The decade that just came to a close was a lively one in Massachusetts politics. It began with a Republican state senator shocking the country in a special election for U.S. Senate; and ended with one of the state’s former Republican governors entering the Presidential race which might have piited him against the state's senior U.S. Senator.
But here’s a question to spark debate as we while away the time in self-isolation: who was the best politician in Massachusetts of the 2010’s?
There are a lot of possible nominees—so many, in fact, that two weeks ago I created a tournament-style bracket with 32 of them, and put each matchup to a vote on Twitter, round-by-round, until the social media mavens named a winner.
In a final matchup with more than 2800 votes cast, Boston mayor Marty Walsh bested Worcester congressman Jim McGovern for the title. Rounding out the Final Four were U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Joe Kennedy III.
After the public had their say, I also reached out to some of the sharpest political observers in the Commonwealth, and asked them who their Final Four would be.
In a sign of just how wide a field of talent the state had during the decade, the eight experts I consulted named a total of 13 different politicians to their Final Fours, with no unanimous agreement on any of them.
Warren and Governor Charlie Baker came closest, with each named by six of the eight. Walsh was named by four; house speaker Bob DeLeo and attorney general Maura Healey by three each; and former Governor Deval Patrick and congresswoman Ayanna Pressley each by two.
Another half-dozen pols were each named one time: former U.S. Senator Scott Brown, congresswoman Katherine Clark, Secretary Bill Galvin, house majority leader Ron Mariano, congressman Richie Neal, and Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu.
Two of the Twitter voters’ favorites—Kennedy and McGovern—didn’t make any of the experts’ Final Four selections.
And all those names only scratch the surface of strong contenders. There’s Therese Murray, who was senate president for the first half of the decade; John Kerry, elevated from U.S. Senator to be Barack Obama’s second-term Secretary of State; or even Mitt Romney, who became a major-party nominee for President running out of Boston in 2012.
Then you have mayors, district attorneys, sheriffs, city councilors, and legislators all over the state with impressive achievements during the decade.
Who you pick as the best Massachusetts politician of the 2010s depends a lot upon how you define political excellence.
If it’s about holding power and influence over the way government works for citizens of the Commonwealth, Baker’s tough to beat. A Republican who rebounded from a 2010 loss to win two terms as governor and maintain sky-high approval ratings? Even Doug Rubin, founding partner of Northwind Strategies who guided Patrick’s campaign against Baker in 2010, put Baker in his Final Four, “as much as it pains me.”
DeLeo might be the strongest competition for Baker under that definition. He maintained his grip on the state house of representatives through the entire decade—a feat so difficult, it broke the Commonwealth record for speaker longevity. “Baker’s been great at the outside game, DeLeo’s been brilliant at the inside game,” says Scott Ferson, political consultant and founder of Liberty Square Group, who included both men in his Final Four. By that he means that Baker draws his political strength from voters across the state, while DeLeo draws his from those within the Beacon Hill bubble.
If you’re looking for political power of a more national scope, Warren has certainly achieved that. “In the 2010s, Warren went from wonky prof to the voice of a movement that is far from over,” says David Guarino, who consults for politicians as partner at Melwood Global.
Neal surely has national prominence, after rising to become chair of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee. Neal, sometimes underappreciated on the eastern side of the state, “is quietly one of the most powerful people in Washington,” says Will Keyser, founder of Keyser Public Strategies and Charlie Baker campaign strategist. Keyser notes that Neal still also “delivers for his constituents” in western Massachusetts.
Maybe you define the best politician as the one who rose the fastest during the decade. That could lead you to Clark, who entered the decade as a state representative and now holds a U.S. House leadership title. Clark “has worked her way into a position of real importance in Nancy Pelosi’s circle,” says veteran political consultant Michael Goldman, managing partner at O’Neil/Goldman, who included Clark in his Final Four.
There’s also Healey, who was virtually unknown before 2014. “She came out of nowhere, won an important race by virtue of her professional qualities and charisma, and is now probably the most popular Democrat in Massachusetts,” says campaign strategist Dan Cohen.
Elections aren’t the only gauge of political prowess, but in judging the decade’s best pol you surely have to consider some of the most impressive campaign performances the state saw during the 2010s.
Scott Brown won the above-mentioned special Senate election in January 2010. Later that year, Patrick won a stunning come-from-behind re-election against a national Republican tide.
In 2013, Walsh bested 12 other contenders to succeed Tom Menino as Boston mayor, and “rewrote the political map of Boston,” by forging a coalition of working class voters across races, ethnicities, and neighborhoods, says Larry DiCara, veteran consultant and lobbyist.
Seth Moulton and Ayanna Pressley both scored shocking upsets over incumbent congressmen. Pressley “rewrote the political playbook in Boston without anybody paying attention, and executed it before anybody knew it,” says Wilnelia Rivera, founder of Rivera Consulting, who worked on that campaign.
One thing just about all these experts agree on: Pressley will be under consideration for best Massachusetts politician of the 2020s. There’s another debate to look forward to.
Original story here.