Reporter’s Notebook: Corner Office hopefuls gearing up for ’14 push

In about 400 days, Gov. Deval Patrick will exit the State House and take the long walk down its steps, rejoining the citizenry and, he hopes, grabbing a hefty paycheck once he’s re-ensconced in the private sector. Patrick has repeatedly said that he isn’t running for a third term, citing a promise to his wife Diane, and he has stuck to his pledge, leading to a wide open race to succeed him and to Massachusetts strengthening its hold on the title of the Land of Perpetual Elections.

With the contest to replace Mayor Thomas Menino in the rearview mirror, Democratic candidates for governor have stepped up their efforts, picking up operatives and courting activists ahead of next year’s caucuses. They’ve also sought to burnish their Democratic Party credentials:

Treasurer Steve Grossman, who unsuccessfully sought the gubernatorial seat in 2002, has been pushing paid family leave; Attorney General Martha Coakley is saying that upping the state’s minimum wage should be the Legislature’s top priority when it returns to Beacon Hill next year; Don Berwick, a former Obama administration official who oversaw Medicare and Medicaid services, last week said he was open to looking at a single payer health care system, an idea beloved by some liberals; and Juliette Kayyem, who worked on homeland security under Gov. Patrick, is taking a page out of her former boss’s playbook by training her fire on “cynics” who believe the race already has its woman in Coakley, according to an e-mail the campaign blasted out on Monday.

For his part, Joe Avellone, a former Wellesley selectman who is also running for governor as a Democrat, is focusing on vocational training and early education. In a sit-down inside McKenna’s Café on Savin Hill, Avellone touted his background as a health care executive who worked in the medical research business and wants to do more in public service. He noted that his kids – one has gone into law, another into business, and a third is a medical student at Tufts University – are grown. “Now I’m really at a point where I can give back,” he said, sipping a glass of ice water.

A long-shot candidate, Avellone feels his experience in the private sector gives him an edge as the state looks to new industries, like biotechnology manufacturing. He has already visited 122 cities and towns in his quest, he said, and put 11,000 miles in four months on his Honda Accord.

In a reference to Grossman and Coakley, Avellone pitched himself as an “alternative to the conventional politicians. I think I am the person who has the most experience” creating jobs and working in new industries, he said. The road to the governor’s office through jobs as state treasurer and state attorney general is “not necessarily a well-worn path,” he said, pointing to Patrick’s background as a lawyer, former Gov. Mitt Romney’s private sector past, and former Gov. William Weld’s time as a U.S. attorney, and adding, “It’s a good time for somebody in the private sector to be the next governor.”

Avellone describes himself as a moderate Democrat who will appeal to blue collar and working class voters similar to US Rep. Stephen Lynch, a South Boston Democrat who mounted a bid for a US Senate seat that was eventually won by Malden Democrat Ed Markey.

Avellone’s kitchen cabinet includes Marty Walsh – the political consultant, not the Dorchester state representative and incoming mayor – and Ben Herman, who has worked for US Sen. Elizabeth Warren and District 2 candidate Suzanne Lee. Jass Stewart, a Brockton city councillor at-large, is holding a meet-and-greet for Avellone at his home in mid-December.

Avellone has also attended several “Enough is Enough” anti-violence rallies, put together by District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson, he added. With the mayoral race over, he’ll be spending more time in Boston’s neighborhoods, hunting for votes. “I’m anxious to get started now in Dorchester,” Avellone said.

The winner of the Democratic primary next year will face off against the Republican nominee, who will most likely be Charlie Baker, a former health care executive who ran for the Corner Office in 2010. A few independents are also eyeing runs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at Email us at and follow us on Twitter: @LitDrop and @gintautasd. Material from State House News Service was used in this report.