Ten Bay State politicians to watch in 2016
By Evan Lips | December 31, 2015, 19:06 EST
BOSTON – The year 2016 promises to be a fascinating year in Massachusetts politics. Here are some Bay State politicians that voters should keep their eyes on in the months ahead:
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton
The veteran and former Marine caused a stir this fall when he took to social media to rip Gov. Charlie Baker for his reluctance to open the commonwealth’s doors to Syrian refugees before getting the answers to some questions first. Moulton hammered Baker over his hesitancy, and various pundits took that as a sign that Moulton might have gubernatorial aspirations.
Asked about his rift with Baker, the freshman Democrat was quick to tell reporters that he and the Republican governor had “patched” things up and insisted there were no ulterior motives behind his comments. Still, the outburst endeared him to liberals frustrated with Democrats’ soft treatment of Baker and garnered respect from some conservatives who admired Moutlon’s willingness to fight for his beliefs and even urged the governor to emulate the congressman’s style.
So 2016 may see Moulton take a few more swipes at Baker even as he remains committed to his duties in Congress and runs for re-election.
The story to watch out for may unfold within the next few years. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, who has served in Congress continuously ever since America’s 1976 bicentennial, will turn 70 in July. Markey shows no signs of slowing down, and ran for re-election unopposed in 2014, but if he ever decides to leave the Capitol, a Moulton campaign to succeed him would not be surprising.
Gov. Charlie Baker
A one-time top aide to Republican Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, Baker finally scaled the gubernatorial mountain in 2014, putting his 2010 loss to then-Gov. Deval Patrick to bed while besting Democratic rival Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general at the time. Baker’s first year has been fraught with challenges, including a troublesome budget gap and a state child protective services agency rife with dysfunction.
Yet through it all, Baker’s leadership remained firm. The Republican defined himself with moderate stances on flashpoint issues like immigration while showing a willingness to work with Democrats. The end of 2015 even saw him land the No. 1 spot out of the nation’s 50 governors, based on voter approval ratings.
Baker’s second year could present an entirely different story. Will his honeymoon with Democrats – and voters – come to an end? Can he maintain momentum? Plenty of eyes will be watching.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren
The liberal icon of the U.S. Senate was cagey about a potential run for the presidency early in 2015, going so far as to even rebuff a front page Boston Globe love letter urging the Cantabridgian to go for it. In March, the Globe’s editorial board gushed over the Harvard Law professor’s penchant for making income inequality a key point of her brief public-service career and added that the Democratic National Committee “would be making a big mistake if they let Hillary Clinton coast to the presidential nomination without real opposition.”
By now it seems clear that Warren won’t enter the 2016 race. But it remains to be seen whether she will be tapped as a running mate, and should Democrats maintain control over the Oval Office, a cabinet job.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone
The Democrat from Somerville, New England’s most densely populated city, has ridden a wave of popularity since he first entered the office in January 2004. Curtatone has led the four square-mile city, crammed with more than 70,000 residents, through the Great Recession and into an economic boom, and the good times don’t appear to be ending anytime soon.
The mayor hasn’t been afraid to delve into hot-button topics. Earlier this year, he made it clear that he disagreed with prosecuting two groups of protesters who tied up traffic on Interstate 93 during a demonstration triggered by the Black Lives Matter movement and even duked it out rhetorically with former Republican presidential contender Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana over immigration and sanctuary-city policies. Somerville joined neighboring Cambridge as an official sanctuary city for illegal immigrants in 2014.
As for 2016, while economic growth is expected to continue, a key issue confronting Curtatone is whether he and state transportation officials can hammer out a financing plan to pay for extending the aging Green Line trolley service 4.5 miles through Somerville and into Medford. A deal once perceived to be a slam-dunk fell apart in August after officials announced that the projected $2 billion cost was too conservative and the real number could reach $3 billion.
Curtatone in 2016 will have to assume a bigger leadership position as the project looks more and more likely to hinge on whether private developers and businesses in his city elect to help fund the job.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell
Re-elected in November to a second term at the helm of the state’s largest port city, the Democrat’s popularity reflects his success in things like engineering a dramatic turnaround for the city’s schools and winning a stronger credit rating. Mitchell also has steered the municipal ship full-steam ahead through disappointments like a failed bid to host a $650 million waterfront casino.
During the summer, Mitchell told the New Boston Post that while he has no plans to seek higher office, he would only do so if he could be confident he was leaving New Bedford in a better place than when he became mayor.
If New Bedford’s current trajectory continues in 2016, that time could come sooner rather than later.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg
The Democrat from Amherst has held his state Senate seat since 1991, but 2015 marked his first year as President of the Legislature’s upper chamber. Since his January swearing-in, Rosenberg has forged a positive relationship with Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican. This month Rosenberg announced he and Baker are working together on a criminal justice reform plan and has openly praised Baker for his management skills.
The question for 2016 is whether the goodwill between Baker and Rosenberg can be maintained.
Sen. Ryan Fattman
It took just four years for the Republican from Webster to climb into the Senate from the House of Representatives. During 2015, Fattman eased into his new job following his November 2014 upset over Democrat Richard T. Moore, who had held the Senate seat since 1996 and, as Senate President Pro Tempore, occupied the third-most powerful post in the upper chamber.
Fattman’s campaign against Moore involved voicing a commitment to reel back unnecessary state spending. He is among lawmakers rated 100 percent in 2015 by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a nonpartisan organization promotes fiscal responsibility and good government. In 2016, with his first year behind him, voters will be expecting action.
Rep. Shaunna O’Connell
The Republican from Taunton has made a name for herself on Beacon Hill for her commitment to good government and her watchdog approach. O’Connell has banged the drum for reforms in the state’s electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, card system for several years and appears to remain committed towards other welfare reform efforts as well. With Republican Charlie Baker in the governor’s office, the question in 2016 is whether she and other conservatives can convince him to join their cause.
Rep. Geoff Diehl
The Whitman Republican had been on the fast track of ascendancy on Beacon Hill following his 2011 election to the House of Representatives and his successful efforts in 2014 leading a ballot initiative that ultimately put an end to automatic annual increases in the state gasoline tax.
In 2015 Diehl appeared to be poised to land a Senate seat that opened up when Thomas Kennedy (D-Brockton) passed away. Diehl, however, failed to overcome the demographic advantage held by rival Rep. Mike Brady, a Democrat who hails from Brockton, the district’s most populous city. More than half of registered voters there are Democrats compared with less than 10 percent who are Republicans.
Diehl in 2016 can be expected to focus on what he can accomplish in the House. His work to halt rising gas taxes by putting the issue in the hands of voters shows he is capable of finding ways to work around the Democrats who dominate Beacon Hill.
Boston Councilor at Large Michelle Wu
The Roslindale attorney educated at Harvard University was the first Asian-American to land on the City Council when she clinched an open seat in the November 2013 municipal elections. At just 30 years old, the future looks bright for Wu, who played an important role as constituency director for Elizabeth Warren’s successful 2012 campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Sen Scott Brown. Wu has already made a name for herself in City Hall for her efforts to reform Boston’s ancient permitting system.
The question in 2016 is where will Wu go from here? Her first test comes in days, as she has made it clear that she wants to be the city’s next council president. She is reportedly on the verge of becoming Boston’s first Asian-American City Council president, having secured the backing of enough councilors to win the job.
Interested Bostonians won’t have to wait long to see what happens: The vote by council members is set for Jan. 4.