Hart's potential departure fuels special election speculation

By 
Patrick McGroarty and Brian Denitzio
Aug. 1, 2007

News that state Sen. Jack Hart is a top contender to lead the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council touched off a wave of speculation in the neighborhood this week, as local elected officials and other politically connected residents considered the possibility of an open seat in the senate's First Suffolk district.

The State House News Service reported on Friday that Hart and Robert Coughlin, undersecretary for business development to Gov. Deval Patrick, are considered front-runners for the lucrative lobbyist position, which has been vacant since former house Speaker Tom Finneran stepped down from the position after pleading guilty earlier this year to obstruction of justice charges stemming from his role in re-drawing state legislative districts in 2001. That same re-districting process also created the district which Hart now represents.

Calls to Hart's office on Tuesday were not returned.

Already, state Rep. Martin Walsh, who represents Dorchester's thirteenth Suffolk district, has said that he would be a candidate for a race to fill the open senate seat.

"If Jack Hart gets the job - and I wish him well, I don't want to get ahead of myself - but if Jack Hart gets the job with the Bio Tech council, I will be a candidate for state senate," said Walsh.

The first Suffolk senate district - created when state districts were re-drawn in 2001 - includes all of South Boston and Mattapan as well as most of Dorchester. It's a huge, diverse swath cutting across some of the city's most civically active neighborhoods, and the political calculus facing any prospective candidate weighing a run - considering the kind of support they would receive from Blue Hill Avenue to Fort Point Channel, and from those in the city's power structure beyond - would be complicated.

"When you first look at the seat, it seems to be state Rep. Martin Walsh's to lose. But as we all know in the neighborhoods of South Boston, Dorchester, and Mattapan, politically anything can happen," said Catherine O'Neill, a resident of Savin Hill, within Walsh's district.

While Walsh was first to openly announce his conditional candidacy, other elected officials residing within the district said they would consider a run if Hart were to vacate it.

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry - wife of Reporter Managing Editor Bill Forry - said she had been contacted and asked to consider a run.

"Out of respect for Senator Jack Hart I have not really made phone calls, but people are calling me to say, 'Representative, would you run, we'd like for you to run.' If and when it does become open, that is something that I would have to consider."

Joyce Ferriabough, a media and political strategist, said that she thought Forry stood a good chance in such a race.

"It has the potential either with Linda or [state Rep. Marie St. Fluer] running - and there can be only one of them running - for another senate seat of color, which would be historic," said Ferriabough in an e-mail. "Linda amassed an army of supporters on the ground for her win as state Rep."

St. Fleur said she, too, would wait to consider a run.

"I think I'm going to wait and see," said Rep. Marie St. Fleur, who represents the fifth Suffolk district. "The senator is still senator, but if that opportunity presents itself, it requires that I take a very strong look at it."

Many elected officials residing in the district were considered potential candidates in a possible race. City Council President Maureen Feeney, who has run two previous, unsuccessful campaigns for state Senate, has enjoyed a heightened citywide profile since winning the council presidency in January. She said through a spokesman this week that she was reserving comment out of respect to Hart, but that she would consider the seat.

"It would certainly be an opportunity she would have to take a look at," said Justin Holmes, a spokesman for Feeney.

Frank Doyle, a Dorchester resident who served as chief of staff to former Mayor Ray Flynn, called her the strongest potential female candidate.

"Certainly she'd be a very strong candidate, and probably the strongest female candidate coming into the seat, with the council presidency, and being elected in the neighborhood a number of times," said Doyle.

Though Dorchester makes up the largest geographic area of the district, the seat has long been held by a South Boston resident, and a strong candidate could emerge from that neighborhood as well.

At-large City Councillor Michael Flaherty, a South Boston resident, was mentioned this week as potential candidate; he declined to comment for this article.

If Hart does take a position with the Bio Council - an outcome that was in no way certain as of press time - most pundits in the neighborhood and beyond agreed that a race to fill the open seat would be fierce.

"It would be a great, great race," said Matt O'Malley, an employee of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department who made unsuccessful runs for an At-large city council seat in 2003 and 2005. "I can think of five or six dear friends who would be potential candidates. I guess I'd have to write a lot of checks or go into hiding."