State Rep. Marie St. Fleur is telling supporters that should Congressman Michael Capuano (D-Somerville) win his bid for the open U.S. Senate slot, she's "very interested" in mounting a campaign for his Eighth Congressional District seat, senior Democratic sources say.
St. Fleur, a self-described "kid from Uphams Corner," tells the Reporter she wants time to analyze whether a run would make sense and whether she has support for such a bid.
"I think you should leave yourself open to the possibilities," St. Fleur said when asked about a possible candidacy during a South End fundraiser held last week to mark her ten years in the Legislature. She was elected in a 1999 special election and, like current seat-holder Capuano, has maintained a liberal voting record.
Other potential candidates whose names have been mentioned for the Capuano seat include Boston City Council President Michael Ross of Mission Hill, state Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea), Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, and former Congressman Joseph Kennedy's son Joe.
The possibility of a Congressional run comes as St. Fleur hits the ten-year marker on Beacon Hill, a tenure that has had its share of ups (her time as vice chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee under House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and House chair of the Education Committee under House Speaker Thomas Finneran) and its downs (her one day as a candidate for lieutenant governor before she pulled out due to financial problems and her current relegation to a vice chairmanship on the House Consumer Protection Committee after she stayed out of a bitter fight for House speaker between Reps. Robert DeLeo and John Rogers).
The first Haitian-American elected to the state Legislature, she is also viewed as the leader of the local Haitian-American community and has taken her Beacon Hill colleagues on trips to Haiti. She planned another trip to her native country in January, this time with Mayor Thomas Menino, but she's unsure of the timing now because of Menino's knee surgery earlier this month.
Her backers are hardcore in their support, saying she is an effective legislator who doesn't take political considerations into account. "She takes care of business," said Albert Sherman, a well-known Bay State political fixer and strategist. "If she runs [for Capuano's seat], she's going to win"
Her supporters also say she's a tenacious campaigner.
Joyce Ferriabough, a Democratic political consultant from Roxbury, has known St. Fleur for decades. Ferriabough recalled that during the 1990 race for state attorney general, Ferriabough and St. Fleur found themselves split, with Ferriabough backing incumbent Jim Shannon and St. Fleur supporting then-Middlesex District Attorney Scott Harshbarger, whom she had worked for.
Ferriabough was convinced that she had locked up support within the Black Political Task Force for an endorsement for Shannon. "She pulled it right out from under me for Harshbarger," Ferriabough said. "The vote was turned around."
Asked about St. Fleur possibly running for Capuano's seat, Ferriabough - who is backing Capuano foe Martha Coakley, the state attorney general - brought up other offices, including secretary of state and Suffolk County District Attorney. "I can see her in a lot of different seats," she said, adding that she believes St. Fleur should run for Capuano's seat whether or not Capuano wins the Senate race.
In the U.S. Senate special election, Coakley maintains a big lead over Capuano and the two other candidates, businessmen Stephen Pagliuca and Alan Khazei, though a recent Boston Globe shows a large number of voters as undecided.
Whatever higher public office she decides to run for, St. Fleur will likely face renewed questions over the financial problems that surfaced in 2006, when then-Attorney General Thomas Reilly tapped her as his running mate in his gubernatorial run. Within hours of St. Fleur getting picked, the Boston Globe reported that she was delinquent on federal and city taxes and behind on her student loans. She immediately pulled out of the race.
St. Fleur's friends blame her now ex-husband for many of the financial problems. "She seems to have gotten those under control," adds one senior Democratic source.
But the source also cautioned that voters find financial issues hard to forgive.
"The tax issue for elected officials is a live wire," he said.
St. Fleur also has her critics, who say she has been too close to House leadership, such as former House Speakers Finneran and DiMasi. East Boston high school teacher Barry Lawton, who challenged her in 1999 as one of several candidates in the Fifth Suffolk district special election, said he is leaning towards running for the seat in 2010, whether St. Fleur runs for re-election or not.
"I have found a reservoir of people who have not had their phone calls returned," Lawton said. "Her office is supposed to be the gateway to state government. And that's been closed."
Lawton, a three-term state Democratic Committeeman, also said he is challenging St. Fleur to a public debate on local issues.
"She's been looking for another job for a long time," he said. "It's time for her to move on and time for us to move on."
But St. Fleur has handily won re-election, in both 2006 and 2008. Her friends and supporters say she's put the Reilly episode behind her and remains a steadfast advocate for education and programs for the poor and disadvantaged.
"I definitely think Marie has rebounded from 2006. Every elected official always hits some bumps in the road," said state Rep. Marty Walsh (D-Savin Hill). "In the long run, it strengthens you as a public official, because you can relate to people, the average person on the street."
Indeed, it was her colleagues in the Legislature who embraced her and comforted her after the Reilly debacle. "When I walked into that chamber, I walked into a group of friends and family," St. Fleur told a crowd at a recent fundraiser held in Maggiano's Little Italy restaurant.
St. Fleur was joined by dozens of her supporters, including Walsh and fellow state Reps. Paul Donato (D-Medford), Aaron Michlewitz (D-North End), Gloria Fox (D-Roxbury), Sean Garballey (D-Arlington), and Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Suzanne Bump, City Councillor-Elect Ayanna Pressley, current staffer and former campaign manager Verdell Hayes and former lieutenant governor candidate and talk show host Marjorie Clapprood.
"It's not about money, it's not about power, it's about people," Donato said. "She fights every day, whether it's on the [House] leadership side or not the leadership side."
That night, St. Fleur grinned and beamed as she watched them offer testimonials and stories from their time with her. "I love being from Uphams Corner," she said, standing next to Rep. Walsh and the others. "I always tell people I'm from Uphams Corner, by way of Haiti. We call ourselves Dot rats and we're proud of it."
"I've been through some difficult times," St. Fleur said, turning to the crowd. "I couldn't have done it without the people in this room. These ten years are really about you."