Stephen Lynch took nearly twenty minutes to make his way from the stage set up for the Memorial Day ceremonies in Cedar Grove Cemetery to his waiting car near the graveyard’s gates.
The congressman was in Lynch Country (and perhaps, Tim Cahill Country, despite the absence of the Democrat-turned-independent treasurer running for governor): In between the two waypoints, the South Boston Democrat kept stopping to shake hands as more and more people came up to say hello. His aides snapped away and filled up at least one memory card full of pictures.
“You stood up to the health bill,” said George Greene, referring to the health care reform bill passed earlier this year. “That’s going to put you over the top every time.”
Greene’s girlfriend, Ramona Chapin, had collared Lynch earlier and whipped out her cell phone to show him pictures of her close friend’s adopted baby. Her friend’s husband had recently spent two and a half weeks in West Virginia wrangling with the state’s child services department and Lynch’s office helped get the child up to Massachusetts in time for Christmas.
Greene, who grew up in Dorchester and now lives in Quincy, added with a note of concern in his voice: You don’t have an opponent, do you?
Lynch, widely known as the Massachusetts Congressional delegation’s most conservative member, has four, in fact. Progressive Democrat Mac D’Alessandro last week submitted 4,000 nomination signatures, double the required amount to get on the Sept. 14 primary ballot. Two Republicans – Keith Lepor and Vernon Harrison – are also running. Phil Dunkelbarger, an independent who previously challenged Lynch as a Democrat, is making another attempt.
“It’s ok. I think I’ll be ok,” Lynch said to Greene, before quickly adding that he would appreciate any help Greene could provide.
Despite the anti-incumbent fervor that appears to be playing out across the nation, it’s unlikely too many incumbents will be ousted out of Congress. “Yes, it stinks to be an incumbent this year, but the truth is 90% of congressional incumbents will probably be reelected,” the Atlantic’s politics editor Marc Ambinder recently wrote on the magazine’s website. “Our system can only tolerate a bum turnover rate of about 10 percent a cycle, even when the ‘Throw The Bums Out’ mentality is driving voter preferences.”
What will be interesting is the grassroots, the hardcore activists, and how they react in a primary. And that’s what will make Lynch’s match-up with D’Alessandro, who has brought on the well-respected political operative Deb Shah as a campaign manager, one to watch this summer.
Progressive Democrats howled in anger after Lynch’s vote against the controversial health care package that passed 219-212 in the U.S. House in March. Katherine Patrick, one of Gov. Deval Patrick’s two daughters, took to the social networking site Twitter, writing, “Hope he’s not too attached to getting reelected cause that vote just cost him.”
But Lynch, who has held the seat since he won a special election in September 2001, also voted for the package of fixes that immediately followed the underlying health care bill. “We just added 32 million people to a broken system. We didn’t repair the system,’’ he explained to the Globe afterwards. “The job we’re going to have in the coming months and years is how do you reform that system?’’
For his part, D’Alessandro notes that the law, while not perfect, gives 32 million people health insurance is a good thing as it ends industry abuses such as denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions and rescinding of policies when people need them the most, and includes a massive middle-class tax cut on health care.
Asked about Lynch’s vote against the main bill and for the fixes, D’Alessandro, who traveled to Memorial Day events in Whitman and Brockton, said, “There’s a lot calisthenics you’re going to have ask the congressman about.”
“Obviously, it is always a challenge to take on an entrenched incumbent,” he said. “But it’s not about progressive-conservative…I think to the extent there’s a lot of frustration with incumbents, I think it’s because a lot of people aren’t sure where their representatives stand. That’s what I wanted as a constituent.”
D’Alessandro, a Milton Democrat, has worked at the SEIU health care union for nine years. “My family faces a lot of struggles,” he said. “We sit at our kitchen table and we pore over that monthly budget and we wonder how we pay the bills. We’re lucky because there’s a lot of families that are struggling much more mightily than we are. Those are the families I want to fight for.”
Back at Cedar Grove cemetery: “I think I need to do my work,” Lynch said when asked about his views on the race. “The best form of campaigning is to do your work and to remain accessible. And so that’s what we’re doing.”
He was getting into his car as Patrick Callahan, the 24-year-old Marine sergeant who was the keynote speaker at Monday’s ceremony, came up to shake his hand one more time.“If you need an escort out of here, I’ve got a couple of guys,” Callahan joked.
“I might need that,” Lynch quipped, closing the door. “I might need that, Patrick.”