Pemberton Leaves U.S. Senate Race, Takes Shots at Kennedy, Markey, and Democratic Party

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Democratic businessman Steve Pemberton is stopping his race for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, but not before taking a shot at his party’s preference for what he called “legacy and birthright … incumbency and connections.”

Pemberton was one of two outsiders who thought they had a shot to upset U.S. Senator Ed Markey in the September 2020 Democratic primary before U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III jumped into the race last month. The Kennedy-Markey fight is taking the lion’s share of attention and political donations, leaving Pemberton and Brookline labor lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan scrambling for attention.

Pemberton posted an 1,165-word withdrawal message on his campaign Facebook page on Monday, October 14 saying he was heartened by the reaction he got to his story of going from a childhood spent in foster care to ending up materially successful and interested in bringing change to the society he grew up in.

“But this Senate race will not be the path for me to help make that change. And that is because – while I saw so much in the decency of this Commonwealth and its people to spur me on during this campaign – I also ran into an impenetrable wall of legacy and birthright – of incumbency and connections – that so often has stifled and blocked diverse and urgent voices from succeeding in the political arena,” Pemberton wrote.

He got into details about the inside workings of party politics:

While we were able to raise nearly $500,000 in our first quarter, it also became clear that the barriers placed before anyone attempting to take on entrenched power are in so many cases too towering and too irremovable to overcome. They are bolstered by state and federal party bosses who privately blacklist anyone attempting to aid an insurgent campaign while publicly espousing the importance of diversity and inclusivity. They are supported by a campaign finance system that allows incumbents to hoard millions of dollars in special interest PAC money — right up to the point where they “see the light” and conveniently embrace campaign finance reform for short-term political advantage while sitting comfortably on their bloated war chests. And they are protected by the insiders who criticized me for breaking the party ‘rule’ of challenging an incumbent, forced consultants off of my campaign, and then changed their tune when Congressman Kennedy, in unprecedented fashion, entered into the race. The message, delivered to me, in word and in deed was abundantly clear:  those same rules did not apply to him.

Pemberton said he detects hypocrisy between Democratic Party rhetoric and how its leaders act.

Many of us walk through the world with the scars and the voids of a life forever altered because of failed policies by those who have been in Washington long enough to have taken a stronger stand. To simply empathize with those experiences is no longer enough. The Democratic Party will have to find a way to fully embrace those voices rather than deny them because those lives, often unseen, still have value and they should have a place in our public discourse. But until we really challenge this rigged system that favors wealth, longevity and legacy, the public will be denied true choice in the voting booth and will be forced to pick between [subtly] different shades of the same political establishment candidates.

Liss-Riordan has suffered from the same pro-incumbent, pro-Kennedy forces that drove Pemberton from the race, but she said Monday she is staying in.

Liss-Riordan has lent her campaign $3 million since its beginning, according to the Federal Election Commission:

As a result, Liss-Riordan has (according to filings made up to Monday, October 14) a large amount of cash on hand (about $2.8 million), though she trails Markey and Kennedy.

But a Boston Globe poll in September found Liss-Riordan and Pemberton at 1 percentage point each, badly trailing Kennedy, who led Markey, 35-26.

Kennedy and Markey published statements on Twitter on Monday acknowledging Pemberton’s withdrawal but ignoring the points he made about connections and incumbency:

Here’s Pemberton’s Facebook announcement Monday, October 14:

In July, I stood before friends and family in my hometown of New Bedford and announced my candidacy for the United…

Posted by Steve Pemberton for U.S. Senate on Monday, October 14, 2019