When organized labor left his side last summer – underscored by a notably cool reception from a usually friendly room at a Labor Day breakfast in Washington – U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch knew his chances at the seat opened by Sen. Edward Kennedy’s death had slimmed, likely beyond repair.
“The only opportunity would’ve been to have those people who worked with me for many years on my side,” said Lynch, who worked his way up in politics through the local ironworkers union before winning election to the state House and Senate and then, in 2001, to Congress.
Had he survived last fall’s Democratic primary, a prospect further clouded by the likelihood that he and the other congressman representing Boston, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, would likely have carved up the metropolitan vote, Lynch said he would have run a far more aggressive campaign than that waged by the party’s nominee, Attorney General Martha Coakley, criticized for a flat and unengaging style.
“Oh, a lot different, a lot different,” Lynch told the News Service last week over breakfast at a South Boston diner. “I’m not known as a liberal, and I think that would’ve been a different dynamic. … It would’ve been much more … Look, I’m a firm believer in personal contact with the voters. I enjoy that. That probably would’ve characterized my campaign in a more personal way,” said Lynch.
Could he have beaten Brown, who has called Lynch a friend who welcomed him to Washington? “Too hard to tell,” Lynch said.
Now the South Boston Democrat is facing his most publicized challenge since he succeeded the neighborhood’s legendary Congressional delegate, the late Joe Moakley. Service Employees International Union regional political director Mac D’Alessandro has been hounding the incumbent, slashing him for his votes against health care reform and in favor of the Iraq war and subsequent war funding bills, and taunting him for not agreeing to more debates.
“We had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform our health care system, and he stood with our insurance companies to do nothing,” D’Alessandro said.
D’Alessandro said $13 billion per month spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had “a direct tie” to municipal layoffs in the 9th District, adding that “it is incumbent upon Congress to start asking the questions: What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan? Right. How do we get out?”
The Milton Democrat called Lynch “an entrenched Beltway insider” who had lost touch with constituents. “We’ve heard from folks who say, ‘I haven’t heard from Congressman Lynch in a long time’.”
Running from a large swath of Boston west to Needham and southeast to Bridgewater, the 9th district comprises mainly towns that reliably vote for centrist Democrats. D’Alessandro has sought to depict Lynch as too far to the right for the district, a tough sell in an area where all but four communities went for Brown over Coakley.
Since the rift between Lynch and organized labor burst into public view last year, there has been some healing. Earlier this month, the state AFL-CIO announced it was endorsing Lynch, despite continued unrest over his health care vote and with another labor official standing opposite him.
During a debate aired Sunday on WBZ-TV, D’Alessandro rammed Lynch for “hemming and hawing” in support for a government health insurance agency and for being the only member of the state’s House delegation to vote in favor of $37 billion in continued funding for Afghanistan operations. Lynch countered that cutting off funding would have amounted to “insanity,” depriving troops of needed resources. As the debate flared he repeatedly scolded D’Alessandro’s stated support for a Wall Street “bailout,” which D’Alessandro said rescued personal mortgages.
“Shame on you … Are you kidding me?” Lynch said.
Lynch said last week that he had backed the original House health care bill, which included the public option, but opposed the final bill, drawing heavy shrapnel for a seemingly convoluted vote.
“I still have all those reservations about the bill that came out,” Lynch said. “I would not sign a pledge.
Ironically, everyone who signed the pledge had to break it if they voted for that bill, so there was a certain amount of craziness in all that. You know, I supported the public option. I voted against the bill that did not include it. I voted to strip away the antitrust exemption from these insurance companies that allows them to operate as monopolies, but it was restored in the final bill. And I voted not to tax health benefits. So I took, I think, positions that were entirely consistent with working people. And, yet, for different reasons I think, organized labor in Washington chose to support that bill.
“Look, I am so convinced that that bill was wrong and that it will cause a lot of damage, that I would not sacrifice doing the right thing to get elected. I think I did the right thing, I think I’ll be proven right. I just think that I would have had to sacrifice my better judgment to get those people on my side, and I wasn’t really willing to do that,” Lynch said.
Lynch begged off speculating about whether his reelection efforts this fall would function as a tune-up for a possible 2012 run against U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. “I think there might be a lot of factors in play now that probably won’t be in play if I were to look at something in 2012, but I don’t know. That’s a tough question to answer,” he said.
Forecasting a “very, very, very low turnout” in the Sept. 14 primary, Lynch said, “So I don’t know how much I can extrapolate between this race and one that might occur in 2012, not knowing what the environment would be then.”
The winner of the Lynch-D’Alessandro matchup will face the victory of a Republican primary between Roslindale combat photojournalist Keith Lepor and Vernon Harrison of Braintree, a computer technologist whose website says that “[o]n the side, he performs as a stand-up comedian.”