Boston City Councillor Josh Zakim, making his first run at higher office, earned the upset endorsement of the Democratic Party convention Saturday, dealing a significant blow to Secretary of State William Galvin and showing that his campaign could be a legitimate threat to the state’s longest-serving constitutional officer.
Zakim, while delegates were voting, said that he was expecting to carry about 20 percent of the vote Saturday and said cracking into the “high 20s” would be “really exciting for a first-time statewide candidate.” Ultimately, Zakim secured 54.8 percent of the delegate vote to Galvin’s 45.2 percent, beating Galvin 2,245 to 1,852. Galvin will still appear on the Sept. 4 primary election ballot as he seeks a seventh four-year term as the secretary of state, and party endorsements have not always translated to ballot box success.
Galvin left the DCU Center before the party made the official announcement of the results and a spokesman said the secretary would not be available to the News Service by phone. The spokesman also noted that Galvin has twice -- in 1990 when he ran for treasurer and in 1994 when he first ran for secretary of state -- lost at the party convention and prevailed in the party primary.
Zakim, a 34-year-old whose family name adorns the bridge serving as a gateway to Boston from the north, is now one step closer to scoring a major upset over a Democratic Party stalwart who has sailed to re-election five times since he first won the office in 1994.
“From the very beginning, we saw the convention as an opportunity to get our message out to the base of the party, the activists ... 15 percent was always the goal. The last week or so, I thought we’d be able to get into the mid- or high-20s, never crossed my mind...I mean, I have remarks for after this scribbled out on paper.”
He added, “This is not something we were expecting to see. I’m grateful, I’m humbled, but it really is just the beginning of the next three-plus months to Election Day.”
Delegate Judith Gangel of Randolph said, “Josh is a breath of fresh air. It’s not an indictment of what Bill’s done, but it’s timing and it may be time to pass the baton.”
Galvin, 67, is facing just his second Democratic challenger since first winning the office in 1994. In 2006, he easily held off constitutional law and voting rights attorney John Bonifaz for the party nomination.
“I have taken our state forward in many directions in a positive way,” Galvin said Saturday as he thanked Democrats for returning him to office every four years since the mid-1990s. “First and foremost on elections -- when I came to office there was not a central voter registry, there was no motor voter, there was no mail-in registration. We created that in Massachusetts and we set a standard for the nation.”
Speaking to reporters after addressing the delegates, Zakim said he and Galvin have “very different views” on what the role of the secretary of state’s office should be.
“It’s not just about administering an office. It’s about leading and pushing for progressive changes,” he said.
In his convention speech, he said, “Voting should be easy and politicians who stand in the way of that should be shown the door. That’s why I’m running for secretary of state.”
An attorney who lives in the Boston’s Back Bay, Zakim was first elected to the Boston City Council in 2013 and won a third term last year, allowing him to seek the statewide office without having to risk his council seat.
Zakim was possibly boosted at the convention Saturday by an assist from Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, who did not attend the convention in Worcester but had asked delegates from Boston to support Zakim over Galvin in a contest that features two Bostonians, according to a source close to the mayor.
In his recent re-election efforts, Galvin has run largely under-the-radar campaigns, eschewing debates with his Republican challengers and sliding back into office with ease. Recently, Galvin has had to respond to media reports that his State House staff had done work for his campaign while they were getting paid for their official duties. He launched an internal investigation, announced an updated payroll system and docked the pay of three employees who were found to have not properly taken time off to work on the campaign.
The secretary of the commonwealth is charged with being the state’s chief securities regulator and election official, oversees public records and lobbyists, and runs the corporations division, the historical commission, and the Massachusetts Archives.
In his speech, Zakim focused on the role of the secretary of state as the chief elections official. He said he supports automatic voter registration, “no excuse” absentee voting, holding elections on weekends and allowing people to register to vote on Election Day.
“We need to make it easier to register to vote, we need to make it easier to vote now. Not after this fall, not next year, and not after the courts have forced us to but right now,” he said. “And that’s what’s both invigorating and tragic: there are so many simple, common-sense steps we can and should be taking to lead on this issue right now. In fact, every single one of these shortcomings could have and should have been fixed years ago. Maybe even decades ago. That’s why we need to move forward now.”
A video that played before Zakim took the convention stage Saturday focused on how he would bring “fresh ideas” to the secretary’s office, specifically naming women’s rights and immigration as issues on which he would be active as secretary in the Donald Trump era.
Galvin has also been an outspoken critic of Trump, warning again Saturday that the president’s administration is attempting to “sabotage” the 2020 U.S. Census by intentionally undercounting immigrants and college students, potentially leading to a decline in federal funds for states like Massachusetts.
“My ask of you today is not to reward my past service or performance. My ask of you today is to use me and my skills and my knowledge and my expertise to protect the election process going forward,” Galvin said. “Because if you don’t think the Russians and Donald Trump are going to try to affect the election in 2020, I think I’ve got a bridge to sell you.”
Sen. Karen Spilka, who is expected to ascend to Senate presidency next month, nominated Galvin at the convention Saturday.
“Bill has the expertise, experience and a very long list of accomplishments. In this day and age when our democracy seems more fragile than ever, we need a secretary of state with a proven record of running honest, transparent and successful elections,” Spilka said. “Simply put, you will not find anybody more committed to the commonwealth of Massachusetts and more dedicated to being secretary of state.”
Even with a challenger, Galvin has not dramatically ramped up his outward facing campaign efforts this year. The most recent post to his campaign website’s “latest news” tab leads to a U.S. Senate committee report issued in January. Until recently, the best contact many reporters had for the secretary’s campaign had been a generic campaign email address.
Cognizant of the uphill battle he faces challenging the longest-serving statewide elected official, Zakim has worked with a public relations firm to get his name and message out to voters through the media. And Zakim last week began announcing a steady stream of endorsements.
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, now six years removed from challenging another established Democrat for a seat in Congress, put his name in the Zakim column last week. So have Sens. Joseph Boncore and Julian Cyr, Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins and Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern.
Galvin last week countered with the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, who served in the Massachusetts House with Galvin in the 1970s.
Twenty-eight years ago, it was Galvin who went head-to-head with a powerful member of his own party -- and won. After serving in the Massachusetts House for almost 15 years, the Brighton Democrat took on his chamber’s leader, House Speaker George Keverian of Everett, for the Democratic Party’s nomination for treasurer in 1990.
Galvin cruised to victory over Keverian, handing the Everett Democrat his one electoral loss at the state level. That November, Galvin suffered what is his only state-level electoral loss at the hands of Republican Joe Malone in a race for treasurer.
After defeating Augie Grace in the 1994 Democratic primary and former Republican Sen. Arthur Chase in the general, Galvin began his reign as secretary of state. Though he has served in that post for six four-year terms, Galvin has not always been content to stay there.
In January 2002, Galvin reluctantly ended a brief run for governor after concluding that fundraising and a fight just to earn a spot on the primary ballot would prove too much, the News Service reported. As recently as 2009, he expressed an interest in running for attorney general.
Whichever Democrat wins the party’s primary on Sept. 4 will face Republican Anthony Amore and Green-Rainbow candidate Juan Sanchez in the November general election.