable cancer, the name of State Senator Marian Walsh (D–West Roxbury) went to the top of political insiders’ lists as a possible replacement. Her district, after all, includes 53 percent of the Ninth Congressional District. She had represented other parts of the Ninth before it was redistricted. And she would have stood out as the lone female candidate in a field of men — Max Kennedy and State Senator Stephen Lynch among them. She passed. When Suffolk County district attorney Ralph Martin announced that he, too, would not run again, eyes turned once again to Walsh, a former prosecutor who is a friend of Martin’s and once served as the office’s chief administrative officer. She passed again. So what does Walsh want? The Senate presidency.

With Tom Birmingham an all-but-certain candidate for governor, Beacon Hill rivals are eyeing his job with a lean and hungry look. The quarterly CommonWealth has already floated the possibility that Senate majority leader Linda Melconian could become the first female head of the legislative body. Others, such as Robert Travaglini of East Boston, Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, and Mark Montigny of New Bedford (should he not run for lieutenant governor), are also said to covet the position.

“This is what I want. I want to give it my best shot,” says Walsh, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and Suffolk University School of Law. “I think I can be more helpful here.” She also cites family reasons, such as her relatively recent marriage (in September 1999), in her decision to seek a local position rather than a congressional seat.

One issue sure to arise in a behind-the-scenes battle for the Senate presidency is the socially conservative position Walsh has staked out on abortion and gay marriage. Since the socially liberal Birmingham succeeded the socially conservative William Bulger, the Senate has been the only home for progressivism on Beacon Hill. Would the Senate reverse course and elect Walsh to the top post? Who knows?

Walsh, meanwhile, argues that she’s actually somewhat liberal. She points to her strong opposition to the death penalty. And Walsh — dubbed Legislator of the Year by the Environmental League of Massachusetts — has sponsored a bill to weaken the ability of corporations to shut down community protest by means of SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), which are intended more to intimidate opponents than to win cases. Walsh has also been an outspoken critic of corporate welfare, voting against tax breaks for Raytheon and government aid to sports teams, such as the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox. Her rhetoric on these lunch-pail issues can make the Ursuline Academy–educated legislator sound like a kerchief-headed Seattle protester. “We’ve got a wage gap that is becoming like Chile,” Walsh says. “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.”

In the meantime, Walsh promises that if she’s elected Senate president she won’t use the strong-arm tactics employed by other leaders, such as House Speaker Tom Finneran (or former president Bulger), to silence votes on issues such as gay marriage.

With Lynch and Senator Marc Pacheco preparing to run for Moakley’s seat and Senator Cheryl Jacques running for lieutenant governor — and even more turnover possible — it’s likely that the race for the Senate presidency could hinge on those not even elected to the body yet. Everything is in play, and Walsh is somebody to watch.

Issue Date: May 31 - June 7, 2001