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Mass Frustration

Steam Builds in Bay State as Veteran Pols Stay in Congress

There’s a backlog of Democratic politicians eager to move up a rung on the office-holding ladder in Massachusetts, but with Sen. John Kerry’s (D) decision last week to abandon a presidential bid and seek another Senate term in 2008, they have nowhere to go.

Rumors swirl that Rep. Marty Meehan (D) — blocked from running for the Senate in light of Kerry’s announcement and November’s re-election of veteran Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) — might leave Congress for the private sector. Some state lawmakers already have gotten in line to replace him.

State Rep. Barry Finegold (D) said he is ready to jump if Meehan bolts.

“I have been talking to a lot of people and having a lot of cups of coffee,” Finegold said Wednesday.

But Meehan said in an interview this week that the up and comers are daydreaming.

“I think they’re people in my district who think I’d be good for a lot of jobs, and they want my job so they throw my name out there for everything under the sun,” Meehan said when asked what prompted the speculation. “The only problem is I have no interest.”

The Lowell Sun, Meehan’s hometown paper, recently claimed he was being considered for positions as: dean of the Suffolk University law school; chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell; and head of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.

On Monday, Meehan said there was no truth to any of that conjecture. “I was never a candidate for the Suffolk job, I haven’t talked to the search committee at U-Mass; I haven’t talked to anybody at Biotech,” he said.

In fact, Suffolk University named its new dean, Alfred Aman Jr., three days before the Sun article appeared.

However, on Wednesday The Boston Globe reported that Meehan has an interview for the University of Massachusetts job Friday, but his spokesman said he could not comment on the article. While the official line is that Meehan is staying in Congress, the speculation about his future demonstrates how trapped ambitious Massachusetts Democrats feel.

“I recommend to anyone looking to move to Congress — I don’t see any openings,” said one Massachusetts Democratic operative in Washington, D.C. “I’m not seeing a lot of movement, especially now that these guys have gavels in their hands and it’s a whole new world.”

All 12 members of the Bay State delegation — the two Senators and the 10 Congressmen — are Democrats. Rep. Stephen Lynch, who was just elected to a fourth term, is the most junior, and Rep. Mike Capuano, who was first elected in 1998, comes next. Otherwise, each member of the delegation has spent at least a decade on Capitol Hill.

Kennedy arrived in the Senate in 1963, Kerry in 1985.

“We’ve been very successful during the last couple of cycles … there are very few Republicans who hold elective office in the state,” said Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Phil Johnston.

That kind of glass ceiling might encourage impatient pols to think about challenging their elders in primaries, but no one expects widespread mutiny.

The ambitions of some Bay State House Members likely were satisfied when Democrats won control of the House in November.

Rep. Barney Frank now leads the House Financial Services Committee, a post he is disinclined to vacate even if a Senate seat opened.

Rep. Ed Markey, dean of the state’s delegation in the House, oversees telecommunication and Internet issues from his Energy and Commerce subcommittee chairmanship and is third in line to lead the full committee.

He also is a confidant of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.), who tapped him to lead her new panel overseeing climate change — the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Capuano also has emerged as a close Pelosi adviser as well.

Rep. Jim McGovern is vice chairman of the omnipotent Rules Committee, though he previously expressed no interest in running for Senate had Kerry won the presidency in 2004 or retired to try again in 2008.

McGovern also is a Rules subcommittee chairman and represents the full committee on the Budget panel.

Rep. John Olver, who previously has been the subject of retirement rumors but now seems happy to stay planted, is an Appropriations Committee cardinal. And Rep. Richard Neal leads a panel on the powerful tax-writing committee, Ways and Means, all of which makes for one formidable delegation.

Insiders believe the rumors about Meehan’s desire to move on are too specific to be complete bunk, but for now people who might be privy to his thinking are keeping mum.

“Marty hasn’t told me that he has any other plans than running for re-election,” Johnston said earlier in the week.

He did not return follow-up calls as of press time Wednesday.

“There are rumors, just unsubstantiated rumors and I don’t have any reason to believe that he intends to” leave, Johnston said Monday.

There is precedent for politicians with no previous experience in academia to lead institutions of higher learning in the Bay State.

Former state Senate President William Bulger (D) was chancellor of the University of Massachusetts overseeing the state system.

He was an excellent fundraiser for the schools — presumably the asset that makes Meehan or any other successful pol attractive to selection committees — but was forced from the position by then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) after refusing to enlighten a Congressional panel on the whereabouts of his fugitive brother, James Bulger, who is one of the FBI’s 10 most wanted criminals.

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